A shadow fell over the World Health Organization’s weeklong executive board session this week as it discussed the reappointment of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus to a second term as director-general.
Dr. Tedros ran unopposed, which should make him a shoo-in for re-election when the WHO Assembly takes place in May. Yet his own native Ethiopia, which nominated him in 2017, now opposes his candidacy. According to Ethiopia’s ambassador in Geneva, Zenebe Kebede, Tedros has abused his position to aid Tigrayan rebels engaged in a civil war with Ethiopia’s federal government.
Others blame Dr. Tedros for dozens of cases of sexual abuse in Congo by WHO staff in 2019.
The irony of these complaints is that Dr. Tedros is guilty of far worse things which have never been discussed by the executive board or even aired in western media.
It turns out that the man whom the planet must trust with its health, and who was widely suspected of helping China downplay the danger from Covid during the outbreak’s early days, participated in several massive cover-ups of threats to public safety when he was Ethiopia’s foreign minister and a Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front politburo member.
Tedros engaged in the fabrication of poverty statistics in order to make the dictatorship he helped lead look good. In a 2014 address to international aid officials, for example, he can be heard boasting that his government had brought Ethiopia’s poverty rate down to 29%. The claim was absurd and was based on lying about the country’s food production statistics.
Tedros also helped cover up a deadly famine in 2015. Embassies under his control were instructed to minimize the problem. Charities were warned not to use the word “famine.” One grieving Ethiopian mother who had tearfully described her son’s fatal starvation to the BBC was forced to recant on government owned television.
Tedros also tried to cover up his country’s appalling human rights record. He issued public statements claiming all was well when his subordinates were murdering, torturing, kidnapping and illegally imprisoning tens of thousands of Ethiopians, including many children. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, he defended the arrests of journalists trying to expose the truth and called them criminals.
These deliberate misrepresentations skewed foreign aid to Ethiopia. Tens of thousands of innocent lives might have been saved if Tedros had been truthful.
If the truth were known about Tedros’ mendacity, he would not even be allowed to testify in traffic court. And the pattern of Ethiopian cover-ups, apparently done to repay political favors, shows that it is far more probable than commonly realized that he also tried to help China cover-up its embarrassing Wuhan outbreak just like he did for his TPLF cronies.
Yet, for reasons that put politics over people, he is now on track to be entrusted again with billions of lives.
With a combination of stonewalling, denial, political protection, and charm, Tedros has managed to evade accountability for his international crimes so far. This week, the WHO executive board seemed determined to protect him too when the Ethiopian ambassador’s charges were brushed aside.
The World Health Assembly shares heavily in the blame for the pandemic that’s wreaked such misery and havoc because it elected a man whom common sense said was unreliable in 2017. Now, as if such a colossal mistake had never been made, and as if that misjudgment had not inflicted such terrible harm on the very citizens of the member states who voted for him, it now blithely intends to repeat its malfeasance.
The odds of another pandemic during Tedros’ next term are roughly one in six, the same as Russian Roulette. The World Health Organization should be trying to trim those odds, not worsen them.
The writer was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his 27-year role in the democracy revolution that overthrew the TPLF dictatorship in 2018. He is the author of Money, Blood and Conscience, a historical novel about Ethiopia under the TPLF.