For Opponents, WHO Director General Nominee Tedros Adhanom Represents Ethiopia's Repressive Government

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Minister of Health, Ethiopia, speaking at the London Summit on Family Planning in 2012. Photo by Flickr user UK DFID. CC BY-SA 2.0

Some Ethiopians are fiercely campaigning against Tedros Adhanom, Ethiopia’s candidate to replace Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, as director general of World Health Organization, just a few weeks before member states are set to vote on the final three candidates.

Tedros, a former Ethiopian foreign and health minister, along with Pakistan’s Sania Nishtar and the UK’s David Nabarro are the three director-general nominees who made the cut from a larger pool of candidates in January.

Tedros, who is running a well-funded campaign, is considered as a prime contender in the race. His candidacy was endorsed by the African Union, and just last week he picked up an endorsement of Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s former international development secretary.

However, he is facing unrelenting opposition from his own citizens.

Ethiopians who feel marginalized by their country's government are campaigning hard against him online, arguing he should not be elected because he represents the interests of Ethiopia’s autocratic ruling elites and not the people.

They have set up online petition pages against Tedros and produced a documentary film detailing what they consider to be his failures and his alleged mismanagement of funds while he was Ethiopia’s health minister.

They have organized Twitter campaigns under a hashtag #NoTedros4WHO to organize conversations surrounding the topic. To make his Ethiopian government profile at the top of the public’s consciousness, his opponents have share detailed research that accuses Tedros of inefficiencies, misreporting, and exaggerations of his achievements when he used to serve in Ethiopia.

One of the images that have circulated against Tedros, showing his face with an X over it next to the two other candidates. Shared by Twitter user @DahlaKib

However, amid fears that the campaign might diminish his chances, government groups are also running a parallel campaign supporting his candidacy. They have downplayed the opposition as unpatriotic, mean-spirited and trivial jealousy.

Since April 2014, a popular protest movement in Ethiopia has challenged the government, which has responded brutally. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 800 people have died, and thousands of political opponents and hundreds of dissidents have been imprisoned and tortured. Since October 2016, authorities have imposed some of the world’s toughest censorship laws after it declared a state of emergency.

The role of ethnic politics

Some of Tedros’ detractors say they oppose his candidacy because of his alleged incompetence. But a big part of what drives the fierce opposition to Tedros is the logic of ethnic politics.

Tedros holds a Ph.D. from the University of Nottingham in community health. He studied biology at Asmera University before he completed a master’s degree in immunology of infectious diseases in London.

When people hear his name, as qualified as he may be, his opponents associate him with a repressive Ethiopian government that has killed people, jailed thousands of political opponents, and imprisoned and tortured dissidents.

His meteoric rise to power started soon after he finished his Ph.D. in 1999 when he was tasked to lead the Tigray region’s health department. After two short years in Tigray, he was promoted to Ethiopia’s minister for health by the late prime minister Meles Zenawi, a Tigrayan himself. In 2012 when Meles Zenawi died, Tedros became Ethiopia’s foreign minister.

Tigray is one of the nine regional states that are federated based on ethnolinguistic compositions.

Over the past 26 years, the Tigrayan elites have taken center stage in Ethiopia’s political affairs, largely due to their control of the military, security and the economy of Ethiopia. Though accounting for only 6% of Ethiopia’s population, all senior positions of country’s military and security and the most meaningful positions in state institutions are packed by Tigrayan elites. This has always been a sore point with the elites of the Oromo and Amhara ethnicities, who together comprise 65% of Ethiopia’s population.

Ethiopia's government has used authoritarian tactics against its people and the country's politic space is a closed one; however, it enjoys the support of powerful countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

Domestic disputes on a global platform

The vigorous opposition to the Tedros candidacy suggests that Ethiopians political struggle has spilled over into the international arena. In some sense, it also suggests that these global platforms have become a substitute for a repressed domestic political space.

Since Ethiopia’s local political institutions and communications infrastructure are controlled by the government, diaspora groups, however sporadic and uncoordinated their efforts may be, have used the opportunity to shed light on the human rights violations using Twitter campaigns.


  • Alem

    The only way Dr. Tedros may get the job would be if WHO failed in its duty to check Tedros’s background, record, and qualification. Tedros is a politburo member of the hated Ethiopia’s ruling party; he was appointed Minister of Health two years after earning his doctorate with literally no experience in running a national agency. His tenure and attempt at reorganizing Health resulted in missing funds and corruption. The evidence is all in public domain. Tedros was then appointed to Foreign Affairs, his only experience being his stay in Britain on a student visa for 5 years. His assignments were despite the fact that there were more qualified Ethiopians but not of the right ethnicity and party. Another reason Tedros may get the job is due to pressure from Bill Gates, Jeffrey Sachs, and Kaiser Foundation. Gates has had deep and worrying interest in population control [and Tedros as Health Minister] was very compliant for what some have said is a hidden ethnic politics of controlling rival ethnic groups. Sachs had this ambition of teaching Ethiopians how to create villages in Tedros’s region [thus bringing in disproportionate funding to the region rather than to where the most need is]. Bribable Africans are yet what could corrupt the voting pattern. So what could Tedros bring to the table? Not the efficient running of an international organization but himself as tool in the hands of powerful individuals [Sachs and Gates] and Kaiser, all bent on promoting a global agenda.

    • atiti

      please …please be rational. off course as any person u can have any feeling towards the government of the country, whereas why do you try to relate the nominee’s personal performance/talent /experiences with the government/political issues of the state. And to talk the real, he had been working as the health minister of the country which is highly far away from the political failority of the government. so please no matter who wins, but be z rational one.

  • Abdatta Olana

    Tedros Adhanom’s era as Minister of Health of Ethiopia was castigated for abuse, mismanagement and misuse of Global Fund Grants to the country. The Office of Inspector General (OIG), that audited the use of Global Fund Grants in Ethiopia published on 20 April 2012 when Tedros Adhanom was a Minister of Health reveals serious abuse, misuse and mismanagement of funds meant to improve the health conditions of the Ethiopian people. According to the report, allocations for Round -4 HIV, in the amount of ” USD 5.5 million was not used for the intended purposes and was still outstanding or unaccounted for by February 2011, although the grant expired in August 2010″. Similarly, “an advance of USD 6.3million was still outstanding or unaccounted for in November 2010, after the grant period expired”. The most disturbing facts which the report reveals relate to the fact that significant amounts were “wrongly included in statements of expenditure reported by the Ministry of Health”. This includes an amount of USD 11 million transferred to implementing departments but that had not yet been liquidated or accounted for. Another amount with the amount of USD 4.7 million of VAT was included in construction payments, despite the fact that Grants are exempt from Value Added Tax (VAT). Further shocking revelations by the Office of the Inspector General relates to the newly constructed Health Centers (HC) with Grants from Global Fund: “The OIG visited 77 sites of newly constructed HCs and observed significant deficiencies, 71% of the sites visited did not have access to water; 32% did not have functioning toilet facilities; 53% had major cracks in the floors; and 19% had leaking roofs”. Overall the report recommended series of urgent actions to remedy the glaring abuse, misuse and mismanagement of public resources in Ethiopia. The recommendations include that the Global Fund recovers from the Government of Ethiopia a total of USD 7, 026, 929 which was reported as ineligible and or unaccounted for during the audit period.
    The question now is that why should this man with such dismal records, misuse and abuse of public resources in one of the poorest countries in the world be elected to head the WHO????

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