By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
The 1967 delightful movie “Guess who is coming for dinner” with Sidney Poitier as a WHO senior expert was the first of its type as an attempt to break barriers, though its theme of love and human dignity fictional.
In turning to reality, we note in a world that has declared 70 years ago in Article 2 (1) of the United Nations Charter the sovereign equality of nations, Africa never had the opportunity to provide its leadership to the World Health Organization (WHO) in the 70 years of its existence.
While a part of the international community, there is no escaping, therefore, Africas’s total absence from WHO’s leadership in these seven decades is scandalous.
Some felt that this should be indicator to Africa that the rest of the international community had issues with its credibility or competence. Whatever the reason, especially if it is that those with least financial contributions and the highest disease burden cannot be leaders of the organization, as the developed nations’ argument implied during the negotiations in the last decade in response to the demand for geographical rotation of the Director-General’s post, runs counter especially to WHO’s Principle 3: “The health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security and is dependent on the fullest co-operation of individuals and States.”
Whatever the reason for that past position, today the WHO is at the cusp of change and, thanks to the diligence of the African Group in Geneva, indeed nations since 2012 have shown a degree of understanding in their dealings with WHO; they are now underlining the importance of international cooperation. Certainly, there is still need on the part of Africa to take giant steps to catch up with the rest of the world especially in terms of openness, greater transparency and respect for fundamental human rights of its citizens.
Without this, Africa would continue to be seen at askance, its isolation deepening and left behind, as perpetual laughingstock overrun by dictators or unaccountable leaders.
It must be pointed out that it still is unfortunate that right at this very moment, when the opportunity has finally come for Africa for the first time in seven decades to clinch the top WHO post, Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s behaviour, especially his lack of integrity and principles, consistent with the UN Charter and WHO’s Constitution, is not helping the African cause. This has made his candidacy probably the most resented and protested in the annals of WHO leadership selection.
What makes this intriguing is the fact that the Ethiopian candidate is being challenged by his own compatriots. One could also notice that the ferocity their anger and persistence have found listeners within the international community.
They have also caught the attention of some of the major international media. These have heavily dwelt on the cardinal failure of the candidate’s principles, as the minister of health of his country (2005-2012), when he and the regime he serves breached their WHO obligations by hiding cholera outbreak in Ethiopia on three occasions thereby being responsible for the lives lost for lack of interest and proper treatments.
The case has thus been made by Ethiopian protesters that, as top member of the TPLF leadership and partaker in its human rights crimes, Tedros Adhanom’s personal record has stood against his national and regional and international ambitions. It is the behaviour of his regime and the candidate’s integrity problems that Ethiopians from all over the world, now warn the international community as the danger before WHO. They are trying to impress on Member States of the need to prevent the organization’s leadership from falling into his hands.
A Norwegian psychologist whose grandfather Dr. Karl Evang, Norway’s first post-war minister of health who brought the idea of creating a world health organization in 1945-47 as the world was seized with the founding of the United Nations and elaborating its Charter at San Francisco, Friday tweeted:
The WHO post is very important to all nations. This is due to disastrous impact of diseases on everyone, the possibility of its rapid spread in today’s world, the need for strong international disease surveillance, necessity of continued identification and production of vaccines and other relevant medicaments, etc. This is clear indicator that WHO is not something to be left to anyone.
Moreover, for WHO, we saw in all its documents, INTEGRITY is key, a commodity in short supply with Dr. Tedros Adhanom. His records on human rights leave so much to be desired. In the last week, both The New York Times and The Washington Post have also exposed his lack of principle in hiding the outbreak of cholera, even threatening professionals and governmental organizations if they mentioned it at all.
The great thing about WHO is that it complied with the arbitrary demands of the TPLF regime and Dr. Tedros Adhanom as minister of health (2005-2012). On one occasion, the organization did so by reporting outbreak of cholera in 28 countries around the world between 2007-2009, one of them being Ethiopia. It presented to Member States the profile of the 27 countries, i.e., without Ethiopia’s, while its map clearly showed Ethiopia too had cholera.
I was surprised, as embarrassed, by the hide and seek between the TPLF regime and WHO, realizing the detours WHO crisscrossed to show there was cholera in Ethiopia. Out of admiration for that action, I tweeted the following a few days ago:
What is the international community planning to do about it? Is it going to vote in this person into the organization, or vote him out for life to protect the lives of the young and the old around the world?
Either way it is possible that Africa may lose this present opportunity — be it with a candidate from another region elected, or Tedros Adhanom being picked. In the event this happens, the opposition to the African candidate – Ethiopians from around the world – seem to agree on one thing: the blame cannot be apportioned to the rich nations in the Executive Board or the World Health Assembly (WHA), as before, but to the TPLF and its candidate.
It needs also to be stated, as we witness in this case, the performance of African nations and their political behaviour are likely to remain obstacle to qualified Africans in future to demonstrate their leadership abilities at the international level.
