RMB champions the use of Free and Open Source Software for Geo-information Management and analysis in Rwanda

GIS Mentors at RMB posing for a group photo, 21-May-2019

In an unprecedented move to catalyze the use of information technology to spur efficiency in the collection, management, and analysis of geo-information in the organization, Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board (RMB) hosted a week-long training of its staff on the use of Free and Open-Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) tools.

The programme is supported by the Sustainable Development of Mining in Rwanda (SDMR) project which seeks, among others, to catalyze the development of a geological information management system for easy access and management of geographical information as part of the promotion of evidence-based decision making.

The course attracted around thirty staff who have a background in GIS and/or are required to use geo-information to fulfil their daily job responsibilities at RMB. This is the first session in a series of trainings that will be conducted along the year and it focused on QGIS, the leading Open Source desktop GIS used by millions of GIS professionals and practitioners world-wide. The facilitation team was composed of experts from GISPO, a Finland-based consulting firm that specializes in the development of open source solutions to geospatial issues.

At the end of this first session of training, a mentors group was formed which consists of selected 14 people who will continuously catalyze the increased adoption of FOSS4G tools within the organization. It is envisaged that in the long-term this group will use the experience amassed from this initiative to promote similar FOSS4G promotion programmes within other government institutions in the country.

Speaking at the closing ceremony during the training, Mr Nkomeje Felicien, the elected coordinator of the GIS mentors group at RMB observed: “GIS is indeed one of the essential tools that can facilitate our work as mining regulators in Rwanda. Its integration in our workflow has a great potential to improve our planning while also alleviating our daily tasks to deliver good service to our stakeholders. We are very enthusiastic to see how this new strategy to adopt the use open-source GIS tools will contribute to achieving RMB’s goal to modernize the mining industry in Rwanda.”

The business of mineral exploration and extraction is inherently spatial where GIS acts as a decision-support tool throughout the entire mining life cycle. GIS as a science is itself deeply intertwined with geologic exploration where early development of entire GIS branches such as geostatistics were pioneered by geologists working in the mining exploration industry. This historical linkage of GIS and mining exploration is to this day attested by the legacy of methods and techniques such as Krigging that are still routinely used by GIS professionals. Interestingly enough, some geological survey terminologies such as “Nugget” have even been carried along and are now part of the everyday lingo of GIS practitioners even in fields that have little to do with geological exploration.

In that regard, RMB has embarked on a journey to promote the use of GIS and its integration in the organization’s workflow. Unfortunately, development of a spatial data infrastructure (SDI) for an organization is an expensive endeavor because GIS software tools are costly and their associated hardware requirements are demanding. This is compounded by the fact that the available GIS workforce in Rwanda has largely been trained using proprietary tools. This makes it hard to achieve efficiency in the establishment of such an infrastructure since much of the available budget would be spent on the purchase of licenses at the expense of more legitimate needs such as spatial data organization and new data collection, improvement of workflows to integrate GIS, as well as development of appropriate policies and guidelines to implement such workflows.

This programme is thus a response to this challenge where RMB has adopted a strategy to promote the use of Free and Open-Source GIS software as much as possible. Apart from capacity building, this programme also includes promotion of experience sharing where a number of case studies on the use of GIS in RMB will be presented during the forthcoming Africa GIS conference that will be hosted by the University of Rwanda in September 2019.