Drowning coasts: Tracking 400 Years of Humanity in the Sedimentary Record

I have always been obsessed with land. From crawling around construction sites with my grandfather as a child, to discussing Locke’s theories on property in my Modern Political Theory class, land, both physical and philosophical, captures my imagination in many ways. While I once believed I had a calling as a land-use lawyer or a real estate broker, I now know I am a physical geographer at heart, with majors in geology and government.

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The End of the Road

What a close to my final week in Uganda! From Monday to Wednesday, I was traveling around the rapidly-expanding city of Hoima and Lake Albert, which are in the western part of Uganda, to attend a conference on monitoring environmental compliance in the oil and natural gas sectors. This conference brought representatives from dozens of several civil society organizations together with government and oil/natural gas sector officials in an attempt to ensure that all parties involved, most especially marginalized groups, benefit from the recent discovery of Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest untapped oil deposits. However, it often appeared that industry groups and the government sought to limit criticism of extractive activities and their negative impacts on Uganda’s citizens. In our guided tours, we saw much of this. Of the 3 sites that we visited, on buses paid for by Tullow Oil, 2 had been inactive for months and the only active site, Kingfisher Field, we viewed from a distance. This gave valuable insight into some of the issues that Transparency International staff face in promoting an open, productive dialogue between citizens, civil society organizations, government officials, and private industry.

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Semi-Independent Research Projects

Over the past week, Robert and I have moved away from lecture-based instruction or guided exercises and have started to assist workshop participants with semi-independent research projects. With each of the participants now able to use ArcGIS to create maps centered around pre-determined themes (usually foreign aid or violent conflict), we felt that allowing workshop participants to make maps that were of interest to them would help to bring the trainings full circle and ensure that they would be able to apply the skills they have been practicing. We also broke up the trainings and created a schedule so that we could meet with each of the participants one-on-one to develop their ideas and make sure that all workshop participants were comfortable working with the software independently.

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Into the Field

This past week, the pace of my work changed drastically as I left the Transparency International central office in Kampala for “the field.” To ensure that the GIS trainings would continue to run smoothly while I was away, a necessity given that the classes will begin their independent research projects next week, I spent last weekend crafting exercises and Robert taught this week’s classes. In these classes, data aggregation techniques were reinforced and students were taught how to use several external applications, such as Tabula, which pulls information from tables in PDF documents and places it into an Excel spreadsheet.

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A Foray into GIS Instruction

After a week-long delay, caused by some difficulties coordinating with TI-U’s partner organizations, we are now nearing the completion of our second week of ArcGIS trainings. These trainings are divided into two sections, each of which meets twice a week for two hours, thus providing TI-U staff and its partners with a great deal of flexibility. This flexibility was a necessity given the hectic work schedules of training participants, many of whom divide their time between Kampala and frequent excursions into the field. As of right now, we are training nine individuals, four of whom are from TI-U, while the other five are divided between Citizen Watch-IT (election monitoring and social accountability) and Action for Development (women’s empowerment and advocacy).

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