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Travails of Africans working with UN agencies persist

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Prof. Oyewale Tomori

If Nigeria had put one tenth of the looted funds to support programmes in WHO, United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), etc., Africans will not be suffering the disgrace we currently face in international circles. In times past, he who pays the piper dictates the tune, today he dictates not just the tune, but how I must dance to the tune. Money talks; Africa does not contribute so she cannot talk, even when been ill-treated. We must do like others who contribute extra to WHO and other organizations, we must stop being permanent parasites and shameless recipients.

*Allegations of racism, sexual harassment, sexism, corruption confirmed by Nigerians
In recent times, most United Nations (UN) agencies including the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, the Joint United Nations programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have been awash with allegations of racism and sexual harassment and sexism as well as corruption against Africans working with them.

In March 2017, former Minister of State for Health and Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate, came close to occupying the post of Executive Director, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (or the Global Fund). After coming tops on merit, the selection team came under severe pressure to delist him. And they did, based on his faith, race and country. “The problem is that you are Nigerian and there is concern about Nigerian big men. Others brought the issue of my professed faith and how that will play out with certain constituencies of the fund,” Pate told The Guardian.

In the past few weeks, the WHO has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The Director General (DG) of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has ordered an internal investigation into allegations the UN health agency is rife with racism, sexism and corruption.

A series of anonymous emails containing the explosive charges were sent to top managers last year.

The emails, addressed to WHO directors and obtained by the Associated Press (AP), slammed the ‘systematic racial discrimination’ against African staffers at the agency.

They went on to allege further instances of wrongdoing, including claims that some of the money intended to fight Ebola in Congo was misspent.

Last month, WHO Director-General told staff he had instructed the head of WHO’s office of internal oversight to look into the charges.

The first email, which was sent last April, said there was “systematic racial discrimination against Africans at WHO” and that African staffers were being “abused, sworn at (and) shown contempt to” by their Geneva-based colleagues.

Two further emails alleged that senior officials were “attempting to stifle” investigations into such problems, and highlighted the allegedly misspent Ebola funds.

The last email, sent in December 2018, labeled the behavior of a senior doctor helping to lead the response against Ebola as “unacceptable, unprofessional and racist,” citing a November incident at a meeting where the doctor reportedly ‘humiliated, disgraced and belittled’ a subordinate from the Middle East.

Another Nigerian who has worked with the WHO at so many levels and a renowned virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, told The Guardian that the of racism and sexual harassment and sexism as well as corruption cannot but be true.

Tomori explained: “Only the biased, the blind, the deaf or the coward will say that these allegations are not true. The allegations are so thick you can touch them. Unfortunately, where there is fear of losing an extension of your lucrative contract paid for with donor fund, a conspiracy of silence becomes the norm, as donor dependency renders you impotent and paralyses your courage to speak against any injustice.”

Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

What is fueling the situation?
Corruption in any form is a global issue, and no part of the world, or organization can be said to be free of corruption. Specifically, regarding the ways Africans are mistreated in the WHO, it is not an issue of yesterday or yesteryears. It is unfortunate that the matter is gaining attention when an African is heading the WHO. Cheating of Africans has been a common feature of not just WHO, but of other such bodies. And do not blame the cheats; it is those cheated who deserve the greatest blame. I will explain that statement, later. But let me give an example: A country provides WHO with extra funds outside the regular budget to support a programme. The country (under the guise of protecting the fund and assuring the sound accountability in using the fund) gives WHO the condition for using the funds. Such conditions may include who (or rather the nationality of who) to employ, the conditions of the employment, who manages the fund, the specifications of materials to use for implementing the programme etc. Given such choking ropes around the fund, between 70 per cent or more of the funds returns to the donor country in one form or the other – a United States (US) funding will most likely employ an American citizen to coordinate the programme and will not buy Chinese cars for the project. But what they gain most is that at the expiration of the programme or funds, the individual coordinating the programmes often gets absorbed into another WHO programmed funded by WHO regular budget.

Do you have personal experience?
Let me say that I was lucky to get into the WHO at a late stage and at the top of my career. I joined the WHO thirteen years after I became Professor. This allowed me to stand for my right, ready to return to my country should there be any attempt to undermine or treat me unfairly. Unfortunately, a few of us join such organizations in mid-career, get this quantum leap in salary on joining WHO or any international organization and would rather absorb insult, abuse and slur, than return to the meager salaries received at home. While attempts were made to treat me less than my worth, I dare say I resisted such attempts with all the power and vehemence I could muster. Many of my colleagues were at the receiving end of donor pride and arrogance and absorbed all with typical pusillanimity of a succumbing recipient. The worst part of the experience was to see your African boss taking sides against you and supporting the donor, often for ephemeral gains …a trip to donor country with accompanying dinner and luncheon and an opportunity to make a presentation dissected and dismembered by the agent of the donor

Muhammad Ali Pate

How can the situation be addressed?
The problem is in and with us, not our stars! Therefore, the solution lies not with the donor or Western countries, but with us Africans – our governments and those of us who work with international organizations. So long as our leaders misuse our resources and wait for donor crumbs to solve our basic problems, so long shall we be subjected to the discrimination and poor treatment meted to Africans in international organizations. Unfortunately, the words “shame”, “national pride” and “self-respect” are missing in the dictionaries of those who call themselves our leaders. It is the Africans working in such organizations who bear the brunt of the outcome and repercussions of the shameful behavior of our leaders. A country that will not meet her obligation of paying annual contribution to an international body but will fund the cost of sending a 40-man delegation to the annual meeting of the body, deserves all the shame, slurs, abuse that accompany such irresponsibility and delinquency. Take our country, we begged Gavi (Global vaccine alliance) to extend our dependency for another 10 years and we will get $1.03 billion. Our Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) reported that so far, it has recovered looted money that is more than N794 billion, ($2.2billion), over $261 million, £1,115,930.47, €8,168,871.13. This is approximately $3.3 billion, more than three times what we sold ourselves to Gavi for over the next 10 years. If Nigeria had put one tenth of the looted funds to support programmes in WHO, United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), etc., Africans will not be suffering the disgrace we currently face in international circles. In times past, he who pays the piper dictates the tune, today he dictates not just the tune, but how I must dance to the tune. Money talks; Africa does not contribute so she cannot talk, even when been ill-treated. We must do like others who contribute extra to WHO and other organizations, we must stop being permanent parasites and shameless recipients.


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