Dr. Luke Whaley is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate in the Department of Geography. He is working alongside Prof. Frances Cleaver and others on a large consortium proukaidject researching non-functional water points in sub-Saharan Africa. In the second of two blogs, he talks about his fieldwork experiences in Uganda as part of this project. You can read his first installment here.
In a previous SIID blog entry I outlined the remit and objectives of a large consortium project I am working on, called “Hidden Crisis”, which is concerned with understanding the multi-faceted nature of the problems leading to non-functional groundwater supply infrastructure across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Professor Frances Cleaver and I from Sheffield University are charged with leading on the research design, implementation, and analysis of the social-science dimension of the project. We are currently in Phase 1 of the project, which is a broad survey phase that includes 600 communities across Ethiopia, Malawi, and Uganda.
A few months ago I visited Ethiopia with a colleague from the British Geological Survey (BGS) to train researchers from the University of Addis Ababa in the logic and techniques of the Phase 1 survey. With the fieldwork well underway there, I recently visited Uganda to do the same, working with our partners from the University of Makarere. The trip was short, intensive, and interesting, and in what follows I shall briefly outline my experience of conducting the survey training there.
A recent report by the United Nations claims that Uganda “narrowly missed” MGD target 7C where “the proportion of the population using an improved drinking water source increased from 52% in 2001/2 to 72% in 2012/13”. Despite this, the report goes on to suggest that “the MDG target for rural areas is projected to be achieved due to Government’s significant investment in rural water supply over the last 15 years”. Yet despite this, the “hidden crisis” concerning non-functional water points, alluded to above, casts a question mark over figures of this sort and points to the possibility of a different reality on the ground.
I landed on a Tuesday afternoon in Uganda with my colleague, Dan Lapworth, from the British Geological Survey. Dan is in charge of training the survey teams in Uganda and Malawi on the physical science aspects of the fieldwork. Our arrival came a day after the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had arrived in the country on a state visit. As such the road from Entebbe airport, situated an hour south of the capital of Kampala, was lined with heavily armed army and police personnel. At our lodgings on the grounds of the University of Makarere we found that Erdogan happened to also be visiting the campus in order to collect an honorary degree. Dan and I sat outside our guesthouse and watched as the president’s noisy cavalcade, a speeding stream of sirens and horns, rushed past on its way out, disturbing the large scavenging stalks atop the surrounding trees and buildings; a ubiquitous sight in Kampala.
The storks that line Kampala’s skyline
We had been met at the airport by Mike Owor, the project’s Principal Investigator for Uganda and head of the Department of Geology and Petroleum Studies at Makerere University. The next morning, in a room at the Department, we were introduced to the rest of the team. These were Felece Katusiime, the social-science researcher, and Joseph Okullo and Bonny Etti, the two physical science researchers. We were joined by Gloria and Caesar, two staff members from the NGO WaterAid (also part of the Hidden Crisis project and in charge of mobilising project communities as preparation for the visiting survey team). Over the next four days we worked together in a group as well as in separate social and physical science teams to get up to scratch with the requirements of the survey work, to ensure that a well-planned fieldwork strategy was in place, and to go through proper conduct and safety procedures.
A training session with the team at Makarere University. From left to right: Joseph, Caesar, Dan, Bonny, and Felece.
We were also waiting on the physical science survey equipment, contained within two large metal crates, which Dan and I had taken with us as holdall luggage but that had been commandeered by customs officials on arrival. We had had real difficulties bringing the equipment into Ethiopia several months earlier, causing a delay to the start of the fieldwork there. Our hearts now sunk at the thought of a similar situation transpiring in Uganda. However, much hard work from Mike and WaterAid behind the scenes meant that we were only slightly delayed waiting for the equipment to clear, and on Saturday morning we convened at the Department again to load the two vehicles and set out into the field. Our destination was the nearby district of Luwero, the first of ten on the survey team’s list.
The project vehicles, loaded up with the field equipment
Whilst I had never visited Uganda before, there was much that resonated with my experiences of living, researching, and travelling in other countries in southern and eastern Africa. Not least, the red dust, the noise, and traffic that seems to engulf much of urban life. As we moved slowly out of the Kampala, often in long traffic jams that always seemed to round a distant turn in the road, the noise and traffic gave way to a verdant countryside, replenished from recent rains. Our lodging was as large and ambitious hotel complex in the district capital of Luwero, equipped with tennis court, football pitch, lake, bars, and even a nightclub.
However, we appeared to be the only guests at the hotel, and on closer inspection the lake was abloom with green algal plumes, there was no net for the crumbling tennis court, and the buildings of the bars and bedrooms were in various stages of completion. In a funny sort of way I was reminded of Andrews et al’s concept of ‘isomorphic mimicry’, which they employ to capture how the donor-government nexus in SSA often results in systems of governance that reproduce the formal governance structures of ‘developed’ countries, but with little of the function.
The view from a bedroom, looking out over the extensive but empty hotel complex in Luwero
Over the next five days we drove out to different rural communities on our list of randomly sampled villages, jointly undertaking the surveys as the research team came to terms with the nature of the work. Fieldwork of this sort is an interesting business. Driving through the district, moving from one village to another, we dipped in and out of the lives of people whose situation is so far removed from one’s own. At every turn you are reminded of the history of our situations, of the wider picture and the various dynamics through which our respective opportunities and constraints have emerged. At the same time, it is always a privilege and a pleasure to be somewhere so different, as for a short time you are exposed to cultures and landscapes far removed from those back home.
The physical science team, conducting a survey at a rural water point
Felece, joined by Mike, undertaking the social survey with members of the local community
Joseph, Dan, and Bonny undertaking the water quality tests back at the hotel after a day in the field
On one of the days we were reminded of the importance of not taking undue risks when in the field. It was getting to late afternoon, around the cut-off time we had agreed beforehand. We decided to push on as progress had been slow that day, and to undertake one more survey. As we left the main road and headed into a forest on increasingly smaller dirt roads, large clouds gathered overhead and the light grew murky. We arrived at the village in question and started to undertake the survey. After introductions, the physical science team moved off to the water point whilst Felece and myself found a place some way off where we sat with members of the water point committee. Shortly into the survey the heavens opened; the rain beat down whilst the wind ripped through the trees, tearing off branches.
At some point we realised that the storm wouldn’t let off in time and so decided to make a break for it. However, to our dismay we found that the way we had come had been blocked by a fallen tree and so we headed back to the village to ask if there was another way out. We were directed down a thin track, surrounded by thick vegetation, which we just squeezed through, only for one of the vehicles to become stuck in the mud. With the help of a good twenty children from the area pushing, the vehicle eventually made it clear of the mud, only for us to discover that this way out was blocked as well, this time by two fallen trees. With evening coming on and no other option available, we were saved by a group of local men with axes, who with no small amount of effort managed to clear the trees from the road. As far as ‘training’ goes, this had been a good lesson to the team in what not to do!
The way back blocked by a fallen tree
The alternative route out also blocked by a fallen tree, with another fallen tree beyond. Local villagers with axes and machetes coming to our rescue.
Local villagers coming to our rescue to clear the final fallen trees
In due course our short amount of time in the field came to an end. We said our goodbyes to the team, and set off with Mike and one of the vehicles to the airport. With the fieldwork completed in Ethiopia, and well underway in Uganda, I am now gearing up for fieldwork training in Malawi that starts at the beginning of September.