Actualizing the standardization of LIMS in developing Africa

Many steps have been made in several countries to develop standards in land administration by building land information managements systems that can be use to streamline the provision of services in this sector. These are considered to be very noble courses majorly due to the fact that land is the major factor in these economies and everything is reliant of how land is managed from enterprising, agribusiness, political stability, poverty alleviation among another important thing to better human life.

In all the cases where rapid change plans have been made in land administration systems, more often these advancements have been made for one purpose, to counter corruption in the land transactions. And yet, no major improvements have been noted with how the environment where these systems are used. But why is this so, considering big investments are made by the governments towards building these systems (LIMS). In these article we will be examining the Gaps that exist in the process of digitizing land administration in our nations that if given due attention we can realize better and more robust LIMS for henceforth.

It’s important to keep in mind that land administration in Africa and generally all developing countries is characterized by conventional land administration systems based on land registration and; customary and/or informal land administration systems, whilst a more visionary system would include cadastral framework conjoined with an Issue management system majorly for litigation of the frequent and inevitable conflicts. This would represent the proper vision of a Land administration system in any setup.

A few countries are considered to have undertaken innovative land administration exercises and/or there had been important project interventions; these are Uganda, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Ghana and Kenya with her NLIMS underway, we’ll talk about this shortly. Land administration and tenure system is a complex concept to grasp and modernizing the system upon which it’s management is built is even more daunting; vast majority of African countries’ populations use the customary land administration system which are not properly documented, colonial land administration laws and regulations remain entrenched in many countries still to this day in Africa (United Nations:1997:4). These among other issues which we’ll discuss in later articles drag the attempt to modernize land administration systems.

In a number of countries, such as Uganda, Ghana, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa and Kenya new land registration laws have been or are being introduced. These laws are an attempt to move away from colonial forms of land administration and harmonize the different systems into one common standard, and also to develop land administration systems and laws that more closely reflect the social land tenures on the ground (customary and/or informal).  For example, Kenya is in the midst of land reform that has far-reaching implications for securing the land rights of rural people and in its rapidly developing urban areas and promoting political stability and economic development. The reform is based on a National Land Policy (NLP), adopted in 2009 after years of consultation.  Since then, the country has also developed several Acts around Land and Environment including the latest Community Land Act which gives effect to Article 63(5) of the Constitution, and protects community land rights, while strengthening county governments’ efforts to regulate the lands themselves. In particular, the Community Land Act will ensure that all community land currently held in trust by county governments will be registered. Also there have been several amendments to the Land registration act which is intended to transform land registration practices in Kenya to a common standard like repealing the previous Acts that placed various sections of the country under different registration regimes, hence furthering the problem even more.

Whilst these steps are noble and aimed at ensuring efficiency and providing and baseline upon which further attempt to build robust land administration systems, and sure enough change effect has been felt amongst the industry players, there still exist pertinent problems that create holes in the efforts made. I’ll briefly go through these gaps with you from the experience of the Kenyan NLIMS and Policies and see how best they can be filled.

But before we go straight to the gaps I’ll take you through Kenya NLIMS developments experience that we’ll be extracting these gaps from. This is a case in point and we will be examining other examples of attempts to modernize land administration systems in future discussions.

Case #1: Kenya NLIMS by National Land Commission

This is a system that I’m most familiar with from development and implementation perspectives. Championed by the National Land Commission under the NLIMS Directorate headed by Director Kuria David one of the most reputable GIS and Land Administration visionaries, these project has come a long way digitizing all the land administration business processes into digital workflows that have been diligently built as an Integrated National Land Information Management System implementation featuring Land registration systems, Cadastral Framework, and CRM. This system is a noble effort to make access to land administration service more feasible and easy for Kenyan citizen and corruption free (however, this is debatable as to whether the technology will bet the vice). Key components of the system are web based and has a greater beauty of tight integration between the various components from DMS, workflow engine to cadastral framework and the CRM side. No more pools of technologies at different departmental or organizational level.  The systems leverage powerful and modern technologies to deliver the end solution such as MS SharePoint, ArcGIS System (JavaScript API for Web and the Land Records Solutions), Custom built DMS based on Torus, MS Dynamics CRM among other technologies. Also, it’s important to note that every enterprise solution must ride on a well modeled Information model and for this NLIMS is built on top of an adaptation of the Land Administration Domain Model (LADM), the ISO standard for Land administration. Explore NLC mandate here

Key to our discussion is the workflows and GIS developments. NLC have realized a powerful end-to-end solution built of best practices and modern technologies, however, there exist gaps that we’ll only wait to see how they’ll be resolved. These challenges may render the efforts fruitless if not combated and NLC and other responsible institutions have to tread softly on these matters.

