By Abebe Gellaw
In his bid to win the position of Director-General for the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is playing a nice technocrat. At every venue and opportunity, he presents himself as a humble, smiley and caring and humanitarian who loses sleep over the state of world health. But his 12-page campaign CV never mentions his most important experience that made it possible for him to climb the ladder of power within the tyrannical regime oppressing and misruling Ethiopia.
In a move that can be interpreted as fraud by omission, he failed to mention the fact that he is a top Executive and Central Committee member of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF), a brutal and corrupt ethno-fascist political group mainly responsible for gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity in Ethiopia.
The perfect pretender
Before it came to power in 1991 through a violently destructive armed struggle, the TPLF was blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Homeland Security’s Global Terrorism Database. There are a select few key decision makers within the TPLF, the nine-member gang–the executive committee. The gang is ultimately responsible for all the corruption, killings, torture, mass detention, land grab or displacement. Adhanom is among the top three within the gang. He was very close to the late dictator Meles Zenawi, who trusted him to be a confidant as well as a cabinet minister. But the numbers Adhanom is throwing to foreign journalists and diplomats are not about those who were murdered and tortured by the TPLF, which claims to represent minority Tigrians, at the detriment of the rest of the population.
With the help of Mercury Public Affairs, a high-end U.S.-based lobbying firm that calls itself a “high-stakes public strategy firm”, he is hyping up his dubious succcesses: conquered malaria, destroyed HIV, reduced infant mortality, built thousands and thousands of clinics. But they never talk about the reality behind the exaggerated figures.
Once a trusted right-hand man of the late tyrant, Meles Zenawi, whom Adhanom refers to as the “great leader”, he wasn’t an ordinary health minister (2005-2012) and foreign minister (2012-2016). He rose from a rank-and-file member of the TPLF to its central and executive committees. TPLF, where membership is mainly based on ethnic origin, is responsible for countless killings, torture, mass detentions and violent repressions. Its divide and rule system has instituted a highly discriminatory political and economic structure that has enabled it to dominate and subjugate the majority. Given his narrow-minded and ethnocentric experience, his aspiration to lead WHO is an oxymoron.
Adhanom is involved in terrible decisions and actions that violate the rights and dignity of others. It turns out that a prominent dissident is one of Adhanom’s victims.
Sana’a. They were scheduled to have a high level meeting the next day with Yemeni leaders, security and diplomatic officials.
The two rogue regimes, besset with a varying set of crises mainly related to violent repressions and misgovernance, had held at least three high level meetings before. But what made the 2014 meeting “very important”, especially for a small circle within the delegation, was a crude agenda that the former foreign minister was persistently pushing. They had sharpened their daggers with a plan for a politically motivated vendetta in Yemen.
When Ethiopian migrants and domestic workers in Yemen were routinely beaten, raped, abused and deported back to Ethiopia, neither the Foreign Minister nor the Ethiopian embassy in Sana’a raised concerns. But this time, they were keen to get involved for a special operation–kidnapping and rendition. They wanted Yemen to have dissidents that enter Yemen to seek asylum or use Sana’a International Airport as a transit route, kidnapped and handed over to them, according to two credible former security operatives.
Andargachew Tsege, a British citizen of Ethiopian origin was top on the list of dissidents that the delegation wanted to have their heads on a platter. Tsege, who was one of the key figures during the 2005 popular movement for change and democracy in Ethiopia, had already received two death sentences in absentia in 2009 and 2012. As head of the delegation, Tedros Adhanom led the negotiations with the former Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubeker Al Qirbi and security officials including Brig. Gen. Abdou Hussein al-Tarb. Before he flew back, he went to the Presidential Palace to press the issue with President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. On May 15, Adhanom tweeted, “We just concluded #Yemen #Ethiopia joint ministerial meeting in #Senea’a [sic]. Signed 9 agreements.”
One of the sources, former security official Ayalew Meshesha, says that Adhanom was not only involved in facilitating Tsege’s kidnapping but also played an active role in the rendition of over 760 dissidents who fled to Yemen. Meshesha alleges that most of those handed over by the Yemenis to TPLF’s security agents were rounded up several months before the kidnapping of Tsege.
