US ‘witch-hunt’ of African executives at WHO, AfDB infuriates continent

In this special report, News Central’s Political Editor Sumner Shagari Sambo reports that most Africans believe that the United States recent actions against WHO’s Tedros Ghebreyesus and African Development Bank, AfDB’s Akinwumi Adesina were a payback for the continent’s ongoing romance with China.

Africans are angry at the recent attacks by the United States government on two top executives from the continent holding lead positions at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

“For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric, the WHO really blew it. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?”, the US President lashed out in a tweet at the World Health Organization in April.

International observers say the real target of Trump’s obsession was the Ethiopian WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus whose position has been threatened for being too close to the Chinese, a paint brush the US continues to rub against African leaders.

Like the WHO boss, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of multilateral lender, African Development Bank – AfDB – is also on the firing line by United States government and officials who are out to scuttle his return for second term.

Being a minority shareholder in an institution largely owned 57.11 percent by African countries, analysts are appalled why the US is the only one out of 78 shareholders hell-bent on pushing spurious financial allegations meant to push into the bin Adesina’s second term bid despite his being cleared by AfDB’s Ethics Committee chaired by a Japanese who is an Executive Director with the multilateral lender.

US President Donald Trump in an undated photo. One analyst told News Central that the “US has a track record of intolerance for multilateral organisations and has sought to bully other nation states into accepting its position on issues in these organisations.”

– WHO DG fights to save job –

Despite the WHO’s denials of the accusation, with facts, that the world body prepared the world enough for the coronavirus pandemic, the US government has not spared it, prompting Ghebreyesus to urge calm and not politicising Covid-19.

“We are close to every nation, we are colour-blind. Please, unity at national level, no using Covid for political points,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said. “Second, honest solidarity at the global level. And honest leadership from the US and China.

“The most powerful should lead the way and please quarantine (sic) politicising Covid,” he appealed, in comments seen as a response to Trump, who has insisted that the WHO appeared to be “very biased toward China”.

WHO had approved a coronavirus test in January – but the US decided against using it, developing its own test instead. However, in February, when the testing kits were despatched, some of them didn’t work properly and led to inconclusive results.

Public health experts say the delay enabled the virus to spread further within the US and as at May 28, America had lost 100,000 citizens to Covid-19 with more deaths still being recorded.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union, (AU) in April issued a statement affirming solidarity and support across the continent for the WHO Director General, Ghebreyesus who he said has shown “exceptional leadership … from the very early stages of this unprecedented global health crisis.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has remained calm despite US President Donald Trump’s allegations against his leadership of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the deadly coronavirus. He has received support from the African Union (AU) and other global leaders. (Photo by Christopher Black / World Health Organization / AFP)

– US targets AfDB’s Adesina –

President Trump’s administration has not hidden its disdain for African leaders because of their renewed engagement with China that has seen the latter emerge as major investor offering cheap loans to countries on the continent leading to most international contracts going East and reduced American influence across Africa.

US authorities have again shifted attacks to another African heading an international institution, the African Development Bank, AfDB where Nigeria’s Akinwumi Adesina is President.

After unsuccessful attempts against his election in 2015, US authorities have now cobbled several allegations of financial mismanagement and nepotism against Adesina.

Using unnamed staff and third parties, it has instigated a crisis within the multilateral lender after realising Adesina was coasting home to victory as the only contender for the position in the forthcoming election after multiple endorsements by other shareholders, institutions and countries. The election is set for August during the bank’s annual general meeting.

Adesina, was investigated and cleared by AfDB’s Ethics Committee of the sixteen charges against him by aggrieved staff and has repeatedly refuted the allegations.

But the United States, AfDB’s third largest investor after Nigeria, Egypt and its largest non-regional investor is unsatisfied with the clean bill of health given Adesina and wants an external audit, independent of the institution.

“We have deep reservations about the integrity of the (ethics) committee’s process,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a May 22 letter. “Instead, we urge you to initiate an in-depth investigation of the allegations using the services of an independent outside investigator of high professional standing.” Mnuchin said in a letter to the Chairman of AfDB’s Board of Governors, Kaba Niale.

Equatorial Guinea has countered the U.S by publicly adopting the position of the bank’s Ethics Committee that cleared Adesina of wrongdoing.

Nigeria, Adesina’s home country, countered the US late Thursday by insisting that such a request could not be granted by the Board of Governors as AfDB’s corporate governance code contains no such provision for an external “independent outside investigator”.

– Adesina fights back –

“I maintain my innocence with regard to trumped-up allegations that unjustly seek to impugn my honor and integrity, as well as the reputation of the African Development Bank”, Adesina said in a media statement with his personal signature Wednesday.

The AfDB President added: “I am confident that fair, transparent and just processes that respect the rules, procedures and governance systems of the bank, and rule of law, will ultimately prove that I have not violated the code of ethics of this extraordinary institution.”

Adesina thanked the AfDB’s shareholders for the clearance given him by the ethics committee after the internal investigation of the allegations while asking that they disregard false media reports that he has stepped down.

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“I maintain my innocence with regard to trumped-up allegations that unjustly seek to impugn my honor and integrity”, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) – Akinwumi Adesina in the heat of the crisis. AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo by ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP)

Analysts say the US has done all within its powers to derail Adesina and his Africa-focused development agenda pointing at the whistleblower allegations made against Adesina as mere orchestration by the American representative at the bank, Stephen Dowd, whom the French press has since unmasked. The US has been a member of the bank since 1983.

