Tech-savvy youth map Mali’s capital

BAMAKO, Mali (AFP) — Under a blazing sun in Mali’s capital, Amadou Menta leant over to measure a gutter then jotted down the results on a mapping app on his smartphone.

“We’re collecting data,” the 27-year-old geography student said, helping to chart the roadside drains of central Bamako with two friends.

Until recently Mali’s capital was largely uncharted on the web.

With street names or fixed public transport routes often missing in the city of some two million, people tend to ask for directions to find their way.

But the lack of maps is a major obstacle to developing its infrastructure — whether to prevent traffic jams, collect wastewater and rubbish, or prevent flooding.

Tech-savvy young Malians are striving to change this, cataloging the city’s features in the hope it will improve the lives of its residents.

Armed with smartphones, dozens of volunteers have been collecting data for the local branch of OpenStreetMap, a free, online geographic database — which is then used by sites including Google Maps.

Menta and fellow mappers have been charting the channels collecting waste and rainwater in Daoudabougou, a central district often hit by floods.

The gutter project is receiving financial support from the World Bank, and has been welcomed by the authorities.

Drainage, dump needed
So far, the OpenStreetMap volunteers have drawn up a map of Bamako’s public minibus routes, household waste collection points, and basic social services.

Adama Konate, deputy mayor in charge of sanitation, said the group’s efforts had helped Bamako.

“We only had basic knowledge before this project,” Konate said.

“Now we know that this place needs drainage, and that place needs a rubbish dump.”

Mahamadou Wadidie, director of the Regional Development Agency in Bamako, said the youth mapping project had made his job much easier.

On the agency’s website, he showed off a regularly updated map of all the health centers and schools in Bamako drawn up from OpenStreetMap data.

“Instead of taking two months to find out about these things, mayors can now get this information from their computer,” he said.

Mali — an impoverished country with severe governance challenges that has been battling a decade-long jihadist insurgency — does not have many resources to devote to digitizing data, he said

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