By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (WHO)
In a serialized five-part article, I am setting off to revisit the candidature of fellow countryman Dr. Tedros Adhanom to the post of Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Once again, I feel privileged to share with readers my perspective as well as my deeply-felt concerns regarding the future leadership of this vitally and internationally important norm-setting and operational arm of the United Nations system in the field of health.
Let it be known that Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s and my paths have never crossed in this life. Nor have I ever met him in flesh or worked with him. And yet there are some linking us, fantasizing a falling out between he and I. Interestingly, such rubbish started surfacing after I made public my concern in an April 18, 2016 article if he were to become DG of WHO. Therein, I wondered in my blog whether Dr. Tedros Adhanom has the fundamental, necessary qualities and qualifications to become the ninth WHO Director-General.
Again, let it be known that I do not know the candidate in flesh. I have not been in the same hall he was either to dance since he loves dancing, or attend a lecture, or listen to him in any public engagement. To the best of my cognizance, not even were we ever on the same avenue in any street or city either in Europe where I have lived for 20 years now, or in my previous life in New York for lengthy several years.
It would be useful to realize that my attitude soured toward him after reading about the ethnic politics he was systematically promoting in the Ministry of Health and the corruption under his watch. However, my first article of September 8, 2011 was about Ethiopia being the worst place for children, for which I credited Save the Children for the data I used in my criticisms of the policies and performances of the Ministry of Health (MoH) during his tenure as minister.
Then followed another piece at the beginning of January 2013, following the US slashing by 79 percent its contributions to the fight in Ethiopia against HIV/aids. I was angry at him, knowingly or unknowingly, for allowing while he was at MoH foreign aid to beef up the ruling party’s propaganda outlets such as Walta Information and Fana. I had made mention of this in my first article, when for the first time I discussed his candidature.
Subsequent to that, I wrote an editorial to an IRIN story on this very same subject matter. It was at that time that I was convinced Dr. Tedros Adhanom has severe handicaps in management of a huge health organization, especially for a huge country and population, such as Ethiopia.
To his misfortune, as a candidate, according to WHO’s manual (1(f) (5) on the election of the Director-General, one of the requirements and expectations in a candidate is “demonstrable competence in organizational management”. No doubt, I have noticed severe handicap in that area.
In the light of the above, I ask those that are in the habit of droning the anti-Tigrean charge against me to desist forthwith. I am not that. I am not taking the trouble of researching and writing just to undermine Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s aspiration to become the first African WHO Director-General because he is a Tigrean. We know from our country’s experience that is the TPLF’s province. The evidence is that it has sought to Tigreanize the Ethiopian state and its institutions; in that, it has registered successes in Tigranizing the military and intelligence spheres; the national economy is under its unlawful control, while it also continues to exercise subtle and systematic ethnic exclusion and domination during these past 25 years in its failed governance of an old multi-ethnic state.
Consequently, be it known that I am strictly writing from the angle of Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s WHO candidature, nothing more. Be it known that I am strongly convinced by what I have learned about the values he professes and selectively practices. At the same time, through the years this has given me a window into his capacities, as would capture any curious educated person with love for his/her country and humanity. Unfortunately, what I am writing about him is a very unhappy piece. Trust me, I am not responsible for that.
When we begin to glide into the substance of his beliefs, values, personal qualities and qualifications, there is no need at this point for me to diss him on his anti-democratic, anti-human rights policies he has collaboratively pursued with the TPLF, including persecution of people on the basis of their ethnic origins. Nor would I want to confront him at this point on his anti-Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) political position, for which as product of a conservative society, he has divulged his unaccommodating views on occasions.
For me, nevertheless, intolerable is (just listen below) where he got the strength to acquiesce or contemptibly dare to urge in a VOA interview of November 2015 the disregard of the eight million Ethiopians suffering from hunger in the current drought. For him, that number is insignificant relative to (according to him because of his government’s good work) the “88 million Ethiopians), who are doing fine and everything is ok!” The value of life, it appears, is being measured by numbers not people living helped to lead worthy and beneficial life!
It is shocking to hear this from him directly and a number of other unacceptable remarks in this audio; bear in mind this person is a candidate now for the WHO leadership!
