Calling Out the Haters: Africa thought again and chose Dr. Tedros

By the Strathink Editorial Team

Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) made history. For the first time, an African was elected to lead the U.N.’s premier global health institution. This was also the first time member countries elected the person to lead. One of Africa’s own—Dr. Tedros Adhanom—is set to lead a critically important U.N. institution that is experiencing an identity crisis in an environment of better-funded, better branded and better functioning global health organizations.

Why Dr. Tedros? First, he is the best person for the job. In a field of three highly qualified candidates, Dr. Tedros was clearly first among equals. His work reforming Ethiopia’s crippled health care system was no short of a miracle—a miracle rooted in focusing on systemic changes based on the needs of Ethiopia’s most vulnerable populations. Dr. Tedros led and health workers followed—committing themselves to making Dr. Tedros’ vision a reality.

Dr. Tedros took to the global stage to serve as Chair of the Global Fund Board and Chair of the Program Coordinating Board for UNAIDS. His message of providing health care to the world’s most vulnerable people—and empowering communities to take control of their health care system—resonated worldwide. He became a vocal advocate for the global public health movement.

During the campaign, there were a number of instances of foul play. Dr. Nabarro’s chief advisor, Mr. Gostin of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, accused Dr. Tedros of covering up Ethiopia’s cholera cases. It was a chimera—dreamed up by those who would deny Africa its first Director General of the WHO. Dr. Nabarro’s team made this unfortunate tactical error in their campaign, which only hardened the resolve of Dr. Tedros to wage an honest campaign based on a positive narrative.

Aiding and abetting Dr. Nabarro’s team were members of the Ethiopian diaspora who oppose the Ethiopian government. Protesting in front the WHO building in Geneva and disrupting Dr. Chan’s speech at the World Health Assembly meeting, the diaspora succeeded only in highlighting the desperation of those who would bring the Ethiopian people to serve their narrow nationalist agenda to seize power at any cost.

The Ethiopian opposition abroad can see no farther than their own self-aggrandizing agenda of disruption, offering nothing to replace the chaos they wish to foment.

Why did they oppose the election of Dr. Tedros? They opposed his election only because he is an Ethiopian who served in his government. The collective pathology of the Ethiopian opposition overseas would gladly sacrifice the critical needs of the global health agenda to bring down a public servant who spent his entire adult life working to provide health care to the nation’s people.

It is inconceivable that another group of Africans would work so hard to actively derail one of its country’s leaders set to lead an international multilateral organization.

What is wrong with the Ethiopian opposition abroad?

For one thing, they cannot put aside their narrow nationalism to think in broader terms about the significance of an African leading the WHO. It is monumental. In a world still dominated by the vestiges of colonialism and neo-imperialism, an African leading any international multilateral institution is headline news.

Perhaps the Ethiopian opposition does not identify itself as African.

The Ethiopian opposition does identify itself with an Ethiopia that doesn’t exist. Their vision of the Ethiopian reality is a blurred and distorted by their quest for power. It is an Ethiopia teetering on the brink of disaster—not the economic dynamo that is riding the wave of becoming a middle-income country by 2030. The Ethiopian opposition is blinded by its own ambition to destroy what has been built. Unfortunately, the opposition has been able to clearly articulate just what policies will replace those it is bent on destroying.

Equally confounding is the diaspora opposition’s denial of Ethiopia’s regional leadership. Haile Selassie succeeded in locating the African Union (then the Organization of African Unity) to Addis Ababa. Never colonized and a symbol of African independence, Ethiopia has historically positioned itself as a regional leader on the global stage. Yet, the opposition would rather deny their country a historical role that adds prestige to the country’s national identity.

So where does this lead us?

This is yet another example of the long road ahead for Ethiopia’s opposition in the diaspora to close the gap between their personal political ambitions and meeting the challenges of building a strong, democratic and prosperous Ethiopia.

Ethiopian opposition leader Zelalem Teseme, when disrupting last week’s meeting of the World health Assembly, shouted “No to Dr. Tedros.” “Africa think again.”

Africa thought again and was joined by a majority of the WHO’s member states to elect Dr. Tedros Adhanom, its first African Director General.

Congratulations Dr. Tedros. Congratulations Ethiopia. Congratulations to Africa. Congratulations to all. We have all won.

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