Vihiga uses satellite technology to map location data

Vihiga County Geospatial Technology Services Laboratory Director Washington Olando explained how Geospatial Technology Services works at the laboratory at the Mbale County Headquarters on January 4, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

It is arguably one of the smallest devolved units, but Vihiga is fast becoming a model county in Kenya.

Over the past four years, at least 23 counties, government agencies and private companies have visited Vihiga for study or benchmarking purposes.

Most of them were impressed with the tremendous progress the county has made after deploying spatial technology and geographic information systems (GIS) to facilitate planning and management.

Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o led his cabinet and senior county officials recently visited Vihiga for a study visit.

“I’m really impressed with everything, I wish I had come sooner because this technology could easily allow me to win elections without having to run around campaigning. It helps you figure out where most of the votes are, ’ Professor Nyong’o said with laughter.

It is a collaborative initiative involving three companies, France-based Airbus Defense and Space, US-based Esri and Kenya-based LocateIT, which in 2018 chose Vihiga as a model county for the project.

Vihiga is a champion county in the adoption of spatial technologies in the management of county administrative affairs as envisioned in the County Government Act 2012, which requires decentralized units to adopt these technologies.

GIS uses location-based data collected directly from the field via satellite, paper maps, and mobile positioning devices to map resources for analysis and decision-making.

Vihiga Governor Wilber Ottichilo, a space technology and GIS specialist, is excited about his accomplishment.

The technology helps county governments support prudent management and resource allocation, while also facilitating a sound decision-making process, Ottichilo said.

By using geographic information, county governments are able to make informed decisions when planning and allocating projects fairly based on the input of the county executive.

Washington Olando, Director of Geospatial Technology Services (GTS) for Vihiga County, said the system enables any government to make critical decisions that allow for non-discriminatory development in all areas.

The Geospatial Technology Services Lab has data on all projects in the county and also helps monitor ongoing projects.

Mr. Olando explained that prior to the introduction of GIS, Vihiga County faced challenges in planning and allocating projects across districts due to the lack of a County Level Formula (CLF) to allocate resources.

“The first regime had a lot of problems with how to objectively identify disparities in each sector without favoring particular areas,” Orlando said.

The twisted development agenda of the past requires a technology that can tackle the challenge once and for all, the official revealed.

GIS technology became fully operational in Vihiga in 2019, leaving the five sub-counties of Vihiga, Sabatia, Hamisi, Luanda and Emuhaya to streamline services in the 25 constituencies.

The technology often provides imagery to GIS to help closely monitor ongoing development projects in the county.

“Satellite technology allows us to monitor our plans to ensure they are implemented,” Orlando said.

“It’s a way of automating services to improve efficiency and plug loopholes that drain public money,” Orlando said.

The technology can identify areas in dire need of road connectivity or departments in need of emergency funding, among other things.

It is also used to enhance various social facilities such as schools, hospitals, pharmacies and markets.

“In agriculture, we’re able to know where to provide subsidized agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers or seeds, instead of randomly assigning agricultural inputs like they used to,” Orlando said.

According to the official, the system also helped streamline the budgeting process and provided people with evidence-based development needs, thereby attracting support from development partners.

Dr. Ottichilo said GIS has helped him manage resources effectively through the development of spatial plans for the benefit of residents, including forest areas, water, minerals, wildlife and wetlands.

According to him, the technology is key to his re-election as governor of the county in 2022, “because it helps me bring my development agenda to voters.”

“GIS provides a clear picture of issues affecting residents and comes in handy in implementing policy frameworks and enhancing feedback. “Most people may not know it, but GIS and its utilization and implementation was the key to my second win,” Ottichilo said.

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