I have seen flowers come in stony places, And kind things done by men with ugly faces, And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races, So I trust too.

(John Masefield)

We must bear any pain, travel any distance, climb any mountain, cross any ocean to complete this journey to freedom, there is no greater honor….dogma has prevailed, in place of transparency, secrecy has taken root, in place of democracy, oppression has intensified, and in place of merit, patronage has been rewarded.

(Eskinder Nega)

Together for a healthier World.

(Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus)

Earlier this year, it was announced that the notorious Kaliti prison holding Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega was to be shut down in order to foster national reconciliation; all incarcerated political prisoners held there, were to be freed. Seven years earlier the government of Ethiopia arrested at least 114 journalists and opposition politicians. When Nega’s freedom came it was conditional on his signed confession saying that he was a member of the Ginbot 7 group, a group designated terrorists by the federal government. Nega refused to make a false confession. He was however freed on February 14, 2018, along with several other political prisoners. He was never silenced and chose peaceful means to bring the world’s attention to the repressive political environment in Ethiopia. The region in the Horn of Africa has an abundance of natural resources but contains some of the poorest nations on earth. It has suffered protracted political strife, frequent conflict and drought making the region most food insecure. It is one example of a region that has undergone a creeping disaster. Gains have been made but the population remains at the mercy of preventable diseases and poverty.

Eskinder Nega faced the death penalty, continually. He was arrested late in 2011 under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009. Over a period of two decades he was detained several times and put back in jail on September 14, 2011. Prior to arrest, he published an online column, critical of the use of anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and called upon the Ethiopian government to respect freedom of expression and end torture in the country’s prisons. At the time an international group of journalists, writers and human rights activists called upon the Ethiopian government to unconditionally release Mr. Eskinder Nega. Finally it has happened this year. As part of political reform by the federal government 740 prisoners were set free. Nega’s recent release signals significant improvement and a major step on the road to democracy for Ethiopia. He however suggests caution, for the journey is incomplete. …the only certainty being that the immediate future holds more hardship, more sacrifice, more tears, more imprisonment, exile and even death.

Seven years ago I also raised my small voice in support of Eskinder Nega, a man of great courage, always wearing a baseball hat. Once when young, I had been enthralled with Abyssinia, the oldest independent nation in Africa, with its legendary Prestor John, real and imagined, with wonderful Abyssinian postage stamps and much more. His legend emerged at the time of the Crusades when Christian Europe hoped to regain the Holy Land (Palestine) from the Muslims. My personal petition represented a small spontaneous act to help swell the ranks of those calling for an end to the life-threatening predicament of Eskinder Nega. The Ethiopian Youth National Movement condemned the arrest both of Eskinder Nega and Andualem Andargie and urged the use of all avenues to pressure the government into immediately and unconditionally, releasing them. Accordingly, these courageous men played key roles in the struggle for freedom and democracy in Ethiopia. As a result, they were harassed, imprisoned and tortured.

In spite of mine and many louder and more important voices of influential protest, Nega remained incarcerated. The charges against him were baseless and according to the Committee to Protect Journalists it fell into a long and well-documented pattern of persecution, a result of critical coverage of the government. Amnesty International went on record of calling on the Ethiopian authorities to end their persistent crackdown on dissents, following on from arrests of a prominent journalist and four senior opposition politicians on accusations of terrorism-related activities. Reporters Without Borders called on the Ethiopian government to guarantee a fair and transparent legal process and assure the press, that the law will not be used to persecute critical journalists and thereby stifle dissident voices. The International Federation of Journalists urged the authorities to drop all accusations of terrorist activity levelled at five journalists including two Swedish reporters. PEN International protested the arrest and detention of two more journalists under Ethiopia’s sweeping anti-terrorist legislation. The New York Review of Books presented the case of Eskinder Nega in the name of several prestigious individuals, calling upon the then Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton to publicly repudiate Ethiopia’s efforts to use terrorism laws to silence political dissent. World Justice Project, Rule of Law Index 2011, Ethiopia, stated that accountability is weak, even by regional standards; when it comes to incorporating the principles of the rule of law, there are great obstacles and poor performance of its regulatory agencies and courts but comparable to other countries in the region. Its record in the area of fundamental rights, ranked it 65th globally and came last in the region. The greatest concerns were restrictions limiting fundamental freedoms; freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and illegal detentions and violations of due process. The case of Nega was but one of many…

In 2011, my personal appeal to the Ethiopian authorities went through the collective conscious of international public health which speaks out in support of civil liberties, promotion of human security and protests support given tor human rights-violating regimes. At the time, an opportunity presented itself to urge restraint on harassment and intimidation, to respect freedom of the press and the rights of children, to emphasize social protection of people, and to reinstate public health as a social enterprise. At the time the international public health community was rightfully worried that any statement in its name would prove detrimental to those detained. I was suggesting that an upcoming Congress could also be a platform to appeal for the exoneration, release and medical treatment of Eskinder Nega and all other national and foreign journalists lingering in Ethiopian prisons.

My Petition noted the good things achieved in the fight against poverty and the gains in equality. It noted the development of educational tourism and the work of the government in collaboration with notable scientists as well as the engagement of well-meaning international philanthropists. New development plans were underway in which the state would replace the private sector as the main engine of economic growth. The ongoing progress in health and agriculture was improving the economy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia under his Excellency Prime Minister Meles Zenawi from 1995-2012. He died in Belgium from an infection. According to Freedom House, his government discriminated against and repressed the Oromo people for which Eskinder Nega was a top Oromo activist. President Barack Obama upon learning of Meles’ death said that he deserved recognition for his lifelong contribution to Ethiopia’s development, and his commitment to Ethiopia’s poor. At the time and in concert with the international community an effective education in public health system was being created and already a School of Public Health (2010) had emerged. It was built on earlier developments in community health.

