WHO’s Tedros seen running unopposed for top post despite Ethiopia’s snub – sources

World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon, September 17, 2021. REUTERS / Mohamed Azakir / File Photo

GENEVA, Sept. 17 (Reuters) – The head of the World Health Organization is expected to run for a unopposed second term in an attempt to guide the world through its biggest health crisis in a century, sources said.

However, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus does not have the backing of his native Ethiopia due to friction over the Tigray conflict, the sources told Reuters.

It is unclear exactly how he will be appointed before the nominations deadline next week amid opposition from the Addis Ababa government, they said.

Former Ethiopian Minister of Health for the Tigray region, Tedros became WHO’s first African Director General in 2017.

He led the agency through multiple Ebola outbreaks as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, surviving fierce criticism from the Trump administration for allegedly being “China-centric.”

Although he has not publicly acknowledged his intention to run for a second five-year term, saying he is focused on fighting the pandemic, four sources said he was the only known candidate. Read more

They declined to be named due to the confidentiality of the process.

“Tedros is for sure a candidate,” said a source with direct knowledge of the electoral process, adding that at this point there was no alternative candidate.

However, Tedros – whom an Ethiopian general has publicly called a “criminal” and accused of attempting to procure arms for the Tigrayan forces – should not be appointed by his government as is the diplomatic custom, said. to Reuters two senior Ethiopian officials.

Billene Seyoum, spokesperson for the prime minister, and Dina Mufti, spokesperson for Ethiopia’s foreign ministry, did not respond to requests for comment.

Tedros called the situation in Tigray “horrible” and regularly tweets about developments there, but denies having taken sides in the conflict.

Consultations are underway, including among African countries, on who will nominate before the September 23 deadline, two of the sources said.

The formal submission process is confidential and it could not be determined whether a formal submission for Tedros has already been made.

WHO did not respond to a request for comment. Its rules do not specify that a candidate must be proposed by its own country but that the submission must be made by one of its 194 member states.

The official appointment is scheduled for May 2022 at the World Health Assembly.


Ethiopia’s opposition to Tedros places some African nations in a dilemma. Africa’s second most populous country is a diplomatic heavyweight and is home to the headquarters of the African Union. Its army provides peacekeepers in Sudan, Somalia and South Sudan.

His influence on the African Union means Tedros is unlikely to have the institution’s united support, as he did last time around, but diplomats say he still enjoys the support of some African countries.

“Kenya will support his re-appointment,” Macharia Kamau, senior secretary at Kenya’s foreign ministry, told Reuters.

When asked who would appoint him, Kamau replied: “I think there will be a group of countries.”

Ugandan Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Okello Oryem called Tedros an “old friend” and Kampala was consulting other East African governments over his appointment. “If we consult our friends and find that all of our friends support him, we will support him,” he told Reuters.

Tedros is seen as a voice for Africa in a difficult forum – passionately advocating for better access to COVID-19 vaccines for Africa and against vaccine passports, which many African countries fear will restrict the movement of their citizens to, still struggling to access the vaccines that are plentiful in the West.

One of the sources after the election said several countries outside of Africa would be ready to nominate Tedros, if necessary.


In 2016-2017, Tedros faced off against five other international health experts in the last WHO election.

His possible re-election is a test of his agency’s handling of the pandemic under his leadership, which has been sharply criticized by former US President Donald Trump.

If renewed, he will oversee the next stage of the investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in China as well as a potential overhaul of the agency amid concerns about its resources and ability to cope with a global pandemic.

The Trump administration accused Tedros and the WHO of being “China-centric” – claims they rejected – and halted US contributions while beginning the agency’s exit process.

The Biden administration announced after taking office in January that it would remain a member and meet financial obligations while working on reforms.

These reforms could lead to a major overhaul of the agency. Among the recommendations of an independent panel in May, a new global system should be put in place to respond more quickly to outbreaks to ensure that no future virus causes a pandemic as devastating as COVID-19. Read more

Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva, Francesco Guarascio in Brussels, Giulia Paravicini in Addis Ababa; additional reporting by Duncan Miriri in Nairobi, Elias Biryabarema in Kampala, Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; Editing by Joséphine Mason and Angus MacSwan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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