Gap #1: Data quality and standardization

Cadastral data quality issues emanate from various aspects of the data, most notable are topological correctness, completeness in terms of attribution and precision (this is whether the features can represent the spatial unit object authoritatively or ambiguously). Production of cadastral data is responsibility that is given to specified institution like in the Kenyan case the Survey of Kenya, and thus it would be natural to depend on the data they produce. The question of whether the data they produce is enterprise ready and is produced according to cadastral standards is one that is debatable, again standards are not clearly documented for this case and enterprise readiness is a perceptive matter considering the differing needs of organization. However, there bare minimum quality can be proved to not being met as things are now. Case in point, having tried to use the available cadastral data into implement the Esri Land records solution Parcel Fabric which validates the data quality based on these rules;

  • [Line feature class] Must Be Covered By Boundary Of [Polygon feature class].
  • [Line feature class] Must Not Self-Overlap.
  • [Line feature class] Must Not Self-Intersect.
  • [Line feature class] Must Be Single Part.
  • [Line feature class] Must Not Intersect Or Touch Interior.
  • [Polygon feature class] Boundary Must Be Covered By [Line feature class].
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It was clear that the data still requires major topological refinement before being deployed for use in enterprise solutions especially in NLIMS. From a cadastral layer with slightly above 1000 Parcels objects, 6789 errors were raised after validation against the above six topological rules. This is a worrying scenario.

Aside from these, there are also the attribution case which gets dirty fast as you drill down into old cadastral files. These are mistakes that can take several years to correct or large budgets to redo correctly, owing to the high costs of data.

Gap #2: Cross Organizational issues

There is a pertinent risk in organization not playing nice which each other on issues that deal with sharing of data and information in a well-organized manner. Most government agencies by nature depend on information and data produced by sister agencies however due to bureaucratic processes and inadequate understanding most organizations are stuck in legal battles emanating from need to control larger chucks of processes thus locking out other agencies from accessing their information. This leads to duplication of efforts and wastage in terms of financial and human resources.

Also another issue that makes intra-agencies collaboration is overlapping responsibilities which is a characteristics very notable in African government agencies.

For land administration systems to succeed in their stipulated visions, more close collaborations amongst institutions of the government and private (NGOs) ought to be given a major attention so as to fast track this processes and efforts. Sharing of information such as data structures, information needs, integration issues, and making data accessible will go a long way in facilitating the modernization of land administration systems. The risk here is high costs of duplication of efforts in creating new datasets by every agency, extensive research on requirements, having systems in silos and in different standards.

Gap #3: Technical and human resource capacity

These include risks that arise from inadequate capacity to implement land administration systems. Being a very complex system, the solutions are based on complex technologies and concepts that require thorough training of the users. However, most government agencies have not invested in human resource development which make take up of these systems complicated. This risks are connected to the change management risks in a way. This risk leads to systems not being used to their full capacity and therefore never realize the expected return in investment and gets cancelled in government budgeting as non performing projects.

Gap #4: Change management risks

User experiences with previous systems may make them resistant to accepting a new system and also misconceptions on the impacts a new system may have on employee’s responsibilities being taken away may also dishearten them to accept the system. These are issues that can be played down quite often by cannot be far from the truth.

Gap #5: Choice of technologies, Licensing costs and systems sustainability risks

This is an issue that will definitely raise an intensified debate as it regarding the choice of Open source versus commercial technologies. Each of these technologies have a cost and benefit implication but nothing can be further from the truth that with the right priorities and investment, both can achieve a working solution. Take the case of the FAO Solution for Open Land Tenure (SOLA) which is technically robust and has a complete registry and cadastral system and a DMS whilst open and the Kenyan NLIMS scenario built purely on commercial technologies. SOLA has been deployed in several cases successfully and is proven to be enterprise ready, besides it is built to be customized to fit in different land administration regimes. The choice of the path here will be informed on what step of the project the given agency is interested in investing its resources. Commercial technology while make the development investment sustainable in terms of time, the maintenance cost shoots through the roof as your organization grows.

Gap #6: Other minor risks

Other risks are informed with the dynamics of the organization in terms of resource availability; financial, human and technological

Also, the dynamics of changing policies like in the case of Kenya where land policies and laws change frequently depending on the political landscape and leadership dimensions.

The institutional policies developed upon the ever changing political situation rather than strong constitutional stipulations and service delivery needs. These renders the institutions incentive to deliver quality services and champions successful systems a disheartening challenge.

The views expressed in this article are my own from a personal experience working on the Kenyan Integrated NLIMS and previously research project on Africanizing the LADM standard and Prototyping for Kenyan LADM.

Views are welcome in the comments section and in future updates of the same article and other articles I’ll be keen to include them.

Steve Ochieng
About Steve Ochieng 10 Articles
Geospatial Specialist | Avid Reader and Vivid Writer here | Geospatial Tech Advocacy and Evangelism | GeoProgrammer and Follower of @geohipster