Tedros seen uncontested for WHO top job after Berlin nod

Berlin (AFP) –


Germany said Wednesday it was nominating World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for a new term, with diplomatic sources saying he appeared to be the sole candidate.

With Germany's nomination secured, the 56-year-old former Ethiopian health and foreign minister appeared to be the only person in the race a day before the deadline for submissions on Thursday.

Tedros was elected as the head of WHO in 2017 and became the first African to take the helm of the UN health agency.

He has not yet confirmed that he is a candidate for a second five-year term, but a number of diplomatic sources said he would stand. When asked by AFP if he would run at a press conference on Wednesday, Tedros declined to answer.

Tedros is relatively popular because of his role in steering the WHO's efforts to coordinate the tumultuous global pandemic response.

But his candidacy had been complicated after Ethiopia allegedly withdrew its support over the conflict in his home region of Tigray.

Candidates for the UN health body's top slot are generally nominated by their home countries.

In principle, any WHO member state can back any candidate and Tedros had been widely expected to receive support from at least one country.

But Germany's nomination came as a surprise.

- 'Personal pain' -

Most observers had predicted that the backing would come from a country in Africa, which has generally been happy to have one of its own in such an important position.

Ethiopia itself has not officially said it will not back Tedros, but several sources said the country had clearly signalled it was withdrawing its support for his candidacy.

As the world's highest-profile Tigrayan, Tedros has fallen foul of the government in Addis Ababa by repeatedly using his platform to condemn the crackdown in his home region.

The conflict, which began when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to topple the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), has killed thousands and pushed hundreds of thousands of others to the brink of famine, the UN says.

Tedros tweets frequently to his more than 1.5 million followers about the situation in the region, and has spoken about his "personal pain" over the crisis during globally broadcast press conferences on the Covid-19 situation.

Ethiopian officials have made no secret of their contempt for Tedros.

Last November Ethiopia's army chief accused Tedros of lobbying for and seeking to arm the TPLF, saying he had "left no stone unturned" in his bid to assist a government-designated terrorist group.

- 'Puppet' -

The WHO chief has also irked a range of other countries since the start of the pandemic.

Most famously, former US president Donald Trump relentlessly attacked him and the WHO, accusing it of being a "puppet" of China -- where the virus first surfaced -- and began withdrawing his country from the organisation.

Tedros's relationship with Washington has been far smoother since Joe Biden moved into the White House.

Beijing meanwhile appears to have increasingly soured on the WHO chief, as he has taken a sterner tone and demanded more cooperation in the hunt for the Covid-19 origins in China.

He is seen as a hero in many poorer countries, as he advocates for equitable access to Covid vaccines, which have disproportionately gone to the world's wealthy nations.

"Vaccine injustice is a shame on all humanity," he said recently.

WHO member states have until 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) on Thursday to nominate director-general candidates, but the UN health agency is not expected to announce who is on the list until early November.

Member states will vote for the next WHO chief through a secret ballot during the World Health Assembly next May.