As the World Health Orgianisation (WHO) collaborate with nations, experts, Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and individuals in the fight to eradicate conoravirus COVID 19 pandemic, the president of the United States took an unusual decision to withdraw funding of WHO, an action that shocked the global community. Trump’s action has since raised many questions among pundits. In this report, Alade W. Fawole, Professor of International Relations, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, Oyo state examines the rationale behind Trump’s action and says WHO was a scapegoat:
At a White House press briefing on Tuesday 15 April, United States’ President Donald Trump falsely accused the World Health Organization (WHO) over the COVID 19 pandemic, declaring, “Today, I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.” By this statement, Trump has opened another theatre in his war against China over the origin of the virus and its spread to the US.
He had previously accused WHO of deliberate wrongful projections on the coronavirus pandemic and threatened he would consider withholding US funding for the organization, the threat he finally fulfilled on Tuesday. Trump is targeting the organization and especially its Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, by his unfounded and unsubstantiated allegation of conniving with “Communist” China to hide information, and thereby promote China’s alleged disinformation on the spread of COVID 19.
The whole gist is woven around his unrelenting pastime of China-bashing, and he has merely roped Ghebreyesus into it because the Director-General bluntly refused to play along. Trump was offended that WHO praised the Chinese authorities for effectively curtailing the spread of the pandemic in the country.
How correct are his allegations against WHO and its Director-General, against the backdrop of Trump’s penchant for lying, manipulating facts and information for political benefits, and generally smearing everybody he doesn’t like? Aside his politically-motivated allegation, there is no evidence whatsoever of WHO’s complicity in how China initially handled the outbreak of the coronavirus.
It is usually the case for failed or failing leaders to look for or create scapegoats to blame for their failures. And this does not happen in the third world alone, developed democracies are not left out. In their own case, opposition parties are the readily available scapegoats. In the present case, President Trump, an accomplished liar, seems rather desperate to want to shift the attention of Americans away from his fatal domestic failures, especially the catastrophic handling of the covid-19 pandemic which has claimed more than 25,000 American lives and still counting. His desperation is because he is facing an election in November, has a formidable opponent in Democratic Party’s Joe Biden, and has not had the chance to campaign for months now because of the national lockdown and social distancing.
Once his leadership inadequacies had become visible to all, the state governors and city mayors promptly ignored the ineffectual White House leadership, its mis-steps, inconsistencies and patent lack of understanding of the criticality and potential damaging impacts of the pandemic on lives and the economy, and began on their own to take required measures to stem the spread of the virus, mitigate people’s suffering, ensure the security of lives and property, and manage the economies of their respective territories.
Rather than rise to the stature of a crisis manager, he resorts to infantile threats, accusations and spinning conspiracy theories that cannot help the situation. He even fancies himself as an all-powerful monarch, blurting out during a question-and-answer session at the White House on the pandemic that “when somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. The governors know that.”
Well, the governors certainly know better. That’s why New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, would not let him get away with the assertion that he had absolute powers. In a subtle riposte to the President on the totality and absoluteness of his powers, Cuomo said, “The President does not have total authority. We have a Constitution, we don’t have a king, we have an elected president.”
For me, it is tempting to raise the spectre of underlying Western conspiracy against African leadership of international organizations. And this where I like to spin my own little pet conspiracy theory that the WHO’s Ghebreyesus is being targeted by Trump on account that he is an African. A short trip into history may help me with the assertion. I want to predicate my position on the persistent imperialist-racist notion of white superiority and supremacy.
And I ask, is it a coincidence that Blacks never receive proper recognition and acknowledgement for any worthwhile accomplishments? No, it is not a coincidence but a manifestation of the same racist prejudice that Blacks have always been subjected to. Didn’t an Oxford University history professor try to put a pseudo-intellectual shine on the prejudice, denying that Africans had any history at all?
Remember Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper’s take that Africa was only a primitive jungle until imperialist adventurers discovered it. Lord Lugard’s own more graphic impression of Black people is perhaps the most shocking. He states that the Black man “lacks the power of organization, and is conspicuously deficient in the management and control alike of men or business” Based on this jaundiced but widely shared notion in the Western world it has been difficult for them to accept that Africans are capable of any worthwhile accomplishment, and no effort is spared to prevent them from the top ranks of international organizations in which Western imperialist nations have substantial interests.
If my pet theory is even vaguely sustained, then let it serve as advance warning to all Africans who have aspirations for leadership at the global level, especially where Western countries have a controlling interest: that regardless of their qualification, competence and experience, they will not only be judged according racist prejudices but be expected to submit to imperialist diktat, or else! Don’t forget that though Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was immensely qualified for the Presidency of the World Bank at the time she applied, but the US never forgot that she was Black, end of story!
