The Ujima Project

Quick Look

The Ujima Project seeks to shed light on governmental and NGO expenditures by making budgetary data available online.

Beginning Date: 
September 1, 2009
Annual Budget 2009: 
Project Scale: 
Types of Tools: 


The Ujima Project, named after a Kiswahili word for “collective responsibility,” seeks to promote transparency by opening up various public information datasets that might enable a deeper understanding of policy, expose corruption or shed light on various governmental and NGO expenditures. It is an investigative reporting resource for journalists.

Founded in 2009 by two former New York Times journalists and a former Associated Press photographer, the project collects data from US and European governmental databases, including data about USAID spending, lobbyists hired by foreign governments and organizations to influence US foreign policy, information on health spending by the Global Fund, and information on weapons sales. Ujima has recently begun expanding to include data from the UK Department for International Development and the African Development Bank.

This information is publicly available in developed countries, but can be difficult to access for individuals in the developing world. The Ujima Project’s goal is to help make this information available to citizens, particularly journalists, in Africa. Users can browse through the data, sorting and searching by country, year, amount and other variables. Some of the datasets are accompanied by interactive graphics — for example, one that lets users compare total USAID disbursements to different African countries.

In late 2010, Ujima released an application that lets iPhone users browse its data and started work to develop an API that will give users direct access to its data.


Tell me a little about your project.: 

My name is Ron Nixon and I’m one of three founders. The Ujima Project started as result of my journalistic work (with the New York Times) in African countries, in particular in Rwanda and Nigeria and a few other places. One of the things people mentioned as an obstacle was the lack of access to information from their government — information on which governments and projects get what amounts of money and from whom. Because the US government keeps a lot of information about these countries, we decided to take all the information we found in the US about African countries and put it on a site that can be easily accessed. We started this because people we had spoken to in Rwanda and Nigeria said it would be good to have information about their governments that they can’t access locally.

The information comes from data from the US and European governments. The information was disclosed by African governments to the US and EU because they have to report lobbying, aid information and other data. The African governments don’t disclose this information to the public but, since what they disclose is contained in US government records, we are able to show what they spend in some cases.

What's your vision for the project?: 

Journalists in developing and democratizing countries tend to avoid searching for public records because “you just can’t get them.” This is not always true, but secretive officials have widely discouraged access to public documents. We think Ujima has a dramatic ability to change this, by demonstrating that government records should be open and easily accessible. If we can achieve this shift in thinking, help force open more public records and more reporting that “follows the money,” Ujima’s ultimate impact could be nothing short of revolutionary, affecting corruption, civil society, and good government in countries around the world.

We are hoping not only to provide information to journalists working in various countries, but also to inspire governments to open up the information that they have internally but fear releasing. It helps governance and it helps civic participation to open up that information. Yes, the governments will get some criticism, but people will have a better understanding of how things work and why their leaders make certain decisions. So we hope we can inspire governments themselves to open up access.

Ujima goes beyond aid transparency. We want to go beyond aid information and also provide information about lobbying and contracting around aid. We hope to catalyse a new era of document- and database-driven journalism overseas, particularly in developing and democratizing countries. Ujima should be a “game-changer” for journalists, NGO activists, and others overseas fighting for honest, open government. It will allow citizens to demand accountability while holding evidence in their hands (and on their flash drives and cell phones).

In societies where public records are hard to access, Ujima holds the promise to revolutionize how citizens think about information. They will see vital public records made routinely available — on arms sales, aid shipments, health contracts and more. It will help establish the methodology for journalists of “following the paper trail” — a clear signal that if documents like audits, contracts, and sales agreements are freely available from the West, they should be available from their own governments.

How does your work currently turn into offline change? : 

Our project is relatively new. The potential is that it opens up information so people can see for themselves how much money is available to governments and what it is being used for.

It also serves as an anti-corruption tool, as described in the Kenyan press. It lets people see what their governments do with their money. It helps show some direction on policy or buy legitimacy. These are concrete things happening offline.

We’re also planning to train journalists, to teach them how to use Ujima. We trained about 40 journalists in South Africa and Rwanda when the site was first launched. The main training will began around March 2011. The training will teach journalists how to use the site to find information on aid, arms sales, health and other data that is relevant to them back home. The training will involve people like myself, who have taught computer-assisted reporting and investigative reporting in countries around the world. It will also involve journalists from the various countries where we do the training. We have partnered with various journalism groups in the countries as well who will help with the training.

What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

The biggest obstacle is the lack of access to information in many African countries. There is a ton of other information that we have no way of getting because they don’t have to disclose it to anyone. Another challenge has been putting the data we do get in a format that is easy to use and keeping the information up to date. We’re trying to cultivate relationships with people in the various governments who believe in transparency.

Why do people use your tool?: 

It offers easy access to information through the web. You just click and you are done. Ujima targets journalists and anyone interested in transparency in spending by African countries. The readers are all over Africa, Europe and the United States. We are currently gathering data to be more specific. It’s a new site and the audience is still growing.

What is your civic role?: 

Governments are not scared of Ujima. At times they are afraid of releasing information because of the reprisals, thinking people will use it against them. Ujima is neutral — we don’t take a stance on the information we put online — and we try to keep our relationships with governments cordial.

Has your work been replicated?: 

I’ve had conversations with organizations and people but nothing formal right now. It operates in the African continent and we are expanding to Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and South America, Latin America and Asia and other regions of the world where the same lack of information exists. The African continent is where certainly I have an interest and that is where I started first.

What transparency/accountability organizations do you work with?: 

The Ujima Project is an endeavor of the Center for Public Integrity, an internationally renowned non-profit organization dedicated to producing original, responsible investigative journalism on issues of public concern. The Great Lakes Media Institute and Investigative Reporters and Editors, an international journalism organization based at the University of Missouri-Columbia, have played a key role in Ujima’s development.

Further Questions

What license(s) do you use to publish your code?

The source code for Ujima is available on Github, so anyone can have access to it.


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