Ethiopia Objects to Alleged ‘Misconduct’ of WHO Chief Tedros

GENEVA — The government of Ethiopia has sent a letter to the World Health Organization, accusing its Ethiopian director-general of “misconduct” after his sharp criticism of the war and humanitarian crisis in the country.Ethiopia nominated Tedros Adhano…

GENEVA — The government of Ethiopia has sent a letter to the World Health Organization, accusing its Ethiopian director-general of “misconduct” after his sharp criticism of the war and humanitarian crisis in the country.

Ethiopia nominated Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to be the head of the U.N. health agency four years ago, but says he has “not lived up to the integrity and professional expectations required from his office,” accusing him of interfering in Ethiopia’s internal affairs, according to a press release issued late Thursday.

“Through his acts, (Tedros) spread harmful misinformation and compromised WHO’s reputation, independence and credibility,” Ethiopia’s ministry of foreign affairs said.

WHO had no immediate response to the claims.

Tedros, an ethnic Tigrayan, has repeatedly deplored the situation in his home country and called for humanitarian access to the conflict-ridden region of Ethiopia.

“Nowhere in the world are we witnessing hell like Tigray,” said Tedros at a media briefing Wednesday. He cited a missive WHO had received recently from a physician in the region, who said health authorities had run out of basic medicines for diseases including diabetes in June and were now using expired stocks and intravenous fluids.

Health officials in the Tigray capital have described the same to The Associated Press.

Tedros condemned Ethiopia’s blockade of international access to Tigray, saying that WHO had not been allowed to send any supplies to the region since July, noting the U.N. agency had access to Syria and Yemen even during their worst conflicts.

He said there should be “unfettered” humanitarian access to Tigray and said that “just respecting the constitutional order would bring this problem into a peaceful conclusion.”

He continued: “Of course, I am from that region and from the northern part of Ethiopia. But I am saying this without any bias.”

The Ethiopian government said Tedros was using his office “to advance his political interest at the expense of Ethiopia” and said he continues to be an active member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front; Tedros was foreign minister and health minister when the TPLF dominated the country’s ruling coalition.

The TPLF, the political party that runs the Tigray region, has been clashing with Ethiopian federal forces since the country’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister accused the heavily armed regional government of attacking a military base. Each government regards the other as illegitimate after a months-long falling-out amid political reforms.

On Friday, the U.N. World Food Program warned its food assistance in northern Ethiopia is “about to grind to a halt because intense fighting has blocked the passage of fuel and food.” No WFP convoys have reached the Tigray capital since mid-December, it said in a statement, “and the last of WFP’s cereals, pulses and oil will be distributed next week.” Stocks of nutritionally fortified food to treat malnourished children and women are depleted, it said.

“We’re now having to choose who goes hungry to prevent another from starving,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s regional director for Eastern Africa, calling for safe humanitarian corridors on all routes across northern Ethiopia. The WFP says nearly 10 million people need food assistance.

In a separate statement on the war, the U.N human rights office said at least 108 civilians have reportedly been killed in Tigray this year by airstrikes “allegedly carried out by the Ethiopian air force.” It warned of possible war crimes.

The airstrikes have continued despite a shift in the war in recent weeks, with the Tigray forces retreating into their region and Ethiopian forces saying they wouldn’t pursue them further there. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has spoken of reconciliation and national dialogue.

In September, France, Germany and other European countries nominated Tedros for a second term as WHO’s director-general, the first time any candidate was not supported by his or her home country. Tedros is expected to be confirmed for another five-year term in May, as he is running unopposed.

Under Tedros, WHO came under withering criticism from the U.S. Trump administration over allegations of grievous missteps in responding to COVID-19 and for allegedly “colluding” with China in the early phases of the outbreak.

Tedros has been a leading voice urging rich countries and vaccine makers to do more to improve access to COVID shots in the developing world — a call that has largely gone unheeded.

