Africa lags on mapping


Image: MapIT teams in action in the field. By MapIT
MapIT teams in action in the field

With growth in geographical information systems technology promising to revolutionise various areas of ICT, Africa still lags on mapping. But MapIT is working on correcting this.

Geographical information systems technology merges cartography, statistical analysis and databases to offer a wealth of new insights for business, governments, military, agriculture, health officials and environmentalists.

MapIT, part owned by TomTom, is currently mapping vast regions of the continent to build the geographical databases needed for effective GIS technologies. But it is a challenging job, says MapIT MD Etienne  Louw.

With problems like unrest, wars and vast rural areas, Africa has long been incompletely charted.

Accurately mapping Africa is an ongoing concern, says Louw.

Louw says MapIT has 15 partners across the continent working on correcting this.

“I have been in the GIS industry for 26 years now and have been monitoring the capture of Africa GIS data with interest – it seems like most African countries do not have the means/political will to capture their own data and it is often left up to outside entities like TomTom to do what local governments fail to do.

We have a comprehensive fleet of 580+ vehicles and airplanes and 1450+ staff involved in this process. We work with locals as far as possible and utilise a combination of ‘crowd sourcing’ and professional back-end Q&A processes to enhance the field work.”

Even so, hurdles remain.

Louw says: “Unfortunately our field teams have been barred from entering various areas of local unrest and civil war. As much as possible is being done through remote sensing means but it is not always possible to do final Q&A without physical field work. However, having said this, the existing coverage of Africa by TomTom is comprehensive – at least to such an extent that one can ‘explore’ Africa quite comprehensively digitally on a map these days, as seen on”

The company’s data is in use by scores of clients in the internet mapping, wireless and LBS, vehicle tracking and fleet management, enterprise and government and marketing and BI sectors.

Aiming to build and enhance Africa’s maps to international standards, MapIT’s team is still exploring the roughest terrain to capture all relevant information. They have captured over 500 000 points of interest in 250 categories, and add roughly 5000 more to the database every month.

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