Africa CDC Dismisses Controversy Around its Head as ‘Smear Campaign’
DRC President Félix Tshisekedi (left) welcomed the appointment of the DRC’s Dr Jean Kaseya (right) as head of the Africa CDC.

Controversy continues to surround Dr Jean Kaseya, the new Director-General of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), although the organisation described the allegations as “unverified and baseless” over the weekend.

Last Friday, online platform Devex reported on a letter from a group of Africa CDC staff to the head of the African Union (AU) sent on 26 July accusing Kaseya of harassment, intimidation and “unlawful termination of staff contracts based on personal ego and interest”.

The anonymous group, calling itself the AU Leadership Focus Group, also alleged that Kaseya had requested irregular payments, was abusive to staff, failed to provide leadership and was trying to replace current staff with his “allies”.

Fall-out with former employer

This followed a report by Devex in June about Kaseya’s acrimonious fall-out with his former employer, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) after it decided not to renew his contract as senior country director in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 

The Africa CDC’s 16-member senior management team issued its own letter last week in response to the staff allegations, describing them as “unsubstantiated”, calling on staff to use the centre’s grievance procedures and “institutional governance mechanism and control measures” to address their problems.

Over the weekend, the Africa CDC also issued a statement in which they described the allegations against Kaseya as “baseless” and questioned the motives of those making them.

“Unfortunately, over the past 100 days since the Director General took office, Africa CDC has noted a repetitive, deliberate and ill-intent smear campaign by a well-identified media house linked to anonymous entities, whose aim seems to destabilise the organisation by disseminating unverified and baseless allegations directed towards the leadership and staff of the organisation,” said the Africa CDC.

“The Africa CDC strongly condemns the smear campaigns and assures all staff, AU Member States, the AU family and our valued partners that the institution remains strong and focused on delivering on its mandate. Be assured, that the asserted crusades will never distract nor deter Africa CDC leadership and its staff from meeting its mandate in health security on the continent,” it added.

Controversial from the start

However, Kaseya’s four-year appointment has been dogged by controversy since he was appointed ahead of Dr Magda Robalo, the former health minister of Guinea-Bissau with extensive global health experience, who had been widely expected to succeed Dr John Nkengasong.

Kaseya was appointed by African Heads of State following an election that took place on the sidelines of the 36th session of the African Union, which was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 18-19 February. While a total of 180 candidates vied for the position, Kaseya and Robalo were the finalists for the position. 

In early March, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame wrote a letter to the AU chairperson condemning the fact that, at the AU summit where Kaseya had been appointed, “no debate was allowed on the appointment of the Director General of Africa CDC, even though three member states had requested to speak”.

Writing in his capacity as leader of the AU institutional reform process, Kagame noted that this agenda item was the only one in which discussion was “forbidden”.

“Moreover, the report given by the legal counsel on the deliberations of the committee of the heads of state and government on the Africa CDC gave no indication for why the first ranked candidate, a woman, was not selected,” added Kagame, whose government has a tense relationship with the DRC.

“More troubling, besides yourself, no heads of state or government took part in the committee meeting, and delegated officials were mostly below ministerial level,” he added.

After Kaseya was appointed, a statement by DRC’s presidency described it as “an epilogue of a long, secret diplomatic battle waged for six months by President Félix Tshisekedi”.

DRC President Félix Tshisekedi congratulates the new Director General of the Africa CDC, DRC’s Dr Jean Kaseya.

Image Credits: DRC Presidency, Presidency, DRC.

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