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Ethiopia's Candidate to Lead the World Health Organization Contracts Foot-in-Mouth Disease

 Tedros Adhanom. Creative Commons image b y Russell Watkins/UK Department for International Development.

Tedros Adhanom. Creative Commons image by Russell Watkins/UK Department for International Development.

Ethiopia's candidate for Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom, shocked many observers when he displayed a complete lack of knowledge about global health strategies during a candidates’ forum on November 2, 2016. Though Adhanom has served in the Ethiopian government as both minister of health and foreign affairs, he failed to answer a basic question about his claims that he is running a campaign on a framework that promotes the health needs of the developing world.

“Sorry, the question is not clear, can you clarify?” he answered, when a representative from Brazil asked him to explain why he claims to represent the developing world, when the agenda he advocated in his presentation espoused the health agenda of the developed world. Instead of answering the question, Adhanom tried to engage in a conversation with the Brazilian representative, apparently hoping to grasp what the question meant. Awkwardly, the moderator intervened, trying to help Adhanom understand the question.

Adhanom also stumbled with another question at the same forum, when asked about the technical cooperation of WHO member states:

This embarrassing performance could hurt Adhanom’s current political campaign for the post of head of the global health body. Recently, he was relieved of his ministerial duties in the Ethiopian government, following a cabinet reshuffle. During his presentation last week, Adhanom said the Ethiopian government replaced him with a new foreign minister, so he could focus on the campaign.

Though he's endorsed by African Union, Adhanom has been under continuous assault from prominent members of Ethiopian civil society and opposition groups, who argue that his ties with the Ethiopian regime should disqualify him from leading WHO. These groups have also started an online petition.

When Adhanom launched his campaign in April 2016, Ethiopia was beset by anti-government protests. Citing the government's violent actions against protesters, 20 Ethiopian political and civic organizations signed a letter declaring Adhanom unfit to lead the World Health Organization, saying he is the face of the regime.

The letter read: “Mr. Adhanom did not lend confidence as a public health figure while he served as the Minister of Health in Ethiopia. […] His tenure as head of the Federal Ministry of Health was fraught with mismanagement and incompetence.”

The letter refers to an audit conducted by the Office of the Inspector General, which was prompted by reports of “mismanagement of money and incompetence.” Subsequent research available on the Internet confirmed that the audit uncovered detailed evidence of financial mismanagement.

In a separate letter, one activist outlined his reasons why Mr. Adhanom should not be allowed anywhere near the World Health Organization.

The human rights website “Al Mariam” also offers a strong denunciation of Adhanom's WHO candidacy:

Adhanom’s shallowness and cluelessness in matters of foreign policy and diplomacy are simply incredible.

His public speeches and statements generally lack not only substance and coherence, but are simply nonsensical. In July 2015, Adhanom said  Ethiopia  is a democracy with one hundred percent of the vote! (Of course, so did Obama. Two “nonsenses” don’t make one bit of sense!)

Adhanom’s diplomatic speeches are chock full of platitudes, clichés, buzzwords and hokum. He has a distinct proclivity to frame complex issues in worn out and left over phrases from the days of student activism of his late boss, thugmaster Meles Zenawi.

Adhanom manifests little understanding of international diplomacy and appears to lack even an elementary understanding of international law, treaties and conventions.   

Meanwhile, Adhanom has been making the case that he would bring a fresh perspective to the WHO's leadership. Other than the African Union, some pro-government diaspora groups and international figures have also backed his candidacy.

Adhanom has relied heavily on social media to build his “brand” in Ethiopia — a country where access to social media is highly limited. Access isn't so restricted, however, that Adhanom's gaffes at the Nov. 2 forum haven't led to mockery online, where critics have enjoyed making fun of his surprising ignorance.

On Twitter, the hashtag #NoTedros4WHO gained popularity, with many users arguing that Adhanom has disqualified himself from holding any position at the WHO.

