Were currently in Gulu–our last trip here. The purpose of the visit is a combination of saying goodbyes and having a few meetings related to our work for assetmap.org.

Yesterday we had dinner with a Catholic priest who has become a friend and host for us on several visits here. During the meal he recounted a recent visit to his home village in Pader District. He was asked to moderate a dispute between a new widow and extended family over how to handle her late husband’s estate (apparently this problem is global).

Father also told us another thing that was on everyone’s mind in his home village–the recent influx of iron sheets, farm implements and other “resettlement packages” that the government is currently handing out to local communities in the conflict-affected areas. At first I was happy to hear that government is doing some of this. But, then Father explained how the process is unfolding. According to the people Father spoke with, government officials were handing out the items to selected people with the clear quid pro quo that their “support” was expected in upcoming elections. When Father suggested that maybe the people should be pragmatic and accept the much-needed items but then refuse to support the government at the ballot box, he was told that the gifts were being given with a “clear understanding” that government would be following up to see which recipients had “followed through on support” and which had not.

It is this sophisticated use of patronage and fear that keeps the government here going strong. Slowly but surely, they strategically distribute development gifts (usually paid for with aid money) that people desperately need. Logically weighing short-term need over long-term principles, people accept them with open arms. Then, once people are bought, government strong arms them into maintaing the regime while making threats of a return to past violence or new forms of future retribution.

I suppose this form of government functioning is not altogether unique…sounds quite like many governments in the world and is not so different from the way Chicago worked for decades, albeit to a lesser degree. But, that still makes it unfortunate and, ultimately, unsustainable.

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