Last year, WHO faced mounting pressure over revelations from an AP investigation and an independent panel that found senior management were informed of sexual abuse allegations during the agency’s response to an Ebola outbreak in Congo.

Source: Voice of America

US Africa Envoy to Visit Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Ethiopia

WASHINGTON — The U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa will visit Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Ethiopia next week amid ongoing crises in the two African nations, the State Department announced Friday.David Satterfield and Assistant Secretary of State Mo…

WASHINGTON — The U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa will visit Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Ethiopia next week amid ongoing crises in the two African nations, the State Department announced Friday.

David Satterfield and Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee will travel to Riyadh, Khartoum and Addis Ababa from Jan. 17-20.

In Riyadh, the pair will meet with the Friends of Sudan, a group calling for the restoration of the country’s transitional government following a military coup in October.

The meeting aims to “marshal international support” for the U.N. mission to “facilitate a renewed civilian-led transition to democracy” in Sudan, according to the statement.

Satterfield and Phee will then travel to Khartoum, where they will meet with pro-democracy activists, women’s and youth groups, civil organizations and military and political figures.

“Their message will be clear: the United States is committed to freedom, peace, and justice for the Sudanese people,” the statement read.

In Ethiopia, the pair will talk with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to seek a resolution to the deepening civil war.

“They will encourage government officials to seize the current opening for peace by ending the air strikes and other hostilities,” the statement read.

They will also ask for the establishment of a cease-fire, the release of political prisoners and the restoration of humanitarian access.

Satterfield, the former US ambassador to Turkey, was appointed to replace Jeffrey Feltman as special envoy Jan. 6.

Feltman quit just as he visited Ethiopia in a bid to encourage peace talks to end more than a year of war following the withdrawal of Tigrayan rebels.

The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which last year threatened to march on Addis Ababa, by December had withdrawn to its stronghold, and the government has not pursued the rebels further on the ground.

Feltman had also sought to tackle the crisis in Sudan, but he was treated unceremoniously in October when Sudan’s military ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, carried out a coup just after the U.S. envoy had left the country.

Feltman’s resignation came days after Sudan’s civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, quit, leaving Burhan as the undisputed leader of the country despite Western calls to preserve a democratic transition launched in 2019.

Source: Voice of America

Victims of Deadly New York City Fire to Be Memorialized Sunday

Plans are underway for a large communal memorial service Sunday for victims of New York City’s deadliest fire in more than three decades.Seventeen people, including eight children, were killed when a fire broke out on January 9 at a high rise residenti…

Plans are underway for a large communal memorial service Sunday for victims of New York City’s deadliest fire in more than three decades.

Seventeen people, including eight children, were killed when a fire broke out on January 9 at a high rise residential building in the working class Fordham Heights neighborhood in the Bronx, a New York borough with a large African and Latino community.

Funerals were held Wednesday at a mosque in the neighborhood of Harlem for 12-year-old Seydou Toure and his sister, five-year-old Haouwa Mahamadou.

Community leaders are preparing to memorialize the remaining 15 victims, all of whom had ties to the west African country of Gambia, on Sunday, one week after the tragic blaze.

The large-scale funeral will be held at the Islamic Cultural Center in the Bronx, according to Imam Musa Kabba of Masjid-Ur-Rahmah. He said the mosque is where some of the victims’ families have been gathering to grieve.

Kabba also said funeral plans have been complicated by the difficult task of identifying the dead and contacting next of kin.

Community activists have been pleading for more help for survivors who have had trouble getting services, including financial assistance, advocates said at a recent news conference.

The Gambian Youth Organization, a Bronx-based group that has raised more than $1 million through an online campaign, is among a number of organizations raising money for those affected by the fire.

Robert Agyemang, New York Director of African Communities Together, said in an interview with VOA, “This kind of tragedy isn’t something one organization should be left to deal with on their own,” adding that his organization “follows their lead” in reference to the other groups.