117 comments

  • Semere

    I think the Brazilian man is sent by ginbot7. Hopefully. Kkkkkkkkkkk

  • Kebere Belay

    If the writer of this article was part of the zone 9 bloggers and endured harsh treatments by the government I totally understand the unfavorable views he may have towards the government. I can also imagine the writer has some genuine concerns about the situation in Ethiopia. However this article appears to be a continuation of the campaign of vicious attack on the candidate by some Ethiopia diaspora members who claim to be activists and politicians but have nothing to offer to make Ethiopia better. Hatred is the main driving force behind their ‘politics/activism’. While we all agree that there are human rights violation issues in Ethiopia, the fact that these groups fail to see anything positive about Ethiopia as a country (not the Ethiopian government) clearly demonstrates their utter lack of patriotism. The host and writer of the so called “human rights website” mentioned in the report (“Al Mariam”) is such a pathological hater and full of negativism that he thinks there is some bad conspiracy behind every good thing that happens in Ethiopia. It is unfortunate to see that some young ‘activists’ have also been infected by such cancerous world view. It is unfortunate that these people don’t realize how much they have been consumed by hatred which essentially makes them unfit to play a constructive role for the kind of Ethiopia we all aspire for. Coming back to Dr. Tedros, he is in fact one of the most qualified people for the job of the DG for the WHO. His success in all the leadership positions he held can never be overstated and everybody who worked with him is amazed by how humble he is. The country has witnessed undeniable progress in improved health under his leadership as Minister of Health so it’s literally impossible to question his accomplishments on this. The writer uses an audit report on the Ethiopian Institute of Public Health, an autonomous public organization that is loosely linked with the Ethiopian MOH, in an attempt to discredit Dr. Tedros’s leadership as minister of health. EPHI is re-established by an act of Ministers Regulation No.4/1996 of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and recognized as an autonomous public authority having its own legal personality. Regarding the questions asked during his interview and his attempt to get clarity, there is nothing out of the ordinary about him seeking clarity of the question that undermines his competency. In fact he did the right thing to seek clarification because the Brazilian figure who asked the question does’t seem understand WHO’s broad mandate as a global body. Please listen carefully, you will note that the Brazilian guy was nervous for some reason and when asked to clarify he made it even more vague. However it isn’t surprising to see those people who have been campaigning against Dr. Tedros’s candidacy trying to make this look like a big failure. He actually did very well on the interview. Of course these is a job interview where he is competing with five other finalists, some of whom are the insiders, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t win but I can imagine how much the haters will try to ridicule him. I just wish they had done just a fraction of what he contributed to this country before…..!

    • devi

      Thank you for writing such a thoughtful post.

  • Angagaw

    Tedy down down with TPLF. No WHO

  • Abay

    This article is moronic. Dr. Tedros did well. There is nothing wrong in asking one to repeat a question or clarify. In fact that is exactly what one should do during an interview until the question is clear. It is idiotic to quote Almariam as a human right’s website knowing full well that Al Mariam is a self declared rabid anti T-TPLF, dog whistle political message for anti-Tigrians/Tigrophobes. He is neither objective nor fair towards Dr. Tedros. These armchair critics have very little understanding of the position that Dr. Tedros seeks to fill nor will their opinions matter.

    Here is a quot by another Tedros.

    Theodore Roosevelt”s excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”, delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910

    THE MAN IN THE ARENA

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

    • devi

      Thank you for such a thoughtful post !

  • Walker

    Dear writer:
    Though you are free to write whatever
    you think, it would be highly preferable to be genuine and free from any
    political bias. As I can understand from
    your article, you completely went to the other extreme end which led you to see
    only the “half empty” part of the story.
    Dr. Tedros, who was a minister of Health, was the key role player of the
    country’s successful journey towards achieving the MDG’s. This success story is
    said not only by me but also by those who are in the top office of the global
    health organization. It is undeniable
    that not only a well-designed policy is crucial for any successful achievements
    but also a visionary, motivated and able leader should be there for its successful
    implementation. Dr. Tedros is a motivated, dedicated and open
    minded leader. Moreover, he is a very good coordinator. Irrespective of my political outlook, I strongly
    believe that he played a crucial role in my country’s recent achievement of the
    MDG’s. Let’s put our own political inclination aside and start to give due
    recognition for individuals’ performance and achievements.

    To make the long story short, the
    article is completely immersed into political biasness and goes down to the game
    of local partisans.

    Dr. Tedros is able leader to tackle global
    health issues with immense practical experience. And he is second to none of
    the current candidates to sit in the top office of the global health
    organization.

  • ተስፋዬ

    Devi has commented a total of 29 times. No one who mildly criticized “Dr. Tedy” was spared. Devi says he has “a deep appreciation for the scientific method, especially when evidence-based principles are applied to real-life situations and produce stellar results.” But he never could provide evidence for the results he is touting. Devi does not seem to understand that “Dr. Teddy” is not ready for WHO assignment though he is Qeltafa. “Dr. Teddy” was never ready to lead Ethiopia’s Health Department just five years after completing his PhD in tropical diseases with no prior experience in running any agency let alone a national organization. That is why he ended up messing up Health Department trying to re-organize it. After he left to lead Foreign Affairs those at Health had to undo to get back to where the department was before “Dr. Tedy” arrived.

    Devi and Lundat together took up 50 percent of the commenting space. What scientific conclusion could one make of their activities?: a/ Devi and Lundat are one and the same person b/ Devi and Lundat are out to defend “Dr. Tedy” at all costs c/ Devi and Lundat’s hopes of naming WHO director-general among their personal friends is dashed d/ D and L are just performing a desk job from their Consular hideout and e/ D and L have little else to do.

    • devi

      ተስፋዬ, thank you for taking note of how prolific I am. And please be advised I could not have possibly taken up 50 percent of the commenting space because there is no SPACE in cyberspace. Cyberspace is endless, boundless. The reason I am writing is to counteract disinformation from people like you who have big, stupid political axes to grind. The WHO, CDC and other major health agencies of the world are well aware of Dr. Tedros’s accomplishments, and you should explore the scientific literature before you launch into a purely political attack based on hate, not scientific evidence.

      You’re also a whiny little goat: “Devi and Lundat together took up 50 percent of the commenting space,” you wrote above.

