OpenGov Voices: Making transparency real — Launching the Open Duka platform

An image of Anne Muigai, Knowledge and Research program lead at the Open Institute
Anne Muigai, Knowledge and Research program lead at the Open Institute. Image credit: Open Duka


Open Institute is pleased to announce the launch of the Open Duka platform. Open Duka was conceptualised as a catalytic tool for transparency, accountability and governance. As a tool, Open Duka showcases the power and use of data that is liberated from multiple sources and organized in one platform.

Recently in the Kenyan press, it emerged that there was ambiguity as to the company that may have been awarded the controversial 327 billion Kenyan shilling contract (about $3.8 million U.S. dollars) to build the Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya. Registered decades apart, both companies operational in Kenya are named “China Road and Bridge Corporation” – although one is registered in Kenya and the other in China.

A cursory search of the company on Open Duka establishes that one of these two companies was awarded a 13 million Kenyan shilling tender (about $150,000 U.S. dollars) to construct a berth for the Kenya Ports Authority at the Mombasa Port. The Kenya-registered company is found to be owned by Peter Maingi Gatere and Leonard Mwangi Ndung’u.

Questions as to who these owners are, what other businesses they are associated with, who these people are connected with and what their backgrounds are remains a mystery. Are they directors of other companies that have been awarded government contracts? Are they known associates of government officials in important offices? Who else works at the Kenya-registered company in a management capacity?

Finding such information relating to public sector contracts and activities out can be a daunting task – not just for citizens but also for infomediaries like investigative journalists and civil society organizations. Addressing transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors has always proved difficult in most countries. In Kenya, like in many countries around the world, government agencies have a virtual monopoly over the data that relates to registered corporate entities and the transactions that make up their relationship with each other. Citizens have little or no access to it in the absence of Access to Information legislation.

Open Duka is Open Institute’s contribution to eliminating this information asymmetry.

An image of the Open Duka Platform
Open Duka platform. Image credit: Open Duka

In Kenya, the government has, over time, strategically made efforts through regulatory agencies such as the Capital Markets Authority to bring about accountability and transparency to this relationship. Their efforts, however, remain largely invisible to the general public and their outcomes, for the most part, remain unknown. As a result, the public is still in the dark where key contracts, ownership and power structures are concerned especially where they affect decisions related to public resources. It is not surprising then that public participation remains fairly low in oversight of public contracting or implementation of projects funded by public funds.

The core expectation of citizens is that their interests are being protected and, as such, that these interests are reflected in the policies being made by those in power. Relationships between individuals and organizations within public spaces is often hidden from view and vested interests even more so.

Open Duka gives insight into the relationships, connections (and, to some extent, the dynamics) of those in and around the public arena. It aims to address issues of opacity in governance in the private and public sectors, promoting corporate accountability and transparency.

The platform, currently in beta, has the ability to easily create and visualize relationships between different entities ranging from organizations, individuals, tenders and contracts awarded. The first goal of the project was to identify the sources of data that were needed to create relationships as well as distinguish between sources of data that were easily available and those that needed to be curated, digitized, scrapped and catalogued.

Some of the data that can be found on Open Duka include information published in the Kenya Gazette, a weekly publication released by the Kenyan government that publishes notices of new legislation, notices required to be published by law or policy and announcements for general public information. Other Information that can be gleaned from Open Duka include government procurement information, ownership of listed companies and tenders approved by governments and other Bretton Woods institutions.

At the launch, Jay Bhalla, the founder and trustee of Open Institute said that there is often a challenge that is faced by people when trying to get data – particularly when it is held by the government, but it’s not impossible to piece together and scrape data from different sources and create relationships and a story:

“The Open Duka platform gives us the perfect opportunity to show that even though data may be closed or in formats that are not digitized, with a bit of effort we can still turn closed data to open data. We have now taken this data and created a conduit for others to have access to clean data and build applications around the data through the platform’s API.”

We hope that as many people as possible will use this tool and as a result, find its use and replication in more areas. Ensuring that corporate and public institutions are made accountable and transparent will be one way to put news and current events and current events into context for the citizens, making them an active participant in the governance arena.

Our dream is that investigative journalists and civil society players in particular as well as curious citizens in general, will find great use in Open Duka going forward. The Open Duka platform was created to be easily implemented for any organization, government and individual, with the code available freely on our Github repository. Going forward, we intend to continue populating the platform with different datasets and making the same available through the platform’s API.

Open Duka is funded by the Africa Technology and Transparency Initiative and is a partnership with Kenya Law.

What are your thoughts on uncovering relationships as a means towards making governments, institutions and individuals transparent and accountable? Let us know in the comments below.

Anne Muigai is the Knowledge and Research program lead at  the Open Institute — a catalyst think-do tank of domain experts that provides technical and advisory services in the open data and open governance space to governments, civil society organizations, media and corporate companies.

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