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STORY SEVENTEEN Unintended Consequences Kamuli, Uganda, 1998 271 Ben has been on roads like this so many times that he worries he’ll forget which country he is in unless he takes careful notes. He removes his steno book and pen from his shoulder bag and forces himself to start, though he’d rather doze off. While the jeep bumps along, he shakily scribbles a couple of boilerplate notes just to get his hand used to the effort: “Classic development dilemma—how can you help people become self-sufficient?” Then he looks out the window and continues: “A single-lane dirt road to a place called Kamuli, north of Jinja, thirty miles or so from Wanyange where one week ago Bill and Hillary Clinton had arrived by chopper to visit a CAVIB village banking group. Hillary Clinton ’s fifth visit to a CAVIB project. CAVIB is now one of her favorite American NGOs. She has seen their work on three continents. She has said that the kind of work CAVIB does is a real answer to poverty. I wonder if I’ll see some things about CAVIB on this trip that Hillary did not. For one thing, Hillary and Bill sure as hell did not come out to see the Kamuli rock breakers.” Ben sees small cleared plots here and there along the road. The terrain feels surprisingly flat, since the jeep is rolling up and down through low undulating hills. Everything is green and seems densely planted. In the distance are larger hills, distinct in their separation from one another , as if they were dropped randomly down from above like so many Mason’s Dots, the candies Ben used to eat at the movies when he was a kid. The farmers’ plots are small and only partly cleared for planting: a hundred square meters of open land, then dense ground cover, then another clearing of the same size. A farmer might have a total of an acre or two, some coffee trees, some bananas, some root vegetables, a few goats, a few cows—not enough to call a “herd.” Maybe once in a day’s drive one might see fifteen lean cows. The soil is darker than the usual laterite soils in this part of Africa, but probably more fragile than it seems. There are no villages along the road. Ben sees a few schools, all un- finished and simple, very few houses larger than a hut, and every couple of miles a small cement block church with a wooden cross on top. There are no signs of health clinics or any official government presence except the police station on the edge of Kamuli. There have been no other vehicles traveling either way in the last forty-five minutes. The jeep pulls into Kamuli. The town is at the end of the road. Beyond is the “bush.” Kamuli’s insubstantial buildings give it a Dodge City aspect at first. But Ben wonders what drives the place. Unlike Dodge City, nothing is evident, such as being on the way to somewhere else or being near a mine or other resources, like cattle. Yet in a low-key way, there does seem to be movement and activity here. Amid the dust are signs of fits-and-starts private development. Ben sees buildings that look to be in midconstruction—two courses of bricks, bent rebars, a pile of corrugated sheets on the ground waiting for the roof trusses. Work on these structures has begun, stopped, continued, and stopped again. There is only one real street in the town, with rows of sewing machines, a few hardware shops, sundry supplies, and a bar at one end. But those are the formal “established” businesses. A lot more is happening off the main street. Kamuli is a microcosm of an early mercantile economy—all petty trade, little manufacture, and what is made is local and for local consumption . It’s a tiny economy, an extension of the family household, just having come out of centuries, no, millennia, of subsistence living. But the economy is quietly humming. With little exaggeration, it seems virtually everyone (children included) has become a trader and 272 Story Seventeen businessperson. Everyone is a buyer and a seller. At every place where people might congregate (the school gate, the one gas station), there is an open market where traders sell. This democratization of the marketplace is new, here as elsewhere in the country. Where once trade—both retail and wholesale...


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