A bipartisan US House Committee has finally done what everyone else was hesitant to do. It has asked for Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the World Health Organization’s communications with China. The very fact that a bipartisan committee chose to do this is the beginning of the end for a man who has clearly been a consummate player of cronyism since day one.
Tedros has always been a master of schmoozing both the very worst of dictators and NGOs. How did the renowned malaria expert and current head of WHO manage this? Well, you just need to look at his last press conference. He said two things — that he had been racially abused and this abuse had largely come from Taiwan. He had been racially abused, but the point was that he used it to deflect from the genuine claims of incompetence levelled against him by those like US President Donald Trump.
The racism issue was carefully couched to shore up Western liberal social justice warrior (SJW) support. The Taiwan bit was to signal Tedros’ continuing loyalty to China. It worked. Papers like The New York Times (via Reuters) and The Washington Post flagged the racism bit — quoting him and attributing his outburst to past attacks in January by Taiwan. They, however, avoided pointing out that his accusations against the Taiwanese government were, in fact, without evidence — putting the Taiwanese rejection in quotes, while passing off Tedros’ allegations almost as a matter of fact. Unsurprisingly, China too came to the defence of Tedros, going along with the unproven allegation against Taiwan. Curiously, the Taiwanese investigation found no articles of Taiwan attacking him in January, but several from China were found “apologising” to him for Taiwan.
The NGO link
This masterful manoeuvre is actually symptomatic of Tedros’ career. How else do you explain he was an empowered official of the Derg military junta regime of Haile Miriam Mengistu and then Ethiopia’s health minister under the same people who fought and overthrew the Derg? How else do you explain that the man who was foreign minister of one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, holding many thousand political prisoners, had this part of his record almost entirely suppressed while highlighting his heath credentials? His much-talked-about “achievements in health sector” too were mostly driven by NGOs, since Ethiopia never had the capability to manage its problems, so it did what funders asked it to do.
But this brings us to the dirty side of NGOs — the whitewashing of crimes they provide in lieu of access, programme implementation and rampant cronyism.
Unsurprisingly, Tedros’ chief adviser is Senait Fisseha, who was working for one such NGO — the Susan Thomas Buffett foundation. See the link here? Provide government access and deliverables, allow NGOs to raise funds. The same NGOs then perhaps whitewashes his record as foreign minister of a barbaric regime and sanitises his Wikipedia profile to exclude said HR record. Said beneficiary then rewards said NGO person with a plum post.
Also read: Covid-19: Dr WHO gets prescription wrong
How China propped Tedros
The cronyism that its chief indulges in, of course, is all-pervasive across the WHO. The same man who ran a bitter campaign against him — Dr David Nabarro now is a special envoy, defending him and no longer attacking Tedros with damning reports as he once did. Another man known to have privately opposed Tedros — Bruce Aylward — is brought out as a talking head during times of crisis. Sadly, Bruce made a fool of himself by refusing to acknowledge the existence of Taiwan’s problems on live TV. But Tedros resolutely demonstrated to Beijing that he could turn any of his chosen people into Beijing apologists.
One reason that Tedros has gotten away with so much brazen cronyism is that America pays little to no attention to global public health, save pouring in money as a sugar daddy. What else explains the fact that chief adviser Senait is a pro-choice activist while a pro-life US president continues to provide money to WHO to channelise into her favoured pro-choice schemes? Tedros’ election to the WHO itself was a result of this US apathy. As commentator Chitra Subramaniam describes it, China started a scheme for global health colonisation and won because America didn’t think it was important enough. Forget the fact that the Chinese leveraged their investments across Africa to force the African Union to back Ted, but also got Pakistan to withdraw its candidate who was opposing him, sources say.
How India got influenced
What is deeply worrying, however, is how India got swayed into supporting Tedros. Informed sources tell me China’s main “lollipop” to India was futile jargon like “south-south cooperation” that glazes our diplomats’ eyes. Worse, India’s diplomatic credentials helped in covering up Tedros’ shady past and the fact his main backer was a Communist dictatorship. Unsurprisingly, it also evaded the health ministry’s notice that the man from India that Tedros chose for his Covid-19 panel is Srinath Reddy, a man who rose during the UPA rule and was linked to the Public Health Foundation of India — an institute whose FCRA licence was cancelled by the Narendra Modi government for lobbying.
Since WHO reps sit in at government meetings, it could mean the government is effectively providing detailed information to the same PHFI, albeit indirectly.
While the US Congress has woken up, and so has Trump, the question is when will India learn any institutional lessons from when we got swayed by China?
The author is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @iyervval. Views are personal.