“Most of those renditioned were Oromo and Ethiopian Somalis suspected of being OLF and ONLF sympathizers,” said Meshesha, who fled to the U.S. a couple of years ago.
It was an opportune moment for such a special operation. Yemen had already been in turmoil since the Arab Spring triggered a political whirlwind in the country in 2011. The clash between revolutionaries pushing for change and the rogue regime resorting to violence to stem the storm turned it into bloodbath.
As a matter of fact, the former strongman of Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh reportedly fled to Ethiopia after he was forced to cede power to his deputy, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Even if he lost power, Saleh remained highly influential and deeply involved in the civil war breaking up his country. He was also closely involved, as a go-between,in the secret operation, the sources say.
At the conclusion of the meeting, officials from both sides signed a dozen of agreements and protocols including one on security that reaffirmed and expanded an existing accord. Following the Ethio-Eritrean conflict, the late tyrant Zenawi switched side and had been cozying up with Yemen. In October 1999, Yemeni and Ethiopian officials signed a security accord. IRIN News reported at the time quoting officials that the pact was aimed at “jointly controlling elements seeking to destabilise peace and stability in the two countries”.
“Tedros Adhanom actually played the most important role in the kidnapping of Andargachew. He was the one who convinced the Yemenis to be part of the illegal kidnapping and rendition. He paved the way and laid the groundwork for the whole operation,” one of the sources said on condition of anonymity.
Despite the pacts, what happened to Tsege, a father of three from North London, was an extraordinarily illegal kidnapping and rendition that violates every domestic and international legal norms.
Mr. Tsege was not supposed to travel to Sana’a from Dubai in June 2014 as information had already leaked to his group that TPLF security agents were lurking in Yemen for an ambush.
Abebe Bogale, an executive of Patriotic Ginbot 7, is the last person Tsege talked to while in Dubai. Bogale says he had a direct flight to Asmara on Eritrean Airlines (ERT). But he decided to cancel his flight on June 20, 2014 as the retail suppliers, who had him waiting for the equipment he wanted to buy, called him to inform him that his delayed consignment had arrived.
Nonetheless, there was a problem. He had an urgent matter and meetings to attend. But ERT had only two flights a week. He booked another flight. When he informed Bogale that he booked a flight on Yemenia, he told him never to do it owing to the security threat in Yemen.
“Do not worry. I did it before a couple of times,” Tsege said. Bogale discouraged him again. At that point, he seemed to relent. He assured him that he would cancel his Yemenia flight.
It was exactly five weeks after Dr. Adhanom’s delegation flew back to Addis. On a fateful evening of Sunday, June 22, 2014, Tsege took a Yemenia flight that had a two hour layover in Sana’a. It was during that stop that the kidnapping operation took place. Along with the security czar, Adhanom was playing an active role in coordinating and orchestrating the brazen kidnapping and rendition.
There was already a six-man team sent by TPLF security chief Getachew Assefa. They arrived earlier on a chartered flight with a large amount of dollars to Yemeni security officials according one reliable source. PG7 sources estimate that around nine million of dollars was paid as to make the extradition a swift rendition with no due process.
One the same day Tsege was kidnapped, intelligence sources passed information to PG7 leadership that Tsege was held in Yemen. Apparently, he was seen bundled and manhandled by Yemeni agents at Sana’a International Airport. He was arguing and asserting his right to see British consular officers. His request was denied and taken to an unknown place–still handcuffed and shackled.
The next day, Prof. Berhanu Nega, leader of PG7 called Bogale, who lives in an EU member state. “Which Airlines did Andargachew take?” the unusual question was a bit alarming.
Bogale informed the Professor that he had booked a Yemnia flight but he managed to persuade him not to. The professor fumed. After a long silence, he told him that might be kidnapped in Sana’a. Bogale was devastated.
A rescue operation kicked off immediately–British, and PG7 efforts hit the wall. The initial response by Yemeni officials was repeated denial. Then they started making assurances that he was safely in their hands. “He will not be given over. He will be freed,” they assured.
