A Feel for Kampala

With two weeks in Kampala under my belt, I’ve begun to recover from my initial culture shock and acclimate to daily life in a developing metropolis. For this previously-uninitiated Westerner, that has required a great deal of compromise and a budding tolerance for boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) on Kampala’s perpetually gridlocked, street sign-less roads. In this time, I’ve begun my work with Transparency International Uganda (TI-U), where I am working to visualize and interpret the spatial data in their “Action for Transparency” program, as well as assist my co-workers in gaining familiarity with geospatial data and tools to increase their internal technical capacity.

In my first week, I was given a hands-on introduction to the Action for Transparency program and now have a more complete, practical understanding of what this will be like over the coming months. Through the Action for Transparency program, TI-U publishes detailed financial and spatial information on government-supported primary schools and health centers, including the number of teachers/health workers funded, the share of a school’s budget that goes to scholastic materials, and the latitude/longitude of all of these centers. However, the critical component of the dashboard for this information is a “Whistle?” function, where both TI-U supported citizen monitors and members of the public can call attention to a particular site if any of the financial information appears suspicious or inaccurate, potentially serving as an indicator for corruption. The hope is that this scalable project, which currently contains complete information for only the Wakiso District, will empower citizens to press for change and give TI-U the information that it needs to pressure policy makers to tackle these irregularities head-on. However, this information is only valuable if it can be interpreted and presented in an actionable, readily-understandable manner. It is in this sphere that my partner, Robert Sebunya, and I are working.

Capture

While we will be producing data visualizations ourselves that may be able to tease out a few narratives from the data, there is a clear expiration date for us. When we leave, our work will have meant little if internal TI-U staff are unable to continue producing high quality visualizations and compelling spatial narratives. Therefore, we have begun to produce ArcGIS training materials and exercises that will aid us as we plan for ~20 hours of classroom instruction over the course of the next 5 weeks, which should leave select TI-U staff and individuals from its partner organizations with the ability to utilize a wide variety of data and display information in a way that can hint at certain spatial relationships. For organizations that make a difference through citizen empowerment and pressuring public and private actors to change, these tools are invaluable. If we can build this geospatial capacity, then our time embedded within TI-U will have a lasting impact. I look forward to beginning this work in the coming week.

On a final note, I have been surprised by the high degree of support that public officials have given to the Action for Transparency program. At the official launch of this program, for which I spent the greater part of my first week preparing, the Prime Minister of Uganda, Amama Mbabazi, and several commissioners from the Wakiso District were in attendance. They spoke at length about the potential for this program to bring about meaningful change, increase popular faith in government initiatives, and ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent well. While most governments pay lip-service to these ideals, it was enlightening and heartening to see such an official display of support.