To my understanding, even if we forget other considerations, under Principle One, the WHO Constitution requires and expects of any leader, national or international – certainly the WHO DG – to be aware, govern and be governed by the belief and conviction: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
For understandable reason, in this first part I would start my consideration of Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s candidacy from the laws governing WHO as an international organization, for which, beside the United Nations Charter, it has the WHO Constitution. In its Article 31, it states:
“The Director-General shall be appointed by the Health Assembly on the nomination of the Board on such terms as the [World] Health Assembly may determine. The Director-General, subject to the authority of the [Executive] Board, shall be the chief technical and administrative officer of the Organization.”
In Chapter II of the Constitution, Articles 30 through 37, the responsibilities and functions of the Director-General have been laid out (Articles 55-58 deal with his/her role in budgetary matters). Thereupon, most importantly, we have seen through the past seventy years of WHO’s existence that the Director-General has been “the chief technical and administrative officer of the Organization.” This is consistent with Article 97 of the United Nations Charter, which refers to the Secretary-General as ” chief administrative officer of the Organization.”
Upon coming into force in 1948, the WHO Constitution has been amended a number of times. However, at no time have the powers and mandate of the Director-General been questioned or revised.
In regard to the election of the Director-General, the 65th World Health Assembly (WHA65.15) in May 2012 contextually employed the word “paramount” three times in the context of what is to be considered varying importances in places, as follows:
(a) The first time this is found in a preambular paragraph – which conference diplomats in jocular state of mind refer to as the theological part. There, the reference is utilized to highlight “…paramount importance in the selection and nomination process of the Director-General, and that due regard should be paid to the importance of recruiting future Directors-General on as wide a geographical basis as possible from Member States of the six regions of the Organization”.
(b) The second time, appearing in the operative part of the paragraph for the first time is in WHA Decision, operative paragraph (1), subparagraph (a). It is intended to underline the importance of: “…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”.
(c) The third case, this phrase comes, for the second time, in another operative paragraph (i) subparagraph (f); its purpose is to underscore “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)…”
On these latter two, i.e., (b) and (c), the WHA Assembly did not leave it at that. It detailed what it expects fulfillment of the following requirements by the nominated candidates:
(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 Director-General’s post is of such gargantuan importance that I cannot sufficiently emphasize the enormous responsibility this imposes on the 194 member states of WHO to select the right candidate.
Needless to state that the international community must courageously assume its share of the responsibilities by electing in May 2017 for this vitally important job the candidate that meets the above-referenced-criteria. It is a duty for and service to benefit the health of peoples and nations of the world. As nations, we need to keep in mind that we live at a time when the pharmaceutical industry, in collusion with some member states and wealthy philanthropists with huge portfolios of stocks, shares and bonds, are gearing up to get a servile individual as Director-General to become their tool to advance their economic and financial interests.
In this context, I would request readers to give their attention to the timely and serious message, contained in the statement by Director-General Margaret Chan, who told the 69th session of the World Health Assembly last Monday, 23rd May, 2017, the following:
“[T]he global health landscape is being shaped by three slow-motion disasters: a changing climate, the failure of more and more mainstay antimicrobials, and the rise of chronic noncommunicable diseases as the leading killers worldwide. These are not natural disasters. They are man-made disasters created by policies that place economic interests above concerns about the well-being of human lives and the planet that sustains them.”
This has reminded me of how much vigilance is needed in the forthcoming election of the WHO’s next Director-General. Again, we need to keep in mind that we are all in the same planet, although some are more driven by greed and arrogance that is compelling them to ride roughshod over international coexistence, refusing full acceptance of the norms that have so far served us reasonably well and the established practices thereon.
Therefore, it is extremely essential that, an organization with broad mandate as WHO’s must be protected by all means. It must be allowed, in line with existing mandates and practices, to make its presence widely felt, including on a tiny far off island with minimal contacts with the outside world, if and when the need arises.
Perhaps, recalling Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s November 2015 VOA interview, he may be the only WHO DG post aspirant likely to urge ignoring those tiny islanders, since the billions of the people on this huge planet are ok!
Does Dr. Tedros Adhanom have the requisite qualifications to become next WHO Director-General?