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African leaders back WHO boss after Trump attack over Covid-19 response

Friday April 10 2020
Tedros.A

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a daily press briefing on the new coronavirus dubbed COVID-19, at the WHO headquaters on March 2, 2020 in Geneva. PHOTO | FABRICE COFFRINI | AFP

By AGGREY MUTAMBO

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his peers across the African continent have warned the global rich countries of the dangers of pulling apart in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

The unusual common stand came as US President Donald Trump lampooned the World Health Organisation for being “China-centric” in the fight against the disease.

Africa has reported 10,692 cases of Covid-19, with 535 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control.

But Trump had on Wednesday accused WHO boss Tedros Adhanom, a national of Ethiopia, of “missing the call” in providing sufficient information for the world to use.

“They had a lot of information early and they didn’t want to — they seemed to be very China centric.

“They called it wrong, they called it wrong. They missed the call. They could have called it months earlier. They would have known and they should have known and they probably did know. So we’ll be looking into that very carefully and we’re going to put a hold on money spent [sic] to the WHO,” Trump added, warning Washington could withhold its donations to the global health body.

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KEY PARTNER

But African leaders have warned such a threat risked ruining the only multilateral organisation capable of reaching the entire globe.

President Kenyatta said the WHO has “consolidated multilateral efforts in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic".

“President Kenyatta echoed the position of the African Union saying Covid-19 will be defeated much faster if the world pulls in the same direction,” said State House yesterday.

The AU, through its chairman and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, on Wednesday issued a statement declaring the WHO as an “essential” scientific partner for Africa in fighting disease outbreaks.

“If there was a time for global unity, solidarity, cooperation, this is the time,” Ramaphosa said, warning against the “temptation” to apportion blame.

Dr Tedros, a former Ethiopian health and later foreign minister, joined the WHO in 2017, becoming the first African to head the body.

LIMITED RESOURCES

The WHO, though, often struggles with limited resources, relying on donations from rich countries as well as annual fees from member states.

Last year, the US donated some $400 million, becoming the second largest donor to the WHO. China, where the coronavirus began in Wuhan, on the other hand gave about a tenth of that ($44 million). But it had not settled its $200 million membership fees, formally known as ‘assessed contributions’, which the UN system calculates based on each member’s GDP.

African leaders, however, believe Trump may have been diverting attention from his own failures, as the US now has the highest number of deaths in the world from the Covid-19, at 14,797 out of 435,160 infections.

Moussa Faki, the African Union Commission chairperson, said he had been “surprised to learn of a campaign by the US government against the WHO’s global leadership.”

“The African Union,” he said, “fully supports the WHO and Dr Tedros Adhanom. The focus should remain on collectively fighting Covid-19 as a united global community. The time for accountability will come.”

RARE UNITY

Joining the fray, other African leaders demonstrated a rare unity in pushing back the Trump criticism. The calls came from Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Namibia, among others.

“Under the stewardship of Dr Tedros, the WHO has shown itself to be a true flag-bearer of multilaterarism when global solidarity has become critical,” said Namibian President Hage Geingob. “Let’s hold hands in this crucial moment and focus on what matters, saving lives.”

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda said Dr Tedros will have “full confidence” of Africa, but questioned whether he was being attacked because of China.

“Is it Dr Tedros, WHO, China...under attack or all of them together?” he posed on his Twitter page. “Let's focus on the fight against this pandemic, whoever should be held accountable will come later and done properly. Save us too much politics Africa does not need it. Who does?”

Lijian Zhao, a Spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said yesterday WHO had remained objective throughout the pandemic.

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