“The market is very close to here.” After about twenty minutes of walking, I realized that close in Uganda did not mean the same thing as close in America. I gave up on exercise and decided to hop on a bodaboda (motorcycle). For less than a dollar, they will take you anywhere you want to go in town. I didn’t realize when I flagged down this particular motorcycle that I would get much more than a ride to the market.
James grew up in Gulu town. His family used to own land a nearby village, but the war forced them to flee. Even after peace returned to the region, his parents refused to return to a place where they saw women and children murdered. He says it’s hard to remember what Gulu town used to look like because now most roads are paved. Modern buildings have replaced the mud brick, thatched roofed hut that once covered the entire town. “”It’s all because of the war” he said as I climbed on the back of his bodaboda. “”Every situation has its advantages and disadvantages” he explained, “When the war was still ongoing, there was development like we never saw before. All of a sudden all these international NGOs flocked to Gulu and brought with them money. Health care was free. School was free. Of course people died, but do you think wazungu (westerns) would have cared about Gulu if not for Kony?”
Despite the wind rushing past as we rode down road, I was transfixed on James’ point. Just like the gold rush had created boom towns in the American West, so had conflict transformed Gulu from a nowhere town in northern Uganda to the unofficial NGO capital of Uganda. But with every boom logically follows a bust. “Now that we are at peace, these NGOs are closing down and moving to places like South Sudan or the Congo. These NGOs hired so many locals to work for them, where will people find jobs like that again?” I had no response. This is the dark side of international development. These organizations are driven by their donors to go where the need is greatest; even if that means the core issues that caused that need in the first place go unaddressed. These organizations use buzzwords like sustainability and human-centered, but long lasting change is not sexy. Feeding children during a famine makes for a better photo than empowering the same children to rebuild their communities once peace returns. It also takes less time. A Band-Aid instead of a cure.
I reached the market within 10 minutes. I thanked James for the ride, handed him 1,000 shillings (30 cents) and he drove off. I never got a picture of him, but I remember this conversation vividly. There are professors who have dedicated their entire lives to make the point that James made in a brief ride to the market.
Since I have no pictures of James, here are a few random shots from my time in Gulu thus far!
Posted By Chris Markomanolakis (Uganda)
Posted Jun 27th, 2018