One AfDB insider said “America believes that Adesina is an unapologetic pan-Africanist, who, more than any other president, has moved the development agenda of the bank and Africa forward in a manner that no other in the bank’s 56-year history has done.

“On the board, he does not kowtow to the U.S. or its whims on critical issues relating to Africa’s development.”

Last year, Adesina successfully led AfDB’s shareholder General Capital Increase from $93 billion to $208 billion. In the process, he became the first bank president to take the risk of championing a case for increasing capital for Africa’s development during a first term in office.

“It was a gambit that paid off in spite of initial strong American opposition”, the AfDB insider said.

– Nigeria rallies support –

Nigerian authorities have begun lobbying for Adesina after receiving satisfactory intelligence briefing that the AfDB president was the victim of a witch-hunt by the Americans.

“The call for an independent investigation of the president is outside of the laid down rules, procedures and governing system of the bank and its articles as it relates to the code of conduct on ethics for the president,” Zainab Ahmed, Nigeria’s Finance minister wrote in a letter to AfDB’s Board of Governors where it denounced the plans to circumvent the bank’s internal procedures.

Ahmed asked the AfDB to “uphold the rule of law and respect the governance systems of the bank” and if there was need for improvement, it should be done according to laid down procedure. She then highlighted all Adesina’s projects and achievements which she noted did not warrant such an attack on his career.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, in a letter to former African presidents also canvassed support for Mr Adesina, saying he had taken the bank to a great height since he took the position in the last five years.

Adesina, “has actively positioned (AfDB) as an effective global institution ranked fourth globally in terms of transparency among 45 multilateral and bilateral institutions,” Obasanjo wrote to 13 former heads of state including Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia and Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson of Liberia.

“As Africa faces COVID-19, Dr. Adesina again took bold measures to ensure the bank can respond proactively to support African countries and got its board of directors to approve a $10 billion crisis response facility to support African countries,” Obasanjo said.

“In addition, the bank successfully launched a $53 billion ‘Fight COVID-19’ social impact bond on the international capital market, secured at 0.75 per cent interest rate.” These achievements “made all the heads of state and governments of ECOWAS region to endorse him for second term,” the former Nigerian leader wrote.

– Africans hit Western powers –

On mainstream and social media, the American government has been accused of misuse of power and tagged as joy-killers for trampling on African chief executives heading global institutions like the WHO and AfDB.

“Our major derailing point in this case is the fact that, since we have accepted some of these western countries to have a stake in AfDB, we should also be rest assured that they will certainly have their way when it comes to the way and manner we run our affairs in AfDB”, Hussaini Modibbo Wurno wrote on Facebook.

Danjuma Sunday, a social commentator said the United States was only out to hit African executives because of China’s growing influence across Africa to the detriment of Western powers.

“The rivalry between the US and China is being extended to Africa indirectly due to the bilateral economic relationship that is on the increase between African countries and China”, Sunday said. “So to get the African countries, their leaders, regional heads and institutions headed by Africans are targeted with corruption allegations, war crimes and others just to break them for relating with China,” he concluded.

One of Nigeria’s leading newspapers, The Guardian, reported that the espionage activities on the issue by the Americans had been revealed and blocked; and that with the mounting opposition against them, it was only a matter of time before they withdrew the spurious allegations against Adesina.

“It is believed that America’s intention all along was that even if one of the allegations stuck, Adesina would have to be removed as president of the bank and made ineligible for re-election. This attempt failed”, The Guardian wrote Thursday.

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AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina has received support from many Africans after being cleared by the Ethics Committee of the bank chaired by a Japanese Executive Director. AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo by ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP)

“The fact is that the governance procedures of the bank during the investigation were followed to the letter. However, as the outcome of the investigation did not suit the anticipated expectations of the U.S., it now seeks to undermine the credibility of the bank, derail Adesina’s leadership, and possibly set the pretext for a veiled threat to pull out of the bank as a shareholder”, the Nigerian daily wrote.

“We all know that the current administration in the US has a track record of intolerance for multilateral organisations and has sought to bully other nation states into accepting its position on issues in these organisations. The most recent example being the WHO. Recently, the WTO Director General also had to resign, because of harassment by the current US administration”, an international lawyer who refused to be named told News Central.

The lawyer, who was a former legal advisor for the multilateral lender said “as a believer in the rule of law, I strongly take exception to the US position. I hope that the institution will resist this bully tactic and protect the AfDB from an unnecessary and potentially destructive corporate governance crisis”.

As the AfDB probe continues despite Adesina’s chants of innocence, all eyes remain focused on the WHO’s Dr. Ghebreyesus to see if Trump and the United States would back down or force him out like they did the Director General of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevêdo.

Azevêdo, a Brazilian career diplomat, resigned abruptly on May 14 as WTO director-general effective August 31. His second four-year term was not scheduled to end until September 2021. His views clashed with President Trump’s preference for bilateral power politics.

The WTO’s operations have been crippled since late 2019 as a result of actions by the Trump administration, which has refused to approve nominees to fill vacancies in a crucial appeals panel that rules on trade disputes.

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