Cacophony of geographical rotation
Invocation of the principle of geographical rotation has a long and protracted history within WHO, until fairly recently.
It seems aware of this, Dr. Tedros Adhanom has adopted a very deceptive electoral campaign. For instance, it has become common to constantly hear from him and the chatter of his supporters about WHO director-general’s post being subject to geographical rotation.
For several months now, we have witnessed Dr. Tedros Adhanom going on his knees to get the African support. He has been campaigning, using the geographical rotation stratagem.
The question to Africa is what does it know about Tedros Adhanom that it should surrender to him, when his own compatriots, most of them professionals, are rejecting him?
The Ethiopian/African candidate launched his campaign on May 24, 2016 in Geneva, choosing to reduce the whole point of his candidacy to geographical representation of Africa. He felt free to claim it was “time for an African to occupy the key UN job”, according to AFP.
On the same day, after wining and dining with African diplomats resident in Geneva in an expensive restaurant (God knows who finances him), Tedros Adhanom enthusiastically appealed to African emotions only to offer himself to become WHO-DG: “It’s time for a director-general who has lived some of the most pressing challenges facing our world today, as I have lived in Africa.”
To begin with, there is no such thing as a/the primary principle of geographical rotation in the election of the Director-General of WHO, as pointed out in my discussion of Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s candidacy on April 18, 2016. Had that been the case, WHO would have long become a badly-managed another African Union (AU).
The confusion so sown by the candidate himself, characteristically political in the TPLF strain – is another evidence of a duplicitous personality.
The lack of consensus within WHO negotiation rooms in 1996 forced rejection of “the principle of geographical rotation”. That is why in between sessions of the World Health Assembly (WHA) and the Executive Board, resolutions adopted kept on reiterating same words in their resolutions, which called, for example, from 2007 (EB120.R19) on “the Director-General to report to the Executive Board at its 121st session on the geographical rotation of the post of Director-General, and on the requirement to appoint a Deputy Director-General, taking into account the views expressed by members of the Board.”
One could notice from the 2006 document (by the WHO legal counsel (EB119INF.DOC/1), there is not even any reference to “geographical rotation” or “geographical representation”.
While negotiations continued through 2011, via Burundi-authored resolution, it was only in 2012 an agreed language was recommended by the Working Group of Member States on the Process and Methods of the Election of the Director-Genera of the World Health Organization that clearly states in paragraph 1 (a):
(a) due regard shall be paid to the principle of equitable geographical representation in the overall process of nomination, election and appointment of the Director-General of WHO, being mindful at the same time that candidates appointed to this post have so far only come from three out of the six regions of the Organization, and that the paramount consideration of the necessity of securing the highest standard of efficiency, competence and integrity in the election and appointment of the Director-General shall be maintained;
Certainly, for anyone who has studied the WHO records, rather long and arduous negotiations had taken place since the early 1990s between the representatives of states in WHO. The reason for this protracted negotiations was donors unwillingness to be financial contributors and Africa, with its highest disease burden – as they put it – wanting to be manager of the global health machinery.
This point of view was pushed by Japan and the European Union. Now in less than honest ways, my fellow countryman in the same manner seems to have chosen to cash on that, arousing ‘African resentment/nationalism’ in clear ways giving precedence to his personal ambitions, instead of the global health problems, especially in poor nations.
In fact, pushing this divisive idea of geographical representation, bitterly opposed for decades within the WHO, would only endanger the organization’s future, at a time when, WHO’s financing is weakening. This is mainly because of pressure by Bill Gates and other philanthropists, as The Washington Post recently put it, due to their creation of “a more diffuse global health landscape.”
While geographical rotation is an important consideration, this clearly shows that it is not WHO’s primary governing principle in the selection of the Director-General, as Tedros Adhanom tries to make it out!
The agreed upon document, recommended by the working group of member states, was approved by WHA in a resolution for the first time in 2012 in WHA65.15, whose paragraph 1 (f) details the following criteria:
- “[T]he Executive Board should ensure that the nominated candidates fulfil the following criteria, while underscoring the paramount importance of professional qualifications and integrity and the need to pay due regard to equitable geographical representation, as well as gender balance in the process leading to the nomination of the candidate(s) that should be submitted to the Health Assembly; he or she should have:
(1) a strong technical background in a health field, including experience in public health;
(2) exposure to and extensive experience in international health;
(3) demonstrable leadership skills and experience;
(4) excellent communication and advocacy skills;
(5) demonstrable competence in organizational management;
(6) sensitivity to cultural, social and political differences;
(7) strong commitment to the mission and objectives of WHO;
(8) good health condition required of all staff members of the Organization;
(9) sufficient skill in at least one of the official working languages of the Executive Board and the Health Assembly”
The above understanding among states members of the World Health Assembly (WHA) has not changed in 2017.
That is why Africa would be better off, examining closely whether Dr. Tedros Adhanom satisfies the above criteria, whereas in Ethiopia his management skills have been worse than a tornado for any institution!