My point is that there is a decidedly racist bent to Trump’s vituperations against today’s African-led World Health Organization at this critical historical juncture when even the mighty America is cowering before a mere virus. That Donald Trump is a racist and a narcissist is not news to anyone. He has been all his life. For him, any race other than the white race is unwanted and unfit to be Americans, that’s why he prefers immigrants from European countries, rather than from Asia, Middle East or Africa.
During his electioneering campaigns he scurrilously accused Mexicans of being rapists, drug pushers and criminals; vowed to build a wall along the US-Mexico border to prevent Mexicans from entering the US; he condemned African immigrants as good-for-nothing and wished they returned to the ‘shitholes’ from whence they came; rubbished Muslims as terrorists and criminals, virtually criminalizing the religion of Islam and the entire Muslim world, among other such blatantly racist outbursts.
Since taking office, Trump has blamed others: Democrats, the mainstream media, China, immigrants, Mexicans, the UN, NATO, for his ineptitude and woeful failures. He has not relented from demonizing China for being the source of the coronavirus. On account of him alone, even the United Nations Security Council could not agree on a communiqué because of his insistence that the coronavirus be named Wuhan Virus!
He has now added the World Health Organization to his growing list of scapegoats, characteristically asserting without evidence, that the WHO is in cahoots with the Chinese communist government to cover up what he believes is China’s culpability. Heaping the blames for his own defective leadership and personal inadequacies on a hard-working guy from one of the ‘shithole’ countries trying to do an honest job is more than just a cheap shot, it is racist. Nothing but unadulterated Trumpism on full display. Ghebreyesus is the first African to head the World Health Organization. In due course I will show you what happened to other African firsts!
In the meantime, let’s put the situation in proper perspective. It is glaring that the White House has thus far demonstrated absolute cluelessness and crass incompetence in its official handling of the coronavirus pandemic, so President Trump has to create a fall-guy to take the blame. The African Director-General of who had stoutly refused entreaties to wrongly label China comes in handy.
Withdrawing funding from WHO may be peculiar to the Trump administration but it is the usual American method for frustrating organizations that appear not to do their bidding, and this has been the experience of those headed by Africans which try to exercise some institutional independence. Previous occupants of the White House had either done, or threatened to do, the same, and sometimes even got their European sidekicks to follow suit. So, welcome to Déjà vu! Let us go down memory lane for a few historically significant instances.
And we can begin with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) under the first ever, and so far the only African Director-General, Amadou-Mahtar M’Bowof Senegal, (1974-1987). Established in November 1946, UNESCO is one of the specialized agencies of the UN with its headquarters in Paris and regional field offices around the world. The US angrily withdrew from it in 1984, on the pretext that it had become politically radicalised against the principles on which it was founded, among other scurrilous allegations. Prior to its eventual withdrawal, the Reagan administration had deliberately orchestrated highly damaging Western media blitz of M’Bow’s administrative style and financial management. M’Bow’s main problem was his blunt resistance of undue American pressures, and was accused of being pro-Soviet Union and anti-Israel. Undoubtedly, the withdrawal robbed the organization of funds for its activities.
Next was the plight of the Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the first African to become Secretary-General of the United Nations, 1992 to 1996. The US, by the exercise of its veto power in the Security Council, frustrated his aspiration to have a second term despite gaining the votes of other fourteen member-states in the 15-member Security Council. His mortal sin was that he refused to become America’s lap dog.
He remains till date, and in spite of his stellar accomplishments in office, the only Secretary-General to be denied a second term! To underscore its stranglehold on the world body, the US supported the election of the Ghanaian Kofi Annan, to replace Boutros-Ghali as UN Secretary-General, 1997 to 2000. It is trite to say that virtually all his progressive reform ideas were frustrated by the US. He faced all manner of Western-instigated allegations and investigations that were meant to tarnish his image. His blueprint for a comprehensive reform agenda to make the UN relevant for the 21st century is gathering dust at the headquarters because the Western member nations wont’ have any of it.
Enter, Nigeria’s own Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, eminent scholar and diplomat, the first African ever to be appointed Under-Secretary-General for the UN Department of Political Affairs, perhaps the most important and sensitive unit at the UN headquarters directly in charge of overseeing political developments across the globe and assisting the Secretary-General. He definitely has his own stories of Western conspiracy and frustration against him to tell Ghebreyesus, welcome to the start of unrelenting media harassment, character assassination, investigations for imaginary administrative wrongdoings, just because you are Black!