Ethiopia’s Dispute with Tedros May Spill into Vote for New Director-General
Ethiopia’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Zenebe Kedebe

Ethiopia may try to disrupt Tuesday morning’s closed session of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Executive Board meeting where the nomination of the next Director-General will happen via secret ballot.

Incumbent Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is the only nominee, but Ethiopia – which nominated him four years ago – has taken exception to their former health and foreign minister’s criticism of its handling of the Tigray people. 

Ethiopia’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Zenebe Kedebe, used Monday’s opening of the board to attack his country’s famous citizen and the first African Director-General, saying that Tedros had “failed to live up to expectations”.

Despite being twice ruled out of order by the board chairperson, Kenya’s Dr Patrick Amoth, Kedebe persisted in trying to read his statement, saying that it was his “sovereign right” to make a statement.

Ethiopia had earlier sent a diplomatic note (called a note verbale) to the board complaining about Tedros, which it has alleged is abusing his position for political gain. 

However, board members had ruled before the meeting that the note would not be discussed, with Amoth noting at the start of the meeting that the note contained complicated legal and political issues.

Relations between Tedros – who has been nominated for re-election by Germany and France – and his home country have deteriorated over the Ethiopian government’s blockage of humanitarian aid to the Tigray region. 

“Imagine a complete blockade of seven million people for more than a year and there is no food, no medication, no medicine, no electricity and no telecommunication. No media, nobody can report and when there is no telephone, I think accessing families is difficult. No cash, no bank service. Imagine the impact of all of these,” said Tedros, who is from Tigray, at a recent media briefing.

The WHO has been unable to deliver life-saving medications for nearly six months – a situation it has described as “unprecedented” even in comparison to Syria or Yemen. 

During the afternoon board meeting, Ethiopia’s Health Minister Lia Tadesse thanked member states and the WHO for its effort against the pandemic, but scrupulously avoided mentioning Tedros.

Secret ballot

According to the nomination process, executive board members will vote via secret ballot for their candidate of choice – even although there is only one nominee.

“Board members’ delegations wishing to participate in the decision on the nomination of the candidate for the post of Director-General must be physically present at WHO headquarters in Geneva,” according to a board circular.

“This decision will be taken through a secret ballot vote on the basis of a yes or no vote. The majority required for the proposed candidate to be nominated is a simple majority of those present and voting.”

The nomination will be taken to the next World Health Assembly.

Ethiopia, which is one of the most powerful countries in Africa, has close ties with China. However, it remains to be seen whether it will be able to persuade other countries to vote against Tedros, the most public face of the global response to COVID-19.


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