Building Heights in Dar es Salaam

I first went to Dar es Salaam in 2011, there were a few skyscrapers adorning the city’s skyline, now they’re everywhere! Sitting on a rooftop bar in the center of the city, it’s a mass of cranes and pristine new buildings.

Alongside this rapid growth, Ramani Huria has been collecting a lot of data but a lot of it doesn’t get rendered by the default OSM styles… so I’ve dug into the data and created a map of the different floors across the city.

This interactive map allows you to explore where the tallest buildings are in the city, but in displaying the data in this way, also allows for the densest, unplanned and informal areas of the city to become very clear.

There is still some way to go though – in Dar es Salaam there are around 750,000 buildings, with roughly 220,000 (~30%) having been surveyed by the Ramani Huria team and given an appropriate attribute. Ramani Huria has focused its efforts in the urban centres of Dar es Salaam, where most of the multi-story buildings are to be found. But, still a lot more to be covered towards Bagomoyo and Morogoro.

Hat tip to Harry Wood who’s advice and guidance pointed me in the right direction – a more technical blog post and more details of other challenges around correctness of tagging but that’s for another post – now to look at Floor Spaces Indices…!

Data Driven Governance

At the Africa Open Data Conference I was fortunate to have a chat with Juliana Letara, the Town Planner for Kinondoni Municipality and Osiligi Lossai, the Ward Executive Officer of Tandale. We discussed the recent community mapping, how they are beginning to use the maps and the data and some unexpected outcomes.

A longer blog will be incoming on how data is being used to support governance in Dar es Salaam. Personally, I’m still digesting some of the implications and potential of what they’re discussing, regarding the potential impact that Ramani Huria (also here could have and is having in Dar es Salaam.

Starting the Dar Es Salaam Sanitation Hackathon

The sun has risen and hacking has begun! Flickr and Twitter hashtags are #bongosafi. We started off with the usual introductions from problem statement owners and ministry officials. Got a bit of a shake on by loosening up people and getting the hackers to communicate.

Teams starting the design process
Teams starting the design process

Now we’ve just started the grind. Design work is under way, numerous flip charts are being used. The aim will be to catalog as much of this as we can. From this start developing the sanitation problems ailing 2.5 billion people globally. This starts now!

Written and posted from the Sanitation Hackathon, COSTECH, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (-6.77457, 39.24125)


When People Don’t Get Open Source

I’ve been involved with open source software for a bit of time now as well as the odd random hack in various hackathons. I believe in open source as a paradigm because it allows for spontaneous cooperation and collaboration. However, being open isn’t just a state of mind. The business case stands up. When companies go under, the software, as an asset ceases to be developed. In open source when a community ceases development (for whatever reason) it can be picked up by another person, group etc. Because of this it’s important for the development and design process to be open and clear for outsiders, this lends itself to more collaboration and the community can grow itself.

The obverse of this is closed open source development, but where organisations profess to be open source. This blog post was formed due to a comment about developing an app (which already exists, but never mind – reinvention of the wheel seems the flavor de jour currently) and inviting someone to partake in the closed process. Just because your source code is available doesn’t mean that your project is open source. Listening to your community adds breath to your decision making, avoiding technological masturbatory projects and ultimately that leads to a better product. Open source is 10% code, the other 90% is design process, communication, community engagement among many other factors. Releasing your source code and not wishing to listen to a community of developers is just cynical, abhorrent and wrong.


Written and submitted from the Nottingham Geospatial Building (52.953, -1.18405)

Starting The Sanitation Hackathon

Hacking at WaterHack

I was fortunate to attend and provide a problem statement for the London WaterHackathon in 2011. A year later I’m very fortunate to be an organiser for the next iteration; Sanitation Hackathon. The hackathon will grapple with the global sanitation crisis: 2.5 billion lack access to basic sanitation and 1.5 billion have no sanitation facilities at all. Consequently, those 1.5 billion people defecate in the open.

For me, the WaterHack experience was phenomenal. It was a chance to collaborate with intelligent, innovative and motivated people while working on one of the biggest development challenge; the supply of water. In London the Taarifa team first came together during WaterHack. We designed and built a system that would take reports from either citizens or government and place them in an interface and a workflow for administrators. Once a crowdsourced report came in you needed to action it. We worked well as a team, after the hackathon we stuck together and formed a community. We deployed the platform with the World Bank and other partners in a few countries. At the same time we created the Taarifa Organisation to support the Taarifa project.

