By Alex Griffin
The American Geographical Society recently had the pleasure of interviewing Omar Seidu, a social statistician working for the Ghana Statistical Service. Through this work, Mr. Seidu works in collaboration with Digital Earth Africa (DEA). Digital Earth Africa can best be described as a geospatial firm providing data on all geographic aspects of the African continent, from agricultural development to natural disaster response. But Mr. Seidu reminded us that there is more to DEA than just that. To him, DEA is about leveraging resources for the entire continent, underscoring the role of intergovernmental collaboration.
Through his statistical work, Mr. Seidu coordinates data in Ghana for monitoring the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are 17 goals created by the UN for sustainable development by the year 2030. Given that many countries didn’t have the resources to analyze or track their environmental goals and progress during the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) era, the DEA has been attempting to fill the gap. They monitor SDG targets and are then focused on how to leverage their resources to achieve individual countries’ SDG objectives. Such objectives range from humanitarian issues such as reducing poverty to environmental ones focused on climate action.
The data collected by Digital Earth Africa comes from many non-traditional sources as they partner with local institutions that are driving the agenda set by the SDG goals. This need for data started from the realized need for infrastructure across the entire continent of Africa. It was born out of the need for locals to manage their own resources and development trajectories of individual countries and to better understand the future development needs of African nations. DEA understands that each country in Africa faces unique issues in its development and that policies need to be tailored to the specific structures within each country.
Much of the discussion with Mr. Seidu focused on the DEA mission of sustainable use of resources in Africa. Accordingly, Digital Earth Africa has a mission to ensure the entire continent benefits from this infrastructure and that such benefits are spread across all communities. DEA has teams scattered across the continent which is indicative that their work is something designed for the entire continent. Mr. Seidu also underscored the role of geography at Digital Earth Africa, noting the organization is managed by experts across fields associated with geography and geospatial tech to ensure the work and infrastructure policies are implemented by locals who understand the continental needs better than anyone else.
Not only is DEA providing the infrastructure and skills necessary for Africa’s progress towards achieving the SDGs, it understands that the beneficiaries are the countries and people within Africa. Their goal is to make their spatial data and resources available to every government that wants it. With this access, countries across Africa have addressed issues within their borders with projects ranging from analyzing Giraffe movement in Kenya and properly re-homing them to analyzing deforestation rates (tree data) in Ghana which led to the prohibition of logging in some jurisdictions. The goal is to have the data and resources DEA provides available to everyone within the continent.
One part of this effort in promoting geospatial literacy is their live sessions every Wednesday, held in both English and French, in which DEA provides free training on how to use its platforms. The aim is that young people are then able to use their knowledge and translate it into support for their local communities and governments. The resources provided by Digital Earth Africa are also being used by private sector companies. Furthermore, DEA has set up a project management office in South Africa, and recruitment is ongoing to oversee the implementation of the programs led by the different Implementing Partners across the continent. The eventual goal is to have a management that is entirely based in Africa, ensuring that those in charge are those on the ground with the best knowledge of the continent.
In sum, the discipline of geography plays a giant role in the work of DEA. With GIS and satellite imagery, the organization uses geospatial data to provide a more accurate depiction of the needs within Africa. They have mapped out and have experts/implementing partners in different African regions that can easily support the needs of governments. DEA places geographers in key areas of their office alongside other diverse expertise to ensure infrastructure in Africa is built around progress and opportunity for all of Africa. Mapping the path of Africa’s future depends on a broad range of perspectives, so expect to see DEA leading the way through geography.