In reality, what was supposed to be an immediate effort turned out to be too late for a rescue. Without any legal proceedings, without giving him consular access and any fair hearing, the Yemenis had handed him over to the notorious TPLF’s security and intelligence officers despite the fact that he was facing the death penalty. The chartered plane had already returned to Ethiopia the next day.
What happened at the airport remains sketchy. But it was crystal clear that Tsege’s kidnapping and rendition was a done deal. It was negotiated and agreed five weeks earlier by Adhanom and Yemeni officials. There was no time to spare and no deal to make to reverse the situation. Within 48 hours, the kidnapping mission was completed.
A costly passion
Tsege’s kidnapping caused widespread outrage among Ethiopian activists and those struggling to free their country from the tyrannical regime. Tsege began to play active role during the md-1970s student moment. He was Meles Zenawi’s classmate. When Zenawi and a few others launched the TPLF with a view to seceding Tigray from the rest of Ethiopia, Tsege had joined the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), whose members were slaughtered en mass for opposing the military junta. He was a vehement opponent of Mengistu’s military rule, the Derg.
After wandering in political wilderness for a few years during the revolution, he sought asylum in the UK in 1979. In 1991, the fall of the Derg had restored his hope. He returned to Ethiopia and joined the new transitional government and became a key official at the Addis Ababa municipality. As the TPLF broke its promises for a democratic change and imposed a brutal minority regime that resorted to violent repressions, he left the regime and began struggling for a genuine democratic transition. It was during the 2005 elections that Tsege had renewed his faith and hope once more for a drastic change that can usher in equality, justice and freedom for all.
Unfortunately, that hope was shattered again when TPLF rigged the elections to reverse its spectacular defeats and employed brute force to crush the long held dream of Ethiopians to be masters of their own destiny. In his book “A liberators unaware of freedom”, which he published 1997, he rejected TPLF’s divide and rule policy and tried to show the dangers of its fascistic and Stalinist ideology. He had warned that the TPLF, armed with its ethnofascist ideology, poses a danger to Ethiopia as a nation and individuals as citizens.
For his unwavering courage and struggle, the TPLF accuses the 62-year old dissident of being a terrorist. Twice, on December 22, 2009 and November 7, 2013, TPLF’s Kangaroo courts, which are notorious for being a sledgehammer of injustice, sentenced him to death.
A few days after his kidnapping, he was paraded on national TV. Despite being on death row, he said calmly: “I have no regrets….I am at peace with myself. I need to rest.”
In a twist of irony, it was Adhanom who appeared on VOA Amharic in July 2015 and told the nation that Tsege’s kidnapping was justified. Contrary to reports, Adhanom claimed that the prisoner of conscience was treated well and was given a laptop to write a book, claims that turned out to be big lies.
Adhanom is well-known for tendency of telling tall tales. It is rather a tale of the the crocodiles and their preys. Adhanom is just shedding his crocodile’s tears when he talks about his “concern” for world health. Spending millions of dollars snatched from the throats of hunger-stricken Ethiopians, it appears to be easy to hoodwink the world with sweet talks and march to Geneva to head WHO, which finds itself in a compromising position for failing to properly vet a fascist aspiring to become its director-general.
Obang Metho, Executive Director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, says that Ethiopians should have celebrated the candidacy of Adhanom. But he is not our candidate, he says.
“His ethnicity or politics never matters to most Ethiopians. What matters to us is his criminal record. He is one of those corrupt TPLF criminals whose hands are drenched with the blood of countless Ethiopia. If WHO ignores this reality, it will only expose its own hypocrisy and how out of touch it is on issues that matter to ordinary people suffering at the hands of criminals like Adhanom,” he said.
While Adhanom, a well-known human rights violator, has the luxury of travelling around the world pleading governments to vote him in as director-general of WHO, the men and women that he and his TPLF gang held captives in torture chambers, are not feeling well. Tormented and tortured, they are in deep pains and despair. That must be the reason why Ethiopians around the world are protesting against Tedros Adhanom, WHO never cares for their plight.
In a surging twitter campaign, Ethiopian activists are voicing their protest and venting out their anger. “Killers can’t be healers,” they say. So far, WHO officials are dodging hard questions. They are clearly in awkward position. It is a very compromising position.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org