Ensuring a legacy from any hackathon is important and the Sanitation Hackathon is no different. Having hackers turn up, write some code and leave isn’t sustainable. Part of the solution is to facilitate communication with other sites. Instead of compteting, open source software is about collaboration. The same applies here. The different sites will communicate with each other, so what happens in Dar Es Salaam isn’t replicated in London and vice-versa.

Another critical piece is ensuring that the right tools and environment are there for the participants. During the hackathon in London and Dar Es Salaam we’ll aim to have server space available for teams to use during the hackathon. This will also mean their hacks (if server side) will be available online. This is so others can see their work and functionality during the event as well as after, potentially getting feedback from problem statement owners, NGOs and Ministries. All the code will be open source and available on Github so more hackers can develop on top of the solutions. Technically for the event we aim to have blisteringly fast internet, a lot of power points with a few spare Raspberry Pi and Arduino boards available for hardware hacking.

Due to the rise of the maker movement and cheap customisable hardware it’s important to stress that a hackathon isn’t just about software, hardware is equally important (An important distinction here is that software in the sanitation sector generally refers to behaviors, but here refers to actual software, such as programs.) The equilibrium between software and hardware has been at play within the IT industry since its inception. The hackathons in London will aim to address the global sanitation challenges, however if we can facilitate the right environment then hopefully the right best) solutions, hardware or software, will result.

Join us physically in London, or at any of the global sites. If you can’t make join us on Facebook or Twitter and get involved!

Written and sent from Kaginge Road, Dar Es Salaam.

Taarifa’s Airforce

To infinity and beyond!

I attended and presented at the w3G conference around ‘Geo for when you really need to go’. With the upcoming sanitation hackathon I spoke about how Taarifa and community mapping are being used and can be used for sanitation issues. I’ve been thinking a lot about how aerial imagery could be used to augment community mapping in getting more spatial data. I believe that while mapping roads and facilities are great, we need a better method for monitoring open defecation areas. These areas can grow and shrink rapidly, as such monitoring and identification should be a priority.

I’ve written a problem statement about the subject; “Crowdsourcing open defecation through aerial imagery”. In this I think aerial imagery could be the solution to this problem. The imagery needs to be high resolution with the device collecting cheap, easy to deploy and replace. Ie. a parrot drone.

I’ve discounted weather ballons because of them needing a human who knows how they work, then how best to collect useful data with them. With a drone you should turn it on, press a button or two and it then flies off to collect your data. With the sensors on board it should then reverse geolocate the image, as you’ll know the latitude, longitude, altitude, focal length of the camera and resolution.

To demo this I decided to break Vicchi’s (aka Gary Gale’s) law of conference failures. I flew the drone over the audience at W3G. It didn’t kill or maim, crash or fly into anyones head. Which was better than the last time. As you can see by the videos and pictures, not everyone was convinced it would work!

Picutre here:!i=2177148366&k=NHQRFrL&lb=1&s=X2

Video here:

Written and submitted from British Airways Heathrow Terminal 5 (51.47258,-0.48967)

Flood Damage in Dar Es Salaam

In a previous post I spoke briefly about the situation of the floods and what is being done about it. Previous training within Dar Es Salaam, specifically Ramani Tandale trained community members and students in tools around this area, at the time to collect geospatial data and create a map. However these skills where transferable, when the floods hit, I, as were many other of my collaborators, were inundated with information from the mappers about the situation. Their of photos are below. One of the points of note is the ide mark, showing the height of water. It wreaked havoc.


A Soundtrack To East Africa

Music plays an important part of East African life. Previously I didn’t need an alarm clock in my hotel room, the Tanzanian mambo dawn chorus handily woke me up every morning. Now in a slightly swish hotel “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Supervixen” push out the cobwebs.

With my favourite taxi driver he would on occasion get bored with driving and sit in the passenger seat while I navigated the maelstrom of Dar’s traffic. On the principle that the driver controls the music, off went Sheng FM onto Hendrix. Driving on the pavement past the local bobby to ‘Crosstown Traffic’ is an exhilarating experience, the same when you’re sitting in the back of a car driven by the Envaya team on the way to the dodgiest bar this side if the Equator.

Now for come caffè lattes to supercharge!

Written and submitted in the World Bank Offices, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (-6.81298, 39.29194)