Test of endurance
Amidst the adversity the world finds itself in, a row has erupted after the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus accused the US President and Taiwan’s leaders of spearheading personal attacks on him.
It can be recalled that in a recent press briefing held by the President of the US and its coronavirus taskforce, in a bid to shift the blame for what has been a disastrous response to the pandemic, Donald Trump accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of being ‘China-centric,’ and pointed out its advise to the US, to not shut its airspace to China, as being wrong. Furthermore, the President touted the chance of cutting aid to the WHO, at this crucial moment in time.
To that effect, the WHO general, being forced to reply to the criticism directed towards the WHO, said: “If you do not want many more body bags, then do not politicize this pandemic.”
On Wednesday, Tedros said in his daily briefing to the media that he had been subjected to racist comments and death threats for months. In addition, he accused Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry of being linked to a months-long campaign against him, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taiwan is pushing back against accusations made by the director-general that racist attacks aimed at him came from the island.
In light of the ongoing crisis, many African countries including the African Union have continued to show their support to the director and their solidarity in fighting this pandemic.
Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde said: “WHO under Dr. Tedros’s effective leadership, are delivering on their mandate at a time we need them most. Let’s give them the space,” she Tweeted.
Her remarks came following the US government’s accusation of being biased towards China in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our global priority is to save lives. COVID-19 is killing many. We must support and protect the most vulnerable. Now is not the time for blame game,” President Sahle-Work said.
Several African leaders also rejected the criticism made by the US president towards the organization.
The presidents of Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria and Namibia, along with Chairperson of the African Union Commission and the UN Secretary General have rallied in support of the WHO.
“Surprised to learn of a campaign by the US government against the WHO’s global leadership,” said a Tweet by Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission.
He said the African Union fully supports the WHO and its Director-General. “The focus should remain on collectively fighting COVID-19 as a united global community. The time for accountability will come.” However, he later added: “I certainly do not imply that it is WHO or Dr. Tedros that need to account in this regard.”
Rwandan President Paul Kagame tweeted that he agrees with the African Union leader and said “Dr. Tedros had the full confidence and support of Africa,” adding, “Save us from too much politics, Africa does not need it.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the WHO is providing an “exceptional” and “incalculable” leadership, adding that international solidarity is “the most potent weapon” against the pandemic.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his support for the WHO, calling it “absolutely critical” to the war against the coronavirus pandemic. He said the WHO’s response can be debated after the pandemic is over. “Now is not that time. Now is the time for unity.”
Commenting on the accusations made by the US, Tedros said: “For us, small and big is the same. For us, people in the North or in the South, East or West, are the same.”
The Director-General said that after the agency became embroiled in an increasingly polarized and heated political environment worldwide, he has been a target of racist attacks and death threats.
“Abuse, or racist comments, giving me names, black or Negro, even death threats,” he said, telling the media that the personal attacks on him began more than two months ago.”
Tedros called for global solidarity, warning the world’s countries that they would be “playing with fire,” if they try to exploit the pandemic for political purposes.
“If you don’t believe in unity, please prepare for the worst to come.”
It is within this context, that the Chairperson of the African Union and President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa reaffirmed his appreciation for the exceptional leadership shown by the Director-General of the WHO, from the very earliest stages of this unprecedented global health crisis.
The African Union has also commended the management of Tedros in leading the global response to the pandemic and measures that are continuously undertaken by the organization to mitigate the spread of the pandemic such as mobilizing resources, sharing real-time information and providing technical and material support.
In between the world trying to find a solution to this pandemic, President Tsai Ing-wen took issue with Tedros’s remarks in a statement posted on her Facebook page on Thursday. She said that Taiwan knows about being discriminated against and isolated, referencing its exclusion from the WHO and other international bodies due to pressure from China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province.
President Ing-wen said if the WHO Chief could “Withstand pressure from China and come to Taiwan, to see Taiwan’s efforts to fight COVID-19 for himself, he would be able to see that the Taiwanese people are the true victims of an unfair treatment.”
Furthermore, addressing the accusation forwarded by Tedros, on Friday, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau accused Chinese internet users of pretending to be its citizens and publishing racist remarks against the WHO director. The report published by the government run Central News Agency, in Taiwan, said the Ministry has found a number of online users pretending to be Taiwanese and that the investigation has traced the users to mainland China.
Tedros Adhanom, a former Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister and Health Minister, who is also a microbiologist and a researcher, is the first African to head the United Nations global health agency.