Today I woke up to some really good news. I was delighted to read that Google and the government of Kenya have worked together to digitalise the Kenya Gazette. The Gazette is a weekly official government record/ publication, containing important notices such as government appointments, laws, regulations, and is kept by all governments including Uganda.
Historical copies of the Kenya Gazette dating back to 1906 can now accessed online after the Kenyan Attorney General launched an intuitive with the National Council for Law Reporting (NCLR) to compile and have an online archive of the Gazette and other judicial notices.
According to a statement from Google, over 190,000 pages of information, including notices about the Mau Mau, Migingo Island, and even precursors to the first state of emergency can now be accessed and perused by historians and students around the world. Google says future copies of the Gazette will now be available online as well.
Such joint efforts to bring rich historical information online for access of all who may want across the globe is very commendable. I just wish Uganda (and indeed other African countries) can emulate this feat.
The availability of relevant and useful information in easy to use and access formats is a win for all citizens. There is so much information needed by people in their everyday life but they cannot access that information which can help them make better decisions or secure their lives. There are also many government departments, companies and civil society organizations with information they want to reach to people.
While trying to inform people through traditional media is the major strategy for now, Digitalizing official records by government and indeed all official documents of companies and non-governmental organizations is the most important strategy to improve information and communication of key issues and messages to worldwide stakeholders.
Recently, someone from upcountry who won a Parliamentary seat called me to help him and go to Uganda Bookshop, purchase a copy of the Uganda Gazette and check whether his name is the one indicated as the winner for his constituency. This followed reports of a mistake in the Gazette filing when a candidate who had lost in Masaka was instead named as winner in the Gazette and was thus the official MP elect, until the gazette record is changed. I wished this record was available online, as I would check immediately and answer him.
Putting information online makes it available for anyone in any part of the world at any time when they want that information. Online information is easily searchable and viewable by different readers (web applications) and you can search for the exact information you want (that is if it is archived with the necessary keywords, tags, categories or sections).
Just imagine Uganda had its Gazette from far back available online. Life would be better for all who want to quote or understand historical facts and events. If we managed to get all the laws and regulations of Uganda online, it would be easy for the media, scholars and other people who want to reference a particular law. All none secret information needs to be availed in easy to use globally reaching platforms like online, and where possible, mobile.
This can extend to such basic but vital information such as the list of schools, hospitals and health centres, district offices, sub-country offices, training institutes as well their particular locations and official contacts being availed online. Such information would greatly help Ugandans and other people in the world through for example saving transport people spend to go to the government ministry to check for information, and release the limitations on many business and project initiatives currently hindered by unreliable information.
We need to utilize better technologies available to avail news and information for people to access in their preferred formats when they want to. Both the public and private sector can play a role in initiatives to help avail the country’s information to all who may want it.
A better way to deliver and access news and information are crucial for our development and success as individuals, families, communities, countries and globe generally.
Remember how two years ago, when the Uganda National Examinations Board released results, one had to wait for days for their respective school head teachers to go to Kampala, pick the examinations results, and then go to the school and get the results from the school admin during working hours. But now, parents and students are able to get UNEB national examination results immediately by sending an sms with their index number of a particular candidate to 6600 at any time of their choice. The sms service charged 500 Uganda shillings from any telephone network operator in Uganda resulted from a partnership between SMS Media and UNEB.
Such winning partnerships that make access to vital information are needed to boost our efforts to have an informed society, a key ingredient of a world free from poverty and disease. Kenya and Google have shown the way, and it is a good and easy way. The Gazette can be accessed at their KenyaLaw.org or searching Google or Google Books.
I hope Google can partner with more countries to and live up to their promise of bringing Africa’s rich historical and cultural heritage online, and that several other partners can join in these noble efforts that will surely prove key to the success or not of our generation.