The 11th International Conference of the African Association of Remote Sensing of the Environment (AARSE2016) officially opened at Hotel Africana, Kampala, Uganda



A section of participants pose for a group photo with the Prime Minister after the opening ceremony at Hotel Africana


The premier urged scientists to move geospatial technology from the laboratories to the market place to address development challenges

The 11th International Conference of the African Association of Remote Sensing of the Environment (AARSE) has been officially opened by the Prime Minister of Uganda the Rt. Hon. Ruhakana Rugunda.  

Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda also launched a book funded by UNDP and executed by Makerere University titled, “Disasters and Climate Resilience in Uganda: Processes, Knowledge and Practices”. The book was edited by Dr. Bob R Nakileza, Dr. Yazidhi Bamutaze and Dr. Paul Mukwaya from the Department of Geography, Geo informatics and Climatic Sciences.


The Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Ruhakana Rugunda  and the VC Makerere Prof. John Ddumba-Ssentamu launching the  book

The five day conference is running from 24th – 28th October, 2016 at Hotel Africana, Kampala. Makerere University is providing leadership in the organization under the theme , “Our Earth, Our Heritage: Harnessing Geospatial Technologies for Sustainable Development in Africa”.

Other conference partners include Kyambogo University, isprs(information from imagery), IIEE, UBOS, NEMA,GIC, NFA, ESIPPS International and EIS -Africa . The conference was sponsored by UNDP,( Platinum sponsors), AIRBUS and geoDymn (Silver sponsors) esa, esri, GIC, Embassy of Sweden, Global Water partnership, USAID, ISDE, RADI, Resilient Africa Network, Group on Earth Observations and OAKER Services (bronze sponsors) among others.

The conference brought together over 480 high level dignitaries mainly scientists, policy makers, practitioners, innovators, private sector, technology developers and a group of young scientists from 43 countries from Africa, China and Europe.

About 330 abstracts were submitted for scientific and about 20 plenary presentations. 20 organizations mounted exhibitions for technologies, innovations, services and products.


A section of the participants during the conference

In his opening speech, the Rt. Hon Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda commended the divergent conference congregation saying, it is not very often that you find academics, innovators, policy makers, practitioners, private sector and business people converging together in one conference to address development challenges that confront the continent.

Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda observed that the conference with its flagship theme “Our Earth, Our Heritage: Harnessing Geospatial Technology for Sustainable Development in Africa”, addresses the post 2015 global development agenda, from a geospatial science and technology lense.

“As you are all aware, a new Global Development Agenda (2030) was adopted by the world on 25thSeptember, 2015 at the 70th UN General Assembly, with an eye on “Transforming our world”. The overarching issues in the Global Development Agenda 2030 are human prosperity, thrivability and inclusive development”. He said.

The Premier told participants that that even before the UN adopted the Global Development Agenda, Uganda was for example several steps ahead and had formulated the Vision 2040, with the overall goal of improving livelihoods and the quality of life of citizens.


Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda (Middle) receiving an Award from AARSE. Right is AARSE president Prof. Jide Kufoniyi

The Prime Minister said that the AARSE2016 conference was therefore timely and and themed to tackle the contemporary development agenda and direction particularly for Africa.

“The continent is currently grappling with enormous development challenges including climate change, persistent land degradation, wetland conversions and transformations, avoidable disasters, forestry cover reduction, high urbanization, perpetual conflicts which raise sustainability questions. Most of these stem from unsustainable undertakings by our people in search of livelihood options. As we know, a significant proportion of the African livelihoods are environment and natural resource dependent” The Premier stated.

Posing the first question, “How does Africa move from a “continent of tremendous potential” as commonly framed to a “continent of thriving prosperity”?”, the Prime Minister expressed hope when he said that:

“Various possibilities exist, but there is no doubt that geospatial technology and science can significantly contribute to addressing the contemporary development challenges confronting the continent. We therefore need to fully embrace science and harness fully harness the potential of geospatial technology to solve societal problems and improve the lives of our people”.

Dr. Rugunda further reported that Uganda has a long history of utilizing geospatial technology for environmental monitoring and together with development partners have produced a range of environmental sensitivity atlases that have eased decision-making on development matters that improve the quality of life of citizens.

Uganda’s membership to the Group on Earth Observation (GEO) and the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) according to the Premier, demonstrates her firm commitment and relentlessness to fully utilize space science, earth observation and geospatial technology to propel sustainability in all its dimensions with a firm eye on positively transforming peoples’ livelihoods.


A section of participants

“We have also recently created the National Emergency and Coordination Center (NECOC) under the Office of the Prime Minister to coordinate near real time digital data reception and processing for multi-sectoral use across government. Uganda has redirected its strategic position and has now created a full ministry of Science and Technology since July 2016 that will at policy level facilitate a heightened utility of geospatial technology for sustainability. Uganda also has plans to establishing a National Remote Sensing Center. All these efforts are part of our strategic direction to transform Uganda into a middle-income country by the year 2021”. The Prime Minister reported.

