By establishing a national addressing system (NAS), Kenya’s government hopes to generate dynamic data on the country and its population. Current and ongoing efforts by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) are designed to eliminate addressing confusion and to create a standard system by which addresses may be assigned and maintained in Kenya. A viable NAS will also spur economic growth, particularly in realms of e-commerce and small and medium enterprises as well as boosting the country’s national planning capacity.

By establishing a national addressing system (NAS), Kenya’s government hopes to generate dynamic data on the country and its population. Current and ongoing efforts by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) are designed to eliminate addressing confusion and to create a standard system by which addresses may be assigned and maintained in Kenya. A viable NAS will also spur economic growth, particularly in realms of e-commerce and small and medium enterprises as well as boosting the country’s national planning capacity.

The Purpose
The purpose of Kenya’s NAS policy and current NAS implementation efforts is the establishment of coherent and applicable standards for the naming of roadways, the posting of street signs and assigning numbers to all dwellings, principal buildings, businesses and industries throughout the country. Importantly, if an address already exists, it will not necessarily change under the new policy. Rather, changes to existing addresses and road names will only be made when the current address interferes with the provision of services, to include the delivery of parcels or emergency services.

According to reports, a public-private partnership will establish Kenya’s new numbering and addressing system so as to align the process with Kenya’s Constitution. In particular, Schedule 4 of the Constitution mandates physical planning to Kenya’s 47 counties as part of the process of devolution. This will require the CAK to cooperate with the county governments in the establishment of Kenya’s national addressing system, so as to ensure conformity on local and national levels. 

The Potential

It has been accepted for decades across the globe that NAS’s are essential in the facilitation of socio-economic development. Kenya’s current policy of implementing the first comprehensive NAS since independence is therefore deemed essential by the GOK as well as outsiders in order to spur nascent industrialisation efforts and further the socio-economic development of Kenya. The spin-off effects of a functional, accessible and continually updated NAS would likely have regional significance as Kenya’s increased economic might would necessarily touch neighbouring countries. Kenya’s NAS, done properly and consistently, may also spur its neighbours to do the same touching off smaller economic booms there.
Currently, the inaccurate and consequently unreliable addressing system in Kenya has implications that are both financial and human.

In Kenya, as in much of Africa, the absence of a coherent national addressing policy and an accompanying, overarching NAS have hampered planning and development. Most homes and many businesses remain without proper addresses. This is a drag on economic growth, both on the micro and macro scales. Accurate infrastructure and street addressing needs to be compiled, properly housed and continually updated. It also needs to be accessible not just to Kenya’ s national and county governments, but to Kenya’s businesses and its citizens.

A simple, coherent and readily understandable addressing system is essential for the proper and timely deployment of police, fire and ambulance services and even military troop movements, particularly in emergency situations. Unreliable locational data is a major obstacle to the positive and prompt deployment of emergency services – to include national emergency services. Police attempting to locate criminals, medics traveling to save lives and the deployment of anti-terrorism personnel all rely, in some form or another, on reliable and effective addressing systems. Costs associated with the lack of a NAS continue to rise as the range and use of street naming and addressing information increases, using outdated and unreliable systems. A precise and continuously updated national addressing system would ease the delivery or goods and services, to include mail and packages, and engender cost reductions across the board – from businesses to government to civil society – through improved efficiency on account of reliability.

Kenya’s small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) may gain the most from the new NAS. It is estimated that SMEs account for as many as 60 to 70 per cent of jobs in most OECD countries. That number is even higher in countries like Kenya, possibly approaching 90 per cent. With the ability to provide and, as importantly, receive the delivery of goods and services on account of the NAS, a previously insurmountable obstacle for Kenya’s SMEs will have been removed and SMEs could reap the resulting profits from business growth.

What is Involved

The current NAS policy, as developed by the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology and currently being implemented by the CAS, aims, first and foremost, to identify properties within Kenya by using a system of street naming and coding (numbering) that is clear, logical and unambiguous. Second, it aims to ensure that the general public and providers of mail, utility and emergency services can quickly and easily locate individual properties. Third, it will ensure consistent, reliable and effective street coding (numbering) and reduce inconsistencies in street number allocation and renumbering of properties. Fourth, ensure the installation of road signs utilizing the new NAS. Fifth, ensure ongoing assigning of addresses to new developments in all urban areas and maintenance of street name and address database across the entire country.

These goals also involve the development of digitized maps. These will be used by the GOK for use in the administration and controlling of settlements and urban agglomerations. In terms of scope, the NAS policy and current implementation should apply to all existing and new street names, codes and addressing in Kenya.

The Case of Australia
Australia faces problems that are often similar to Kenya’s when it comes to issues of geography (space), devolution (federalism) and urban versus rural (remote) populations. Australia developed a pragmatic approach in the face of its rather complicated federal system. This approach has delivered largely positive solutions to land information issues associated with geolocation and addressing. It did so by mandating one body, PSMA Australia Limited (PSMA), an unlisted public company formed by the nine governments of Australia, to collate and standardise and format and aggregate location data from each of the jurisdictions into authoritative, location-based, national datasets. For example, PSMA developed the Geocoded National Addressing System, or File (G-NAF). G-NAF reportedly pioneered the connection between text information and geocodes to provide a multi-purpose tool capable of use whenever an individual, government or other organization needs to use addresses. The product carries a high level of functional accuracy on account of being built on the basis of cadastral parcels, and properties reflecting actual occupancy of land. This accuracy is functional, though not precise, given precision in cadastral information in Australia is a remote (and arguable) goal.

