The government's moderate efforts to widen information access contrasted with the technological explosion that took place in Kenya at the same time. Information and communications technology (ICT) became Kenya's fastest-growing sector, thanks largely to deregulation and privatization following years of government monopoly. After 2000, the sector grew at an average rate of 20 percent annually and contributed an average of 1 percentage point to Kenya's gross domestic product.
Pointing to the fast-growing ICT sector, Kenya's technology community started clamoring for easier access to government information. It claimed that access to government data could help reduce waste, spur development of mobile or Web applications, and promote technology start-ups. Athman Mohamed, director at Trademark East Africa, an agency that promotes regional trade, offered transportation as an example. "Up to 40 percent of the cost of anything in a landlocked country is due to transportation," he said. "You can have a direct impact on the lives [of people] if you can use data to save a day here and there [on goods being transported]."
The ICT community argued that the new software applications entrepreneurs would create using open data would help encourage innovation and fuel growth. Al Kags, an entrepreneur and founder of the Open Institute, an organization dedicated to open data and open governments, said, "A lot of young people are driven by innovation. They will develop applications if you provide them with data. And they will provide important service to others." For instance, in 2007 - 08, developers had created the Ushahidi platform that helped monitor incidents of violence following Kenya's 2007 elections. It used crowd sourcing, an online tool that rapidly collected and disseminated data from contributors, to track the violence.
Kenyans could point to another recent example. In 2007, cellular company Safaricom launched M-PESA, a service that enabled subscribers to pay bills and transfer money by using their cell phones. In 2011 - 12, the company earned 16.9 billion Kenyan shillings ($200 million) in revenues from M-PESA alone, with 14.9 million users in a country of 43 million.
Open data advocates found a champion in Ndemo. Soon after assuming office, Ndemo had identified five priorities for the ICT sector: infrastructure through fiber cables, content and application development, public-private partnerships, capacity building, and employment. The need for open data cut through the last four.
Early in his tenure, Ndemo looked to build relationships that would be conducive to innovation. He allied himself closely with the minister of information and communications, Mutahi Kagwe, who helped him gain the president's support. Ndemo also developed professional relationships and coalitions by reaching out to ICT people in the private sector. In 2007, he created an ICT Board, a state corporation for implementing the ministry's policies and projects. "In government, you don't get a choice of people you work with," he said. "So, we actually created a small, semiautonomous agency called the ICT Board to quickly implement some of the programs we had started."
By 2009, Ndemo had developed a track record for carrying out successful reforms by liberalizing the telecommunications sector, supporting M-PESA, and helping bring high-speed fiber-optic cables to Kenya. Tackling the thorny issue of open data was a logical next step.