PastorJ's diary

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African Roads and a Western Bias in Mapping

Posted by PastorJ on 22 March 2016 in English (English)

Now that I have been mapping on OSM for more than a year, I have started to get a better appreciation for the perspectives and concepts surrounding the OSM project. I do, however, continue to reflect on the Western bias of the whole project. In my humble opinion this is most clearly seen in the classification of roads.

A quick scan of the little icons that are attached to the roads classifications show roads and highways familiar in developed countries. The Motorway is a divided highway (called “limited access” in Canada), the Trunk Road is a major route, and Primary seems to indicate a fairly significant route. Secondary and Tertiary are easily identifiable in the Western world as smaller paved roads.

But things are not so clear in Africa. Many roads are residential in town; they turn into a track as they go out into the countryside; and eventually become walking paths. In short, they defy a simple classification. As I entered the discussion with others in the OSM community, I was encouraged to think of the the classification based on the size of the communities connected by the road, rather than the size or condition of the road itself. Fair enough. Based on this, I attempted to organize a reasonable interpretation of the roads for Rwanda (see:

However, there remain problems (and this, of course, is simply an issue with map making – no drawing will ever adequately portray ‘reality’). I have downloaded the OSM data to my Nuvi, and as I drive I am often confronted by the inconsistencies of simply classifying roads based on the towns they connect. The other day I was on a Tertiary road which showed on the Nuvi as a yellow roadway. There was no indication of the condition of the road, just that it was the shortest route to my destination. In fact, it was such a badly maintained road, I needed to turn back and take a different road. The road quality (or surface) is more important in the African context, but it does not show up in the maps.

Recently, I have noticed some modifications to the road classifications (Track has become Unmaintained Track Road; Unclassified Road has become Minor/Unclassified Road). These two changes will greatly ease the burden of decision making when classifying roads in Rwanda.

In fact, Rwanda is an interesting case study since the roads are being developed at a remarkable pace. City streets are being fixed up; country roads are being fixed up, widened and paved; and plans are in the works for some major highways. Yet, in the countryside, the dirt tracks are still plentiful and for the majority of the population, foot traffic is still the main mode of transportation.

Thank you to OSM for helping us map these features more efficiently. It is exciting to be part of a movement that is mapping the whole world.

Place Names: Old and New

Posted by PastorJ on 6 December 2015 in English (English)

It has been exciting to be part of the OSM team working on Rwanda. There are a few in country mappers like myself but most are from Europe and North America. Together, the country’s map is growing in detail on a daily basis.

One perplexing issue concerns the determination of the proper use of place names in a country that has had many recent changes. Following the genocide, Rwanda decided to change the names of several communities where the memories are most painful. So, Gisenyi is now Rubavu, Gitarama is now Munhanga, Butare is now Huye and so on. Using the rules of OSM there is no real decision to be made: simply apply the current place names.

But it’s not that simple. Even though Rwanda is a rapidly modernizing nation, striving to function with Western standards of government services, there are some areas where they are not able to stay on top of things. Road signs are one example. The major road signs have been replaced (mostly) with signs reflecting the changes in community names. But the community signs themselves (as you enter a community) frequently still have the old name, or in some cases, both. They don’t do this to be helpful, it just hasn’t been changed yet. (and frankly, when the majority of the population lacks access to proper water, sanitation and basic services such as electricity, the government has its hands full with more pressing issues).

Add to this the fact that locals consistently use the older names and you have a very confusing situation for any visitor. I’ve been living in the country for just over a year and I’m only starting to be clear on the names of various cities and communities. My Rwandan friends may use the old and new name for a city in the same sentence. It reminds me of my visit to Yugoslavia in 1990 just after they had devalued their currency and the old bills were still in circulation. The bills were identical except for the currency value; the new bill had a printed value of 1,000 and the new bill had a printed value of 1, but they were both worth the same amount (it made for tremendous challenges when exchanging money!!).

So, I wonder how we might address this in a constructive way on OSM. While the new community names should be used (I am in agreement on this), should we also try to include the old place names as a reference since they are consistently still in use across the country? I have experimented with Muhanga (Gitarama) placing the old place name in brackets. I’m sure this is not up to the OSM standard, but it is extremely helpful for travelers and visitors.

I’m curious as to other OSM mappers’ view on this. Thanks for your comments.

Jonathan (PastorJ)

Rwanada: A Country on the Move

Posted by PastorJ on 14 June 2015 in English (English)

Rwanda made international news in 1994 with the terrible human tragedy of the genocide. While it has been 21 years since the genocide, this is still the image many people have in their minds when they think about Rwanda. But not any more. Today, Rwanda is an African country on the move. The economy is growing, livelihoods are building, development is happening everywhere and hope in is the air. Hope, not only for Rwanda’s prosperity and success, but that Rwanda’s renaissance will influence neigbouring countries and serve as a demonstration of what is possible when a country adopts sound policies and makes good choices. The boom in construction has been demonstrated in Rwanda’s improving network of roads. Today, the country boasts a network of major roads which are paved and well maintained. Police ensure that speeding and dangerous drivers are under control (and, unlike other African countries, it is a serious offense to offer a Rwandan police officer a bribe). The country has a long journey ahead of it. The majority of the population live in poverty. But with a major emphasis on education and job training for the future, Rwanda’s future looks bright. I moved here with my wife in 2014 to work in partnership with a local Christian denomination. it is a great privilege to be a part of their work in helping the poor and underprivileged as Rwanda builds for the future. I appreciate the work of OSM contributors from around the world who are helping map Rwanda. Having the app on my ipad is a huge benefit for getting around the country. If anyone needs ‘boots on the ground’ to verify or examine something, please feel free to ask. Jonathan

Location: Kimihurura, Gasabo, Kigali City, 5748, Rwanda