Kenya could learn from Australia’s successful implementation efforts vis-à-vis its own NAS. Kenya’s use of public-private partnerships in pioneering its own NAS is refreshing. By contracting out such a huge task to a reputable and capable businesses, such as was done by the Australian government with PSMA, the GOK stands a good chance of success. It is also a positive development that the CAS has been mandated the sole responsibility of implementing the NAS in Kenya. In this way, it can provide oversight and avoid squabbles with other GOK ministries. Lastly, Kenya’s NAS should aim for accuracy that is functional rather than precise in rural and remote areas, while not sacrificing accuracy that is precise in urban and suburban areas. This is the lesson Australia learned and it appears to be paying dividends.

The Case of the British Virgin Islands (BVI)

The situation in Kenya’s many rural and remote areas – particularly in the north of the country – mirror those of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a territory comprised of multiple, small islands in the Caribbean. The locals in the BVI know their islands and their fellow citizens well. With local knowledge it is relatively simple to locate landmarks and people. However, like Kenya, the BVI has lacked a NAS. This has acted as an impediment to socio-economic growth and has negatively affected the BVI’s main source of revenue: tourism.  To correct this deficiency, the BVI created a policy document that outlined the goals of the NAS. However, challenges have been encountered by the BVI and will likely be faced by Kenya. These obstacles are surmountable if understood and addressed correctly.

The challenges in creating an NAS, in Kenya or elsewhere, include unreliable or out-of-date information, limited human resource capacity and the lack of hardware and compliant software that is available to stakeholders of the NAS.  In the BVI’s case, a number of buildings throughout the territory had been numbered and 25 per cent of named streets possessed addresses, according to a 2011 report. However, the lack of total coverage of street names for the properties is the greatest challenge in this project. This is also the case in Kenya, but magnified by at least 1,000 times given Kenya’s scale, population size and the lack of a village system.

Legal Authority
In the BVI, the Town and County Planning (TCP) was not vested with the legal responsibility for the road names or addresses in the BVI.  This impediment meant that any work done towards building a comprehensive NAS could be legally challenged or need to be redone at a future date. Kenya should face no such challenge in the realm. The legal authority to addressing has already been granted to the CAK pursuant to the Kenya Information and Communications (Numbering) Regulations 2010. This give the CAK a free hand to implement the NAS policy.

Trained Staff
Kenya may face a challenge in the form of the lack of trained technical staff.  The cost for training and the travel to training sites may create impediments.  However, Kenya’s plan to gather the data via public-private partnerships may stave off such problems. That is, should the CAK mandate a private organization(s) to perform the work, this same organization would, in theory, be expected to have the staff, resources and expertise required to perform the job.

The only drawback in this scenario would be if the CAK opted to hire a foreign firm, thus depriving Kenyan businesses and their employees of the work as well as the associated capacity building. This scenario would also entail legacy problems. That is, the NAS will require constant updating and data input to remain relevant and effective. If local and national staff are unavailable or lack the capacity required, the NAS will quickly become obsolete.   

Data Collection
Collecting and updating data used within the NAS is a herculean task.  Simple, easy-to-follow instructions and procedures for data collection and updating will assist local staff across Kenya’s 47 counties compile and complete the project in a timely fashion.  The development by the CAK or via a public-private partnership of a procedural manual for all datasets would be optimal.  This holds out the possibility of creating data integrity and allowing for quick referencing of correct practices and procedures vis-à-vis data collection.

Issues related to Hardware and Software

In the BVI’s case, not all necessary NAS stakeholders had access to a computer or GIS software.  In order to address this deficiency, the BVI purchased many new computers and software. It is safe to assume that Kenya may face similar problems. At the local level and in rural and remote areas, Kenya’s counties will need to work hand-in-hand with the national government to ensure the collection, data input and data sharing are all performed comprehensively, efficiently and effectively. The CAK may need to address the issue of computer access, but the software should be a non-issue depending on how the public-private partnership is rolled out.

Geolocation Data and Solutions

Most people know their home and office postal addresses, at least in urban and semi-urban areas. However, they do not know their GPS coordinates.  In many places, even with proper NAS’s, businesses that want to ship to a particular postal address need to take additional and often costly, steps to ascertain the GPS coordinates. 

Across the globe, postal operators and governments that design and maintain NAS’s are paying attention to more exact geo-location methods and means. For example, the Universal Postal Union (UPU) is encouraging geo-locational mapping of addresses. Some new NAS’s are geo-locational, and in some countries, older NAS’s are mapping geolocations to current postal addresses. Kenya should seriously consider doing the same. Should GPS coordinates be ascertained at the time of data collection during Kenya’s NAS implementation phase, addresses and GPS coordinates would become relational. This has multiple advantages. It would cut costs in the long run and gives governments and other organizations the ability to properly map and plan locations. It also assists organizations and businesses define service needs and map delivery routes.

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