OSA: Expression of Strong Opposition to the Candidacy of Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Ethiopian Foreign Minister, to Lead the World Health Organization

Published by Staff Editor on

October 30, 2016

Dr. Margaret Chan

Executive Director,

Office of the Director General, World Health Organization (WHO)

From: Oromo Studies Association (OSA)

Re: Expression of Strong Opposition to the Candidacy of Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Ethiopian Foreign Minister, to Lead the World Health Organization

Dear Dr. Chan,

On behalf of the Oromo Studies Association[1] Board of Directors, the Executive Committee and its membership, we are writing to express strong opposition to the candidacy of Dr. Tedros Adhanom to serve as Director General of the World Health Organization. OSA members have been studying health issues along with other matters which affect the well-being of the populations in the Horn of Africa for thirty years, since our founding in 1986. OSA’s opposition to Tedros Adhanom’s candidacy to the top WHO post is based on four principal points:

  1. Dr. Adhanom is unqualified in terms of medical training and professional experience for the position for which he has been put forward.
  2. Dr. Tedros Adhanom politicized Ethiopia’s Ministry of Public Health while in office and the corruption under his leadership became legendary. He failed to ensure fair distribution of resources to all regions and peoples; his tenure was marked by episodes of denial of care to tens of thousands who deserved treatment during a cholera outbreak.
  3. Adhanom has been complicit in crimes against humanity committed by the Ethiopian regime since he assumed Politburo membership. While he has served on its Executive Committee, the TPLF has been charged with genocide, ethnic cleansing and widespread human rights violations. He cannot be absolved from responsibility. He was complicit in violation of international laws and conventions while serving as the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia when hundreds who were victims of orchestrated security force brutality against protesters, starting in 2014 and continuing until the current day, October 2016.
  4. Tedros Adhanom’s negligence and lack of responsibility while serving both as Federal Minister of Public Health and as the top diplomat in Ethiopia disqualifies him from assuming moral leadership as WHO Director General. His policies and practices while serving in Ethiopia have been contrary to the very principles enshrined in the WHO conventions.

Regarding lack of the professional experience required to serve the World Health Organization, please note that as soon as Dr. Tedros Adhanom received his degree in community heath in 2000, he was appointed as the Director of the Health Bureau of the regional state of Tigray. Very shortly afterward, he was appointed as the Deputy to the Federal Ministry of Health. By 2005 he was appointed as the Federal Minister of Health. His rapid rise to power was based, rather than on a proven record of competency, on his membership in the Tigrayan Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that has dominated Ethiopian politics since 1991. In 2012 he was moved into the Foreign Ministry, the position he still holds.

The World Health Organization champions the connection between human rights and health. Achieving the highest attainable standard of health (health being defined as “a state of complete physical, social and mental well-being…”) is a fundamental right possible to ensure only if people are free from torture, from inhumane and degrading treatment, from discrimination or exclusion and able to freely participate in identifying their social problems and finding solutions. To the contrary the TPLF/Adhanom government exposes the peoples in Ethiopia to poverty, homelessness and disease and torture or killing of those who oppose their policies, through massive farmer evictions, confiscation of land and resources and withholding services which severely limit the choices in life of the dispossessed.

Since Ethiopia was also signatory to WHO’s 2005 “International Health Regulations” Ethiopia’s Ministry of Public Health was obligated to report to WHO any sign of a cholera epidemic. Dr. Adhanom’s failure to declare the cholera outbreak in Oromia demonstrates his disregard for the kind of responsibility required by WHO from member states. Appointing such an official to serve as Director General of WHO will be adding insult to the injury already suffered by thousands of Oromo families who lost their loved ones due to his dereliction of duty in the position of Ethiopian Minister of Public Health. Whether Dr. Adhanom’s refusal to declare a cholera outbreak was out of utter negligence of responsibility or was a politically motivated inaction, he violated his main duty and highest moral responsibility of a minister of heath, which is to save lives. With this malfeasance in his record, it would be scandalous to select him as the Director General of WHO.

Again in 2016, as occurred in 2008, a cholera outbreak is building in Oromia with the same result that the Ethiopian government is failing to report it. This move to hide the extent of the problem reveals a pattern that gives support to the belief of many residents of Oromia that it is the intent of this regime to reduce the Oromo population in Ethiopia. We urge the WHO to give attention to this pattern. Oromo are reminded that the former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi boldly asserted “the majority can become minority.” Such politicized mishandling of public responsibility is beyond malfeasance. And a key member of the regime responsible should not be advanced to an even more elevated level of international public trust.

