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As WHO Director-General Election Nears, Ethiopia’s Candidate Is Accused of Cholera Cover-Ups

A Unicef-supported pump in Ethiopia. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

In January 2017, when Ethiopia’s candidate for director-general of World Health Organization, Tedros Adahanom, stormed to the top of the final three candidates — beating out six other candidates — it was a high time for Ethiopia’s government.

Although Adahanom had faced ferocious opposition from his fellow citizens, he has largely made it through unscathed, giving a propaganda victory for Ethiopian state media. With his well-funded campaign, Adahanom has traveled to more than 120 countries, and his supporters felt confident that his election is all but a matter of time.

Then on May 13, the New York Times ran a story reporting that a “prominent global health expert” had accused Adahanom of concealing three cholera epidemics from 2008 to 2011 during his tenure as Ethiopia’s health minister. Lawrence O. Gostin made the allegations; he is an informal adviser to one of Adahanom's opponents in the director-general race, the UK's David Nabarro, but Nabarro told the New York Times that he had not instructed Gostin to make the accusations on his behalf.

Abebe Gellaw, a prominent Ethiopian journalist in the diaspora, wrote on Facebook that it was only the beginning:

New York Times has a hard-hitting article on Tedros Adhanom. Tedros says it is a “smear campaign”. But the revelation is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot more will come out in the next few days…

A screenshot of the New York Times article on Tedros Adahanom. Click the image to read the story on nytimes.com

The explosive article made Adahanom and his supporters defensive while it created a sense of vindication for his opponents. Adahanom has denied the allegations. A former Reuters journalist who wrote Ethiopia's cholera outbreak in 2009, however, responded on Twitter that the accusations as detailed in the New York Times story was consistent with what he had seen.

In responding to the allegations, Adahanom accused Nabarro's camp of engaging in smear campaign with imperialistic intentions. Pro-government groups took this line of accusation even further, claiming Nabarro is working with Ethiopian opposition groups that are labeled as “terrorists.”

Since April 2014, a popular protest movement in Ethiopia has challenged the government, which in turn 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 accused of terrorism. Since October 2016, authorities have imposed some of the world’s toughest censorship laws after it declared a state of emergency.

Now, the tactic of calling opponents “terrorists” has spilled over Ethiopia’s borders and might create blowback for Adahanom as his record is examined critically by international media.

The health ministers of WHO member states will vote for the new director-general on May 23, 2017.

2 comments

  • Abba Tobia

    Ethiopia, despite having more than 80 ethnic groups, is governed by one ethnic group called Tigrayans for the last 25 years. The Tigreans are using divide and rule method to rule and benefit solely by sucking the wealth of the entire nation. Any form of opposition is not tolerated and would be met by force including murder (Check the recent popular upheaval of Amharas and Oromos). Enter now the candidate Teodros Adhanom. He is a Tigrean and member of the ruling TPLF party. Can he be a clean and innocent individual in this bloody situation? the answer is no simply because he is where he is now not for his skills and abilities but rather for his Tigrean ethnicity. As a result, there is no way he can be the medicine man of the world.

  • Yes you can help to the world Dr.T.A we love you we believe on you we trust you .from USA to Ethiopia ✌.

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