“We’re helping with gathering of materials. We’re helping with interpretation needs for when they need to get resources from the city that have been promised by the mayor, resources from the state that have been promised by the governor, and all these other entities that we do interact with on a normal basis,” Agyemang said.

“We, African communities … work with the city on several projects and we’ve been in communication with this city, as well to try to ensure that especially the Gambian families have been taken care of and make sure they have all the resources they need,” Agyemang added.

Some of the families have been struggling to decide whether to bury their loved ones in their homeland of Gambia or in the United States.

The Gambian government said it is ready help in any way it can, including accommodating requests to repatriate the deceased, according to Alhagie Ebou Cham, president of the United Gambians Association and an honorary consul for Gambia.

Meantime, investigators are trying to determine why safety doors did not close when the fire erupted, allowing heavy smoke to rise through the 19-story tower and kill the victims.

The city’s medical examiner’s office said all the victims suffocated from the thick smoke in the building, where officials say a malfunctioning electrical space heater started the fire. Many people managed to escape, but others died as they tried to make their way down the stairs.

New York’s deadly fire and a January 5 blaze that killed 12 relatives in a Philadelphia rowhouse duplex, where officials said none of six smoke detectors were working, are the worst residential fires in either city in years.

Housing advocates say it is not a coincidence the two fires occurred in housing meant for low-income residents.

“The first thought when I read the news was, ‘I’m certain, based on the building and location, that this was low-income housing,’” Jenna Collins, a housing attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, said of the fire in New York.

“I was even less surprised to hear reports now that it was a space heater that caused that fire,” she noted, saying it is not unusual for residential properties either owned or subsidized by the government to have inadequate heating during the winter.

Soaring real estate prices have pushed low-income Americans even further away from the dream of home ownership, while available government-owned or subsidized housing in some cities plagued by poor maintenance conditions increases the chance of disaster.

“This is housing that’s been, for the most, neglected,” said Lena Afridi, acting executive director of the Pratt Center for Community Development in New York.

“People live where they can afford to live, in both cases, and people settled for places that might not be safe because that might be preferable to homelessness. But that should not be the dichotomy we set up.”

Afridi said she believed a lack of maintenance contributed to the fire, citing reports that residents relied on heaters to keep warm and that they ignored the fire alarm because they had previously heard so many false alarms.

U.S. President Joe Biden has proposed investing billions of dollars in affordable housing in his Build Back Better proposal, but the massive spending bill has reached an impasse in a Congress divided along party lines.

Source: Voice of America

Mali Gives Airlines 72 Hours to Confirm Service

BAMAKO, MALI — After several airlines discontinued service to Mali due to new regional sanctions, the country’s government has responded with its own economic threat.Mali’s military government Friday gave airlines 72 hours, starting Jan. 15, to confirm…

BAMAKO, MALI — After several airlines discontinued service to Mali due to new regional sanctions, the country’s government has responded with its own economic threat.

Mali’s military government Friday gave airlines 72 hours, starting Jan. 15, to confirm their service to Mali with the country’s National Civil Aviation Agency or lose their time slots.

In a statement, Transport Minister Madina Sissoko, said that if airlines did not respond by the 72-hour deadline, “their time slots will be allocated to other airlines.”

Regional airlines such as Air Cote d’Ivoire and Air Burkina, the national carriers of Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, halted service to Mali after Economic Community of West African States sanctions were imposed following a special summit January 9 in Accra, Ghana.

The bloc, known as ECOWAS, had threatened sanctions if Mali’s military government did not hold elections next month as previously agreed. Mali’s leaders last month announced a plan to hold the next presidential elections in 2026.

The sanctions include border closures between Mali and ECOWAS countries and the blockage of transport of goods between the countries, except for such essentials as food and medicine.

France’s national carrier, Air France, also halted flights to Mali this week, according to a Wednesday statement from the Malian Transport Ministry, after France backed the ECOWAS sanctions.

Source: Voice of America