March 12, 2010 It's our turn to Eat - by Jan van den Berg

It’s our turn to eat, is a well known expression in East Africa and used especially when regime change give new leaders the possibility to fill their pockets through crime and corruption. It’s the main cause of the ever growing division between rich and poor, the poor getting poorer every day , in spite of many attempts to develop the region in a better way. And even the fight against malaria gives some people the chance to get their turn to eat.

Guide in our search for this culinary scandal is Ellady Muyambi, director of Uganda’s Network on Toxic-Free Malaria Control. He accompanies us to a region in northern Uganda where people recently started to grow ecological cotton. It gives them a little income after years of war, poverty and hunger. Ellady had done some research in the region and knows exactly what’s at stake.

Suddenly the government decided to start spraying DDT without any warning. Houses are sprayed, even when people are notat home, and have lefttheir food and the cotton harvest in their houses. There were many complaints after the spraying: women suffered abortions, cattle died. Those who refused to let the sprayers into their houses were put in jail. And nobody can sell cotton to the ecological market anymore, because even little traces of DDT are forbidden .

Ellady is fighting the pollution of his country. A pollution organized by greedy people at all levels, and in this case within the ministry of health. People at the United Nations Environmental programme in Nairobi had already told us how people had been pampered and had been corrupted by the chemical industry. These have a strong lobby and provide decision makers in East African countries with money, , cars and things like that.

Ellady knows who in the ministry of health are responsible for this unexpected decision to start spraying, against all international rules. Today he’s in a happy mood. Sometimes justice prevails. The most important decision makers in the ministry have been arrested and put in jail. They had stolen malaria drugs and sold them to private clinics in the country and abroad. “They will be free after paying the judges, but they surely have to look for another job”, Ellady told us.

He shows us the newspaper and we recognize the head of the malaria programme we interviewed earlier. He had told us many lies: there were no alternatives for DDT, hundreds of people were dying every day, there was a very dangerous mosquito in that region and especially people from abroad had no chance to survive. All his arguments had proven to be untrue. Seeing him now, in a pickup with armed soldiers around him, we understood why he ha d told us all these lies. It had been his time to eat.

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