By Dina Ranarifidy and Tamilwai Kolowa
This article was originally published on World Bank Blogs. (Français)
When we launched Open Cities activities in Brazzaville, Congo, in 2019, our main objective was to help the municipalities of Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire design tools to mitigate floods and erosion risks in urban areas. Little did we know that the outcome of this work would have a powerful impact on the Congolese youth. Beyond making cities more resilient against climate shocks, Open Cities foster a passion for urban planning and participatory mapping among youth, providing them with learning and work opportunities . And we were privileged to witness this passion and change firsthand in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire.
City data was scarce, often obsolete, and hardly accessible. This made it a pricey commodity, hampering efforts to plan cities effectively and sustainably. So, when Open Cities made efforts to tap into local resources and fill the data gap—introducing opportunities for free, accessible, and collaborative data—Congolese students jumped on the chance. Now able to collect data that was otherwise unavailable, share it freely, and analyze it to improve their community, university students became excited and proud to play a part in shaping their communities.
In Pointe-Noire, regular mapathons during Open cities activities have built a community of passionate non-commercial mappers . These activities have also forged citizen engagement and bolstered new skills amongst youth. Christian Massama Ganga, a recent graduate from Marien Ngouabi University in Brazzaville, told us that he values using open source tools to learn and collect data on his surroundings. Through the initiative, he delved into open data mapping, and now plans to use this new knowledge to earn his Ph.D. With his certified mapping skills, he’s also applied to become a mapper for the national census. Eventually, Christian wants to map “all of Congo,” so that locals and visitors can navigate the city with ease.
The municipality of Pointe-Noire has also directly benefitted from this collaboration. The city has recruited new staff from the mapping cohort, boosting the link between the young, agile mappers and the traditional authorities, all for the betterment of the city. And this is especially how universities play a major role—in bridging the gap.
Bridging students to greater opportunities
In Pointe-Noire, the université catholique d’Afrique centrale and the Institut catholique des arts et métiers (UCAC-ICAM), an engineering school with campuses in Pointe Noire, in Douala and Yaounde, also serves as a bridge to opportunity. Under the Open Cities Africa Initiative, the school partnered with the Open Cities initiative to train students and involve them directly in the process of data collection and analysis. By integrating Open Cities activities into the curriculum, the school now provides enhanced professional options to their graduates.
Boosting urban planning for cities: skilled surveyors are just a call away
This new, solid cohort of technically versed mappers bring value to their municipalities through collaborative projects. Mappers have also used their skills to support the ongoing slum-upgrading work through the World Bank-financed Congo Urban Development and Poor Neighborhood Upgrading project (DURQuaP). Some students have secured professional contracts to perform data collection and analysis that support infrastructure investments—like roads and drainage structures—carried out under the DURQuaP.
Most recently, local mappers in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire have been involved in collecting, analyzing and classifying data in a new activity that tests vulnerability assessments and flood risk mapping, using Street-View survey technology.
Open Cities initiatives in Congolese cities have successfully built upon the skills and talents of passionate young mappers, and for these promising students and the cities they work on, the sky’s the limit!