In his second question, “Is geospatial science and technology being utilized to the optimum level to maximize sustainability and thrivability in Africa?” Dr. Rugunda observed that the continent was operating at sub-optimal levels and hence the need to move a level higher to accelerate development.

“There have been some highly promising technological initiatives in Africa. For example the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project in South Africa with the attendant expected economic and social benefits. Just this week, Rwanda launched an initiative to use drones to deliver blood and plasma to hospital addressing a direct societal challenge. These examples notwithstanding, we need to increase the utility of space science, earth observation and geospatial science and technology for transformative benefits at societal level.” He said.

The Prime Minister further observed that Africa’s contribution in the global geospatial industry and business remains dismally low.

“The geospatial industry market generates between $270 billion to $500 annually. It is projected that “location based service market will be $1.3 trillion industry in 2020, while the use of geo-location data including GPS will generate $500 billion in consumer value. We need therefore to re-orient our exploitation of geospatial technology in Africa and embrace a business and entrepreneur dimension that enables creation of jobs, business and economic opportunities especially for the youth”. The Rt. Hon Minister advised.

The Premier also advised that the geospatial technology in Africa must therefore move from the laboratories to the marketplace to address the development aspirations of the continent.

“We should create our “Silicon valley” that expands the economies; reduce the pressure on environment and natural resources, as a pathway to sustainability. This is one of the challenges, which I want the conference delegates to discuss and deliberate on for the duration of the conference”.

Dr. Rugunda described a science and knowledge economy as critical for sustainable livelihoods. He called on scientists to consider how they manage knowledge generated as equally very important. He also emphasized that one of the intricate and challenging sustainability and livelihood issue in Africa and Uganda in particular was disasters citing the infamous disastrous 2010 landslide in Bududa.

“ I am glad to note this conference dedicated a subtheme on Disaster Risk Management and Resilience. That aside, the Office of Prime Minister, Makerere University and UNDP initiated a knowledge management pathway in the field of disaster risk management and resilience with an inaugural publication entitled “Disasters and Climate Resilience in Uganda: Processes, Knowledge and Practices”. I am happy to launch this today at this international forum. As I thank UNDP for the support toward this initiative, I also want to request them to continue the support so that more series can be produced subsequently to enable us track the knowledge growth and progress in this area”. Dr. Rugunda said and challenged the participants saying:

“With this multi-setting of scientists, policy makers, private sector, innovators, technology developers, entrepreneurs and students, it gives me a great opportunity to challenge you to come up with workable solutions over the next 5 days culminating potentially into a Kampala declaration whose legacy will outlive the participants present here today”.

The Prime Minister appreciated the huge investment and effort by the Local Organizing Committee led by Makerere University and the Office of the Prime Minister in organizing the conference. He equally acknowledged the contributions of various sponsors of the conference and specially thanked the UNDP for supporting the conference and the book publication.

Dr. Rugunda also urged participants to find time to enjoy the beauty and hospitality of Uganda saying the country has enormous tourism resources as “gifted by nature” across the country.

The Vice Chancellor Makerere University Prof. John Ddumba Ssentamu welcomed participants to the conference proudly hosted in Uganda, where Makerere University has been the lead institution in organizing.He expressed hope that all will have a memorable conference.


AARSE president Prof. Jide Kufoniyi and Mak VC Prof. John Ddumba -Ssentamu during the conference

Prof. John Ddumba –Ssentamu noted that the theme of the conference “Our Earth, Our Heritage: Harnessing Geospatial Technology for Sustainable Development in Africa”, was situated to contribute to the development agenda agreed on by world leaders to build resilient societies, which are prospering at least by the year 2030.

The Vice Chancellor said the global development agenda was captured in a series of documents and more especially the Sustainable Development Goals geared at transforming society.

“One of the six most important drivers of a transformed society is a “knowledge economy”. It is gratifying that the SDG’s have included education broadly as a proven vehicle for sustainability. We as academic institutions are committed to adapt our training to address these issues related to sustainability”. Prof. Ddumba- Ssentamu said.

The Vice Chancellor reminded participants that the earth is a home and heritage that will eventually be left to the next generation and that, what is to be left to the next generation is dependent on how well this home is managed, responses to the various environmental challenges and the efforts invested to ensure the Earth’s sustainability.

“Geospatial tools give us the leverage to be good custodians of our home the Earth. In this regard, it is a pleasure to have all of you delegates from all over Africa, and the world beyond, in Kampala to share the research and advances in how you have appropriated Geospatial technology in managing and monitoring our Environment.” The VC stated.

The Vice Chancellor told participants that with 480 delegates registered to participate in this conference with over 320 abstracts submitted in addition to preconference workshops and a post conference workshop scheduled, these places this conference as a premier gathering for the advancement of geospatial scholarship. He was also optimistic that the conference will provide the platform to network, share findings, learn from one another and hopefully forge valuable collaborative links.