Our second objection to Dr. Adhanom’s candidacy concerns corruption and politicization of the health services. Regarding corruption, when Dr. Adhanom was Ethiopian Federal Minister of Health his office was characterized by widespread misappropriation of aid funds. For example, “the Global Fund to fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria,” was used to carry out politically motivated programs. In 2010 unacceptable allocation of funds led to a 79 percent cut in United States’ financial assistance that was desperately needed for the treating HIV/AIDS patients across the country. Adhanom’s record in office indicates that he would not meet the minimal requirements for the WHO Code of Conduct in conducting the work of the office of Director-General.

Our third objection to Dr. Adhanom’s candidacy pertains to his complicity as Foreign Minister in the violation of international conventions. Exploiting the ‘opportunity’ provided by the international war on terrorism, the leaders of the TPLF regime have deliberately characterized all independent Oromo activists and Oromo political organizations as “terrorist” and prosecuted them under the so-called “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009.” The Ethiopian regime has sent security agents across international borders to kidnap, deport or kill those it suspects of opposition. Back in Ethiopia the deportees are imprisoned, tortured and many are killed without mercy.

The crime of crossing international borders and kidnapping asylum seekers has been intensified and extended to other Ethiopian refugees under Dr. Adhanom’s tenure as Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister. Of particular concern to OSA is the disappearance of an iconic figure who is the holder of Oromo sacred knowledge. Kidnapped by Ethiopian security agents abroad in the last two years is Dabbasaa Guyyoo, a highly respected 88-year-old, Gadaa historian, cultural guru and thinker. Mr. Guyyoo, who is considered by many as the Dalai Lama of the Horn of Africa, was kidnapped on September 27, 2015. He lived under the protection of the UNHCR for 35 years in Kenya and travelled extensively internationally to teach about Oromo traditional knowledge. It is believed that he has been deported to Ethiopia as Tedros presided in the responsible role in government. Also among Adhanom’s government’s well-known victims are Andargachew Tsige of Ginbot 7, an Ethiopian opposition party in exile, who was kidnapped on 23, June 2014 while in transit at Sana’a Airport in Yemen and deported to Ethiopia. David Ojulu, an Anuak refugee from Gambella, was kidnapped on December 17, 2013 in Juba, South Sudan, and deported to Ethiopia. Both Andargachew and Ojulu remain in prison in Ethiopia. Dr. Adhanom’s candidacy should be obviated by his complicity in such human rights violations in Ethiopia that have been extensively documented among others by Amnesty International (AI), Ethiopian Human Rights League (EHRL), Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA), the Oromia Support Group (OSG) and Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Since 2010, the Ethiopian regime, has been involved in large scale rural and urban land transfers which have evicted hundreds of thousands of Oromos and others exposing them to homelessness, poverty and disease. The most infamous of such actions of the regime was the Addis Ababa Master Plan (AAMP) exposed in 2014, whose design was launched to expand Finfinnee/Addis Ababa to twenty times its current size evicting millions from their homes and impacting over six million Oromo in the vicinity. By 2014, while Tedros Adhanom served as active leader in the ruling party structure, the AAMP had already caused the destruction of the livelihood of over 30,000 Oromo households or 150,000 men women and children when it caught public attention. This act of “ethnic cleansing” was openly referred to as such by inside participants. The design called for denial of livelihood to Oromo farmers in the vicinity of Addis Ababa, but also the suppression of Oromo culture, language and identity in its path.

When its enormous threat against the Oromo people was exposed in April 2014, the AAMP was met by peaceful protests with massive turnout from Oromo students and farmers across the region of Oromia. The response of the TPLF regime to peaceful demands to stop the project were to send government security forces to fire live ammunition into groups of peaceful Oromo student demonstrators, killing 70 innocent individuals, including an 8-year-old boy, wounding around one thousand unarmed civilians while detaining nearly 50,000. By the end of 2014 the protest abated in the wake of assurances that the program would not proceed.

The student protest against the Master Plan was re-ignited, however, in November 2015 by an incident in Ginchi, a small town 80 km west of Addis Ababa, which revealed that the Master Plan was indeed proceeding apace despite assurances. The news and the protest spread rapidly across Oromia, becoming a national uprising. The response from the government was brutal everywhere, ushering in destruction across the country. On January 21, 2016 the European Union condemned the brutal crackdown by Ethiopian security forces in Oromia. By June 16, 2016 Human Rights Watch reported that over 400 Oromo nationals had been killed by government forces and that thousands wounded and tens of thousands had been detained without trial or charge. At the time these events were known to be unfolding in Ethiopia, its Foreign Minister, Tedros Adhanom was put forward as a candidate for Director General of WHO! It is an outrage. Since his nomination, the killing has escalated while Tedros Adhanom continued to preside actively as Ethiopia’s top diplomat, its Foreign Minister, intensifying brutality in the implementation of these policies. He cannot be absolved from responsibility for their lethal impact.

