Scientists in Sierra Leone use big data to fight corruption

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 November 2018:

Sierra Leone has taken a giant technological leap. Scientists working at a newly established agency responsible for innovation, which was launched last week within the Office of the President, are now using code to fight corruption.

Only 3 out of every 100 citizens in this West African nation of 7 million have access to the internet, according to 2016 data from the International Telecommunications Union.

Although internet access is limited, the scientists in the Office for Innovation say that one of their ultimate goals is to develop the world’s first government quantum network for data encryption.

Coding against Corruption

The first challenge taken on by scientists at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) involved taking stock and accounting for the government’s fleet of vehicles.

In March 2018, a new government was elected into office. During the transition period, an estimated 4000 cars were reportedly missing. The President asked scientists at DSTI to solve the problem of the missing vehicles.

The team analysed data from the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA) and found that 38 vehicles belonging to the government were re-registered to new owners without authorization.

Whilst the majority of these illegal transfers were intra-government, 17 high-end cars were transferred into private and commercial use. They also discovered that 75% of all such transactions – both authorized and unauthorized, occurred in the three years leading up to the 2018 elections.

The SLRSA has a register of 281, 762 vehicles, of which 4,694 belong to the government spanning the last ten years. Despite having all this big data, SLRSA did not have the tools for analysis.

To explore critical and complex questions and develop hypotheses, like what could have happened to 4000 vehicles, requires more big data analytics.

Analysis of big data – involving large volumes of datasets that generally require complex analyses, goes beyond the capacity of Excel and summary statistics.

Using the existing SLRSA data, the data scientists’ code found that there was a 600% increase in authorized transfers from 2014 to 2015.  Moreover, an additional 560 vehicles changed ownership in the two years before the 2018 elections.

These discoveries have been sent to the Anti-Corruption Commission to determine what to do next.

While the Anti-Corruption boss Mr. Francis Ben Kaifala (Photo) says it is too soon to know what they will do once they have an opportunity to evaluate the SLRSA vehicle data further, DSTI’s work has given his investigators a leg up.

“With data like this we know what to request from the target institutions or persons, and with whom to speak,” said Mr. Ben Kaifala.

Data means quicker turnaround on investigations. The Anti-Corruption Commission now knows the names of individuals both within and outside of the government, that have converted ownership of  government vehicles into private and commercial use.

Technology for national development

At the official launch of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) at State House last week, President Bio said that his vision is for the team at DSTI to harness technology for national development.

He believes that Sierra Leone can join the likes of Kenya, Mauritius, and Rwanda who have created thriving ecosystems for innovation and technology.

“My strategic vision for Science, Technology, and Innovation is not to start producing microchips and competing with the likes of Intel and Samsung just yet,” said President Bio

“We are looking to cultivate science, technology and innovation tools that will be successfully applied to solve our national development problems and improve the quality of life in Sierra Leone.”

The President recognized the need for technical capacity and has recruited “the best and brightest” to deliver this vision.  They have been recruited from both within Sierra Leone and its diaspora.

Guiding the team is Dr. Sengeh, who recently engaged with President Bio and Bill Gates at GoalKeepers 2018 in New York. (Photo).

Dr. Sengeh is Sierra Leone’s first ever Chief Innovation Officer. He was appointed by the President to lead the Directorate.

Quantum ambitions

“We have everything. Sierra Leone has the enabling environment for tech and innovation to thrive because the President has made it a priority”, said Dr. Sengeh.

He says that people need to believe that Sierra Leone with all its problems and stories of gore can produce innovative technological solutions. Those who think that developing countries like Sierra Leone cannot lead the world on innovation need to think again.

DSTI scientists already have their sights on doing what no other government has done previously.

The Directorate has announced that it will be the first government agency in the world to develop an impenetrable quantum encrypted network that will keep state data secure. Quantum is the future of computing; it is next-generation technology for data protection.

“We have the technical know-how; our scientists are the best and brightest in their fields. In just four months we’ve worked on solutions from financial data mapping to developing a national education dashboard with UNICEF so that policymakers and donors can identify indicators that affect learning outcomes, performance, and quality education,” said Dr. Sengeh.

“We did this with the 2018 national school census that the government recently concluded. We create tools to make the data useful for decision making. So, it is not a question of if we are going to transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation, it is a question of how soon”.

About the Directorate of Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSTI)

The Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) sits in the Office of the President and executes its functions through the Office of the Chief Minister. The Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) serves as an Advisor to the President and Chief Minister of Sierra Leone. (Photo: Head of Innovation – Dr Sengeh and his team are using coding to crack the culture of corruption in Sierra Leone).

DSTI has for strategic pillars; data for decision making, data system and technology design, service delivery and citizen engagement, and Ecosystems strengthening for technology and entrepreneurship.

The Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) is staffed by a diverse group of thinkers, strategists, coders, creative makers, artists, and problem solvers. All units work closely together to ensure the vision of DSTI is achieved.


  1. Corruption has become a way of life in our dear country. It is sickening that the origins of corruption, gathered momentum in the days of Siaka Stevens who was sure that the country was his private property.

    For the nation to be on the brink of using technology to curtail or eradicate corruption is beyond description, especially with the knowledge that the police force has limited capacity, made worse by being led by incompetent people like Francis Munu and Moigbe. W

    Who ever told these individuals that they could successfully catch and prosecute a monkey caught with the banana it had stolen?

  2. Sierra Leone could be developed using technology. In some countries technology is used to digitalise the citizens. If small countries like Iceland has made it possible to digitalise her citizens, Why Sierra Leone cannot? If that possibility exists I advise the government to do the same. Digitalization of the country will make it easy to control and catch the corrupt people.

  3. Extraordinary! A big leap forward to sustsinable progress and development for Sierra Leone. Kudos to the new direction government.

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