Through Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, Prof. John Ddumba - Ssentamu thanked the Government of Uganda for the support towards the conference. He also thanked all authors who submitted papers to the conference, and especially those who made it to the conference. In a special way, the Vice Chancellor appreciated the keynote speakers, the exhibitors, sponsors and the Local Organizing Committee for the formidable work put in to ensure that the conference is successful.

“The fact that we are here is testament to the fact that all the effort you have invested has paid off. Should you need any assistance, my office is open to explore ways in which we can advance the use of and adaptation of Geospatial Technologies in the various curricula at the university”. The Professor pledged.

The Principal Makerere University College of Agricultural and environmental Sciences (CAES), Prof. Bernard Bashaasha also welcomed participants to Uganda and Makerere University in particular.


(L) the Prime Minister and (R) - Prof. Bernard Bashaasha during the conference

Prof. Bashaasha told participants that it was indeed a great honor and pride for Makerere University to host the conference of this magnitude.

He said The Department of Geography Geo informatics and Climatic sciences was part of the CAES that boosts of its multi disciplinarty bringing together foresters, food scientists, geographers, environmentalist, agriculturalists, extensionists and economists among others.

He said the college was open for collaborations and implored participants interested in any of the fields to feel free to partner with the college.

AARSE President Prof. Jide Kufoniyi noted that the theme of the conference was carefully chosen to emphasize the vital role of Geo spatial data and information in achieving the new post 2015 sustainable development goals(SDG).

He said the sub-themes include Space and Earth Observations goals (SDG); Management of big Data Infrastructure; From Climate observation to climate change adaptation; Human capital development in Geo spartial science and technology for water and watershed management; and Conflict management , human security and peace building.

Prof. Kufoniyi reported that the biennial conference is one of the objectives of AARSE within its primary aim of increasing the awareness of African governments and their institutions, the private sector and society at large, about the empowering and enhancing benefits by developing, applying and utilizing responsibly, the products and services of Earth observations systems and Geo information technology.


Some of the exhibitors at the conference

“The international conference brings together over 600 scientists, practitioners, vendors of products and government officials from various countries with an objective of promoting the advancement of knowledge, research. Development, education and training in space science and technology including photogrammetry, remote sensing and geo spatial information science and their applications in sustainable development.”

The Chairman Local Organising committee (LOC) Makerere University who is also the Head Department of Geography, Geo informatics and Climatic Sciences, Dr. Yazidhi Bamutaze explained that two years ago, Makerere University together with other institutions in Uganda very reluctantly took a decision and successfully submitted a bid to the AARSE Council (Johannesburg 2014) to host the AARSE2016 conference.

That decision according to Dr. Bumutaze was mottled with fears and prospects.

We had two main fears namely the sheer financial burden required to organize a conference of this magnitude and that 2016 being an election year in Uganda and the attendant activities and publicity that comes with it.

On the other hand, the partners also looked at the prospects of hosting the conference included the massive opportunity to influence the development discourse, post 2015; and to reaffirm Makerere’s position as one of the leading institutions in Africaand Uganda a beautiful country gifted by nature, and beautiful people.


L-R: Former Head of the Department of Geography, Dr. Tumwine Fredrick, the Prime Minister, Prof. John Ddumba - Ssentamu and Dr. Yazidhi Bamutaze pose  for a photograph after the book launch

Dr. Bamutaze explained that the year 2015 had witnessed a redirection and shift in focus of the global development agenda underpinned in new global strategic formulations and re-arrangements exemplified by the shift from Millenium Development Goals (MDG’s) to Sustainable Development Goals ( SDG’s), the transition from the Hyogo Framework of Actions to the Sendal Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction(2015-2030) and the climate change agreement among others.

“These reflect global solidarity and commitment to address the contemporary and futuristic pressing global development challenges covering sustainability resilience, poverty, conflict, urbanization and resource utilization among others”. Bamutaze said.

Dr. Bamutaze further said that cognizant of the increasing connectivity and complexity, remote sensing technology offers a great opportunity for timely, novel and smart solutions to address the above challenges.

“Consequently, the 11th AARSE 2016 conference is well placed to trigger intellectual discussions and technological options to address the development challenges especially to benefit Africa.

Dr. Bamutaze added that the conference will not only be limited to researches from scientists but also discuss strategic issues, notably; New Horizons for Cooperation between Africa and China centering on provisioning and utility of satellite imagery; European Commission Copernicus programme and; Private Sector engagement with GEO.

Dr. Bamutaze paid tribute to various groups of individual and organizations who have invested efforts and resources to make AARSE2016 a success. These include Members of the LOC organizing Committee, Makerere University Administration, The college leadership of CAES and CEDAT, Office of the Prime Minister, UNDP and various sponsors and partners.

Article compiled by;

Jane Anyango

Communication Officer,

College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Makerere University.