The peaceful resistance which persisted for months in the Oromia region, even in the face of deadly retaliation, spread to other regions by mid-summer. In July 2016 protests were mounted in the second largest and second most populous Amhara region. On August 6-7th, 2016 protests in the Amhara and Oromia region were met with a brutal crackdown by the regime’s forces, killing at least 100 in the Oromia region and 70 in the Amhara region. The death toll was likely much higher.

Circumstances have deteriorated under Adhanom’s recent tenure. On September 3, 2016, gunfire broke out at the Kilinto Prison in the capital city Addis Ababa where around three thousand five hundred prisoners had been detained in connection to the Oromo protests. Within hours the facility erupted in flames. The wrapped bodies of about two dozen prisoners were delivered to the local hospitals. Deliberately causing the death of prisoners is an obvious crime against humanity, for which Dr. Adhanom shares responsibility as a leading member of the group who set this policy.

Dr. Adhanom’s comment on events that culminated in a massacre were to defend his government’s worsening brutality. Last week he shamefully blamed the victims of the Irreecha Massacre and the media who reported the events for what had happened (see Africa News, Oct. 24, 2016). The massacre took place at the Irreecha Oromo cultural and spiritual festival which was attended by over two million persons on October 2, 2016 at sacred Hora (Lake) Arsadi in the town of Bishoftu, Oromia, about 50 km south of Addis Ababa. Taking anti-government slogans shouted by festival goers as an excuse, Ethiopian government forces fired barges of teargas and bullets from the ground and charged the massive crowds of celebrants using an Ethiopian government helicopter gunship. If the purpose was to create pandemonium and cause the highest possible number of causalities, then the Ethiopian government authorities were not disappointed at what they achieved. Hundreds of men, women and children were killed. There are many more individuals who are still missing and hundreds who were wounded without recovery.

Following the horrors of the Irreecha massacre, on October 9, 2016, the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency over the entire country, shutting down internet, communications via social and telecom media. In an attempt to make it impossible to count their victims or to track their arrests, the government has created conditions where they pursue perceived enemies with impunity. The Ethiopian blackout is complete and the people more desperate than in any previous condition described above.

Dr. Adhanom should not be allowed to escape from accountability for these crimes committed by the government in which he holds a central responsible position, by finding refuge in one of the United Nations most revered bodies. To elect him would be a travesty. He does not deserve this honor and he is not qualified professionally or morally to assume this office.

Dr. Adhanom’s tenure as head of the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health revealed a disturbing lack of ethics. He should be barred from assuming moral and administrative responsibility for leading the WHO. In fact, we see his consideration for appointment to serve as Director General of WHO to be a disservice to the purposes for which WHO was established. Ignoring such a record could bring damage to the reputation of the UN, and injury to the morale of those who work under the auspices of WHO to improve the health all people across the globe.

We call upon the member states of the United Nations to investigate the information provided here and reject the candidacy of Dr. Adhanom for this high office. To do so will provide .

We urge all who are committed to safeguarding the integrity of the WHO to oppose Dr. Tedros Adhanom for the position of Director General of the World Health Organization.


Professor Mekuria Bulcha

Chair, OSA Board of Directors


  • Fadéla Chaib, WHO Spokesperson, WHO Department of Communication,

Email: chaibf@who.int

  • Gregory Hartl, Coordinator, Media Relations, E-mail: hartlg@who.int
  • Tarik Jasarevic: E-mail: jasarevict@who.int
  • Christian Lindmeier, Spokesperson & Communications Officer,

E-mail: lindmeierch@who.int

[1] The Oromo Studies Association (OSA) is an independent international scholarly organization, which holds not-for-profit status in the United States. The main objectives of OSA include (but are not limited to): (1) to serve as an umbrella organization in guiding, developing and promoting scholarship on the history, economy, health, education, politics and welfare of the Oromo and other people in Ethiopia, and (2) to foster understanding between the Oromo and other people in Ethiopia and globally. OSA members include Oromo, other Ethiopians, Africans, Americans, Australians, Canadians, Europeans, Japanese and many other nationals.

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