      Boo-hoo, you cry baby. You’re upset because Devi and Lundat wrote more posts than you did.

      Beat it. ተስፋዬ. Your political agenda stinks like a pile of monkey dung.

    • Lundat

      Tesfaye, please do not create conspiracy theories out of thin air. That appears to be of the main issues of our increasingly interconnected society!! This is not just an Ethiopian phenomenon but a worldwide one. We are all seeing how marred in conspiracy theories the current US election is. Instead of focusing on real problems and productive discussions, we choose to present completely false statements and engage in insulting matches. That has never done anyone any good. This op-ed is actually one of the few that I have ever commented on. I just got sick and tired of all the lies being spread, deterring us away from focusing on the actual issues in Ethiopia, including that of the government’s. I’m actually all for discussing the government’s faults, but not by inventing false statements or denying the positive changes in Ethiopia. Those of us on the sidelines looking for the true betterment of Ethiopia are not interested in throwing out false accusations and degrading campaigns but are interested in holding the government accountable for the real wrongs in Ethiopia and applauding them for the good they have done so far. Dr. Tedros’ track record is well documented and recognized worldwide, no matter how many ways people try to smear his campaign with the most ridiculous reason ever invented – him asking for a clarification!

      To answer your question, I made a comment in reply to the op-ed and merely replied to the responses to my comment thereafter. I believe that’s how discussions are had. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong. You do not need to go after me just because I don’t hold the same opinions as you. You are going against the very core principles of democracy you claim to want. I am sure you have your own founded grievances, you should try to put those to light as opposed to being critical of everything on earth. Of course, I can only wish Dr. Tedros was my friend like you stated. I will let you know if he signs an autograph for me :)

      Also, it appears to me that even after you take out Devi and mine comments, the majority of the other comments have also condemned this unethical article.

    • Kebere Belay

      If you are truly looking for evidence as you claim above, here is one that debunks your lie that Dr. Tedros didn’t have a prior experience of running any agency before he became the minister of health.
      “In 2001, Tedros was appointed head of the Tigray Regional Health Bureau. As head of the bureau, Tedros was credited with making a 22.3% reduction in AIDS prevalence in the region, and a 68.5% reduction in meningitis cases. He oversaw a campaign to improve ICT access that installed computers and internet connectivity to most of the region’s hospitals and clinics, whereas they had not been connected before. Health care staffing was increased by 50%. Immunization for measles was raised to 98% of all children and total immunization for all children under 12 months was raised to 74%. The percentage of government funding for the Tigray Regional Health Bureau was increased to 65%, with foreign donors’ percentage falling to 35%. Overall, 68.5% of the population was provided with health care services within 10 km.”
      Lying about facts on the ground doesn’t help anyone, including you, and it only becomes ab obstacle for a civilized conversation.
      I can also add that about 15 yrs ago I personally attended national meetings where he presented all the above statistics and also debated the first proposal of the exceptionally successful health extension program. I remember how all the major donors and UN agencies were opposed to this proposal back then but all of them now documented it as being the most successful initiative.
      Please lets refrain from lies and name-callings and try to have fact based civilized conversations.

  • ተስፋዬ

    I think the author of this article should be sent back home to undergo a thorough gimmgama for his “unethical” ideas, for causing distress to scientific minds, for overlooking statistics from Tigray regional health bureau, for not distinguishing kilil office from national and international offices and especially for transgressing the norms of “civilised conversations.” I enjoyed the novel idea proposed in the comments by one scientific mind regarding “cyberspace.” I suggest the fella submit his findings to, where else, a scientific journal as soon as he read this.

  • Hadas Zeka

    He has good experience as TPLF fascist mafia government cabinet member for over two decades.
    He is expert in running stealth and massive genocide, human rights abuses, torture etc. in plain site and get financed by Western hypocrites and neocolonialists.
    Especially he is a pathological lair.
    He can be absolutely well qualified member of the dysfunctional corrupt world order!

    To expand/progress his national corruption and crime expertise in to international stage.
    Isn’t the UN Human Rights Council office run by members like Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia?
    Why not this?

    • devi

      Stop being a flame-throwing Ginbot robot. Through the world’s eyes Ethiopians are a laughing stock for the kind of stupidity that you just displayed in your post.

  • Abo tewuna

    oh Fuck you “Endalk”, there is no single journalist who went to journalism school write such a political hit job. any one can absolutely see your Jealousy and lack of integrity.
    What have you done for Ethiopia? tell me one single thing you did for the people? fucken diaspora.

  • devi

    Bravo, Abo tewuna. It was the worst article ever written in the history of so-called journalism.

    And “Endalk,” who claims to have a PhD in journalism, just looks stupid. Look at his picture. He looks goofy. Who in their right mind gets a PhD in journalism anyway?

    He thinks that his equally goofy article will force the WHO to delete Dr. Tedros from their list of candidates. Instead, the WHO officials who read Endalk’s article, might take one look at that photo and bust out laughing. They probably said: That’s the goofiest looking idiot we have ever seen !!!

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