By Shiferaw Abebe
It may appear rather odd that the majority of Ethiopians are opposed to Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s candidacy for the position of Director General (DG) of the World Health Organization (WHO) when the African Union (AU) is fully behind his bid.
The simple explanation could be that African leaders don’t know this candidate as much as we Ethiopians do. But of course there is more to the dichotomy. African rulers are reportedly backing Adhanom for a geopolitical reason, namely that they feel it is an African’s turn to head the WHO. This rationale is of course myopic and narrow minded but could still get a pass if Adhanom had the moral integrity and the intellectual fortitude that match the post he is aspiring to fill. Unfortunately Adhanom lacks both qualities and voting for him on partisan grounds and making him a head of one of the most consequential international organizations is irresponsible and inexcusable.
But then these African rulers are the same individuals who in 2016 threatened to pull their countries out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a shameful show of solidarity with those African heads of states the ICC charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. The current rulers of Ethiopia, represented by Adhanom as a foreign minister, were in the forefront of the call for boycotting the ICC.
It goes without saying that the vast majority of Ethiopians have no respect or attach any value to the blanket endorsement Adhanom received from the AU. We know if ordinary Africans were to cast the votes they would side with the Ethiopian people in repudiating Adhanom’s candidacy.
But why do Ethiopians oppose Adhanom’s candidacy?
First and foremost, the vast majority of Ethiopians don’t see Adhanom as representing Ethiopia in any capacity. Adhanom is one of nine politburo members of a secretive, underhanded tribal group called Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) that took power in Ethiopia in1991 following a 17-year bloody armed struggle. When TPLF began its armed insurgency in 1975, it had a goal of seceding Tigray from Ethiopia. It was only by surreptitious circumstances that it came to control the entire country, and the reason why most Ethiopians to this day see it as an occupying force.
True to form, TPLF has since ruled the country with an apartheid type political system where a slice minority controls the political apparatus and subject the vast majority to constant harassment, persecution, arrests, tortures and killings.
In addition to Adhanom’s piling crimes as a former health and foreign minister, as member of the TPLF politburo, he shares responsibility for the genocides, tortures, and extra-judicial killings of thousands of innocent Ethiopians. In the last year and a half alone, the TPLF regime has killed over a thousand, wounded and tortured as many and arrested over 25 thousand Ethiopians.
Second, Mr. Adhanom may appear cheery and honest for outsiders but Ethiopians know for what he really is – a master of lies and deception. To give an example, in a July 2015 interview with CNN (http://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2015/07/28/intv-ethiopia-amanpour-tedros-adhanom.cnn) the following is what he said regarding the arrest of journalists in Ethiopia:
First of all what I would like to say is we haven’t jailed any journalist. We follow the law… the rule of law. Nobody is above the law. When they trespass the law they will be in trouble. Otherwise nobody will touch them…
Denying the regime’s false accusation of journalist who are critical of the regime as having connections with political groups the regime has outlawed, he also said:
On arrests for being critical, no…. that cannot be a problem….the problem is when they trespass the law…otherwise for being critical, no we need it because it is feedback for us, and we can learn from what they are saying… media is the eyes and ears of the people …
These lies were interspaced by Adhanom’s stale plea that democracy is nascent in Ethiopia, that it takes time to build democratic institutions, educate people, etc.
To an outsider, particularly a journalist, a politician, or ordinary citizen in the west, the above answers may appear deceptively reasonable, but for Ethiopians they are infuriating lies that show not only Adhanom’s debased morality but also his contempt for the victims of his regime and the Ethiopian people at large who year after year lose their sons and daughters for prison, exile or TPLF’s bullets.
Adhanom’s lies and deceptive remarks are of course taken from a well-rehearsed TPLF playbook designed to keep outsiders deceived or at the very least confused about TPLF’s serial abuse of human and democratic rights of Ethiopians.
The following is what the puppet Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, said in April in a BBC interview when asked about the regime’s (deceptive) interest to open a dialogue with the opposition when many opposition leaders were locked up in jail (https://www.facebook.com/bbcafrica/videos/10155294955615229/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE):
First of all, the Ethiopian government has not detained anyone because of its political view. The detention has been there because these guys directly communicating to destabilizing the country with armed struggling groups in Eritrea. So I think it is very clear that none who are arrested because of their political view. You know the problem with transition democracy is these kind of people they know that if you go to the political parties, you know, media and the western, you know, politicians will cry out for them.
Asked how “his government” was going to address concerns of human right abuses and media freedom, Desalegn answered:
The issue is, you know, democracy in Ethiopia is a very young one, with only four elections, five elections conducted…. We need to develop within our own culture because we have our own culture. Sometimes, it can be say to be undemocratic, may be abuses and human rights, which also is within the culture of the society. We have to address these issues through education, awareness creation and institution building.
Except for Desalegn’s poorer mastery of the English language and his utter incoherence, his responses are exactly the same as Adhanom’s. They both apply TPLF’s three part communication strategy:
First, deny any wrong doing, i.e., claim no human right activist or journalist or opposition figures is arrested. Everyone arrested is arrested for violating a law.
Second, admit the possibility of mistakes and room for improvement followed by a plea for patience – repeat democracy is nascent in Ethiopia, that erecting democratic institutions take time, etc., and
Third, blame the Ethiopian people for any mistakes and hold their education and culture as the culprit for lack of progress on democracy and human rights.
It is depressing to admit this gimmick has so far had its intended trick on clueless and half interested western journalists, politicians, philanthropists and even academics.
But it has no chance with Ethiopians!
Ethiopians know that the absence of democracy or human rights in their country has nothing to do with their education or culture but has everything to do with TPLF’s determination to stay in power forever and at any cost.
Ethiopians know TPLF does not respect democracy because it does not respect the rule of law. For example Adhanom and his party have erected the anti-terrorism and civil society laws for the sole purpose of targeting their political opponents and critics. Even as draconian as such laws are it is the TPLF leaders, not the Ethiopian people, who are abusing and misusing them routinely.
Finally Ethiopians know that as long as there is no justice and fairness there cannot be an enduring rule of law or democracy. There is no justice in Ethiopia today because TPLF has no democratic representation. It took power forcefully 26 years ago; it has stayed in power this far forcefully.
When its atrocities and repressions finally gave way to popular uprisings, the regime declared a Marshall Law that is still in place, suspending the constitutional rights of the people, and hunting down its opponents, torturing them with medieval type techniques, and killing many of them without due process.
This minority group controls most of the country’s economic resources, stashes away billions of dollars in foreign banks, and spends millions of dollars to hire lobbyists to soften its image among foreign powers, while millions of Ethiopians are starving and on the verge of death as we speak.
Tedros Adhanom is the embodiment of and a key player in this brutal and criminal regime. Appointing such a person to lead the WHO would be a travesty of justice and a mockery of integrity of the highest order.
Concealing his political rank within the TPLF party, Adhanom has embellished and presented himself as a public health leader and a career diplomat. His deception might work with others.
Not with Ethiopians.
That is why the vast majority of Ethiopians are unapologetically against his candidacy for the DG of the WHO
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org