Between 2005-12 infant mortality and overall child deaths fell significantly. More recently the UN cited Ethiopia as a success story in its achievement of some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in reducing child mortality, Improving maternal health and in combating transmisable diseases. But there was a long way to go.

In 2012 The 13th World Congress on Public Health was held in Addis Ababa, under the patronage of His Excellency Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus [1], Minister of Health for Ethiopia (2005-12). It was conducted by the World Federation of Public Health Associations, presided over by Ulrich Laaser, who recently told me that as the Western World falls apart, terrorism and armed conflict should become a subject in teaching and research in public health and that now it is more important than ever.

The Congress resulted in a boost for the Ethiopian Public Health Association and influence gain for Ethiopian public health at the regional and international levels. It helped formulate a better understanding of Africa's major public health challenges, provided instruments of healthy ways forward, and pushed for increased equitable and sustainable access to health services for the poor. It showed how the Millennium Development Goals for health are slowly progressing. Indirectly, it helped bring the two Bills to Ethiopia, promote Ethiopia and the work of its Ministry of Health. In 2012, Tedros was named as one of the 50 people who will change the world. There is now a commitment to eliminate Yellow fever in Africa, through a programme launched by Dr Tedros now WHO Director-General, in partnership with Nigeria. By 2026 nearly one billion people will be vaccinated against yellow fever in 27 high-risk African countries and UNICEF will make the vaccines available.

Other events have also inspired. It includes the vision of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, an independent, non-governmental organization. The Center is dedicated to the advancement of human rights and strongly supports training for youth, civil society and governments. Its work stresses that the principle of equal citizenship rights is a good way to defuse tensions resulting from migration and seeks to create more resilient and cohesive societies while urging international decision-makers to provide a special funding priority to countries in the Sahel region of Africa that are victims of both the adverse effects of climate change on standard of living and precipitated enormous economic deprivations. The Center promotes equal citizenship rights to deconstruct and eliminate the vulnerability of people. In 2017 it promulgated the important statement the Geneva Declaration and will soon convene a world conference entitled Religions, Creeds and/or Other Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights. It will take place in the Offices of the United Nations, Geneva. In 2015 and in Addis Ababa Dr.Tedros now as Minister of Foreign Affairs orchestrated an Action Agenda which became known as AAAA., it set policy actions by Member States, which draws upon all sources of finance, technology, innovation, trade, and data in order to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. In the arena of public health it pointed to development of health diplomacy. In 2018, leaders of Africa’s 55 countries took a long drawn step towards greater integration and closer unity. It brought forth a historic pact 4 decades in the making that will make the continent the largest free trade area created since the formation of the World Trade Organization…

Looking back to the Cairo Consultation, 2002, Dr Hussein A. Gezairy, Regional Director of WHO/EMRO, noted that the concept of health and human security are deeply rooted in the culture of the Eastern Mediterranean region. The consultation emphasized that public health provides a unifying framework for human security development which presents an opportunity for a deeper understanding of human security. It provides a context through which an array of partnerships across scientific disciplines, governmental sectors and national and international agencies can be built. UNDP noted then that more than 50 nations were poorer than just one decade earlier, with 20 in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 17 in Eastern Europe. Twenty years ago security and health for all, within inclusive societies (UN) were firmly on the world agenda.

At WHO, Geneva, Director General, Dr. Tedros has identified universal health coverage as his top priority. His appointment to the position came with criticism, from for example the editor-in-chief of Lancet, the prominent medical journal, calling him Dictator-General. For some unknown to me reason his credentials and accomplishments were by many considered inflated. I want to believe that this has made a difference for better heath and health education in solidarity for all Ethiopians. The knock on effects for the rest of the world can be considerable. Will they be is a more realistic question.

Eskinder Nega was arrested as a suspected terrorist, identified as a spy for foreign forces by state controlled media and jailed for seven years. After his harsh treatment at the hands of the Ethiopian authorities and after his release the world wishes him well and in the hope that he will continue to expose government bad practices. Will he stay free remains to be seen. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus should be left alone to fulfil his promise as Director General of the WHO. He has the sensibility to steer towards health equality having known the needless suffering caused by malaria in Eritrea and having rubbed shoulders with two presidents, Carter and Clinton as well as with Bill Gates as a politician he has the clout to get things done. Perhaps I could bring them together in close conversation on terrorism as a public health issue? Now that is a challenge!

His Excellency Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, Cultural and religious diversity at a crossroad. The promotion of equal citizenship rights to deconstruct and eliminate the vulnerability of people, 26 May 2018
His Excellency Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim ,Geneva declaration. Mobility and human solidarity, a challenge and an opportunity for Europe and the MENA region, 26 December 2017
Donev, D., Laaser, U., Levett, J., Skopje Declaration on Public Health, Peace & Human Rights, Dec 2001 Croat Med J. 2002; 43(2): 105–6 Adopted by World Federation of Public Health Associations, 2003
Jeffrey Levett. Defense against Terrorism: Role of Public Health and Health Diplomacy. Proceedings of an Advanced Research Workshop, NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme, SKOPJE, April 2018
Abderrahmane Naji, AU Extraordinary Summit, The Summit for African Continental Free Trade Area, 17 April 2018
Donev, D., Laaser, U., Levett, J., Skopje Declaration on Public Health, Peace & Human Rights, Dec 2001 Croat Med J. 2002; 43(2): 105–6 Adopted by World Federation of Public Health Associations, 2003