World Health Organisation and the exit of America’s leadership, By Osmund Agbo 

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US President Donald Trump

Effective 6 July 2021, America will cease to be a member of the World Health Organisation. The Trump administration earlier this week, notified both the US Congress and the United Nations, announcing the decision to begin the process of withdrawal. As the single largest contributor to the global health body, the United States provided more than $400m, about 15% of its total budget in 2019. This move is without doubt a heavy blow to the operations of the Geneva based organization founded in 1948 and given the mandate to “promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable”. 

Trump’s charges against the global health body ranged from the ridiculous to the frivolous, all of which remain largely unsubstantiated. But what kind of honesty should we expect from a POTUS who according to the Washington post had made 19,127 false or misleading statement in a space of 1226 days. Mr. Trump does not let even truth get in his way.

His claims went from painting the WHO as inefficient in obtaining, vetting and sharing information to accusing the body of being opposed to travel restriction which hurt the US. The most egregious was that WHO is now under the control of China. His reason being that the organisation had publicly praised China’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak. But that same Trump on 24 January 2020 also tweeted:

“China has been working very hard to contain Coronavirus. The US greatly appreciated the efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular ,on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi”.

Of course, the President’s position has evolved since he first made that statement. As Covid-19 continues to ravage American lives mercilessly, dimming his prospect for re-election in November, the US President is in a crisis mode and he is lashing out. 

The last time I checked, we are still in the middle of one of the worst pandemic the world has ever known. The surging death toll across many nations tells the story of a virus that is as aggressive as it is relentless and that our worst days are far from over. Ordinarily, Trump’s move would have been unprecedented but we are not living in ordinary time. The new America is Trump’s America which regrettably also holds the ignominious title as the world’s epicenter for this monster. 

St. John the Baptist Parish is a swampy rural swath of Louisiana that straddles the Mississippi River. It also sits among a large collection of oil refineries and chemical plants including Shell. Chronic medical conditions including cancer, diabetes and heart disease are prevalent among residents of St. John and because of the degree of air pollution, environmental activists have nicknamed St. John and its neighbouring parishes the Cancer Alley.

With the advent of the novel virus, the parish has added yet another title as the area with the highest death rate per capita for coronavirus in the US. As per data from the Louisiana Department of Health, out of a population of 43,000, 569 of them have tested positive for the virus and 47 people have already died. Such is the devastating impact of man’s activities on the environment yet one of the first executive action undertaken by this President upon taking office was to pull America out of the Paris Climate agreement.

Just like many things that Mr. Trump does , it’s not clear how such action benefits the American people. A sizeable amount of his decisions are predicated on this fatal obsession to undo anything that has Obama’s imprimatur, whatever satisfaction that gives him. The same way he dismantled some of the public health safety measures put in place by both the Bush and later the Obama administration that is now hurting America in the covid response.

Truth is that America has never before suffered this degree of humiliation. This virus has come to expose the worst leadership concept there is, in the worst possible way. Trump’s America has now achieved an international pariah status to the extent that Americans are not even allowed to travel to Europe. The United States has become the first casualty of a terribly myopic and reckless leadership. Forget about the administration’s notoriously poor initial response to this global health emergency calling it a media hoax. No one could have believed that the greatest country on earth will get to the point of threatening India with retaliation if she failed to ship a certain quantity of chloroquine. But that was exactly what the US president did out of desperation.

In February this year, I watched an interview granted to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour by the former Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi. He raved about the strong leadership provided by the Obama White House in 2014 as he rallied other world leaders to contain the Ebola outbreak. Such American leadership is conspicuously missing today in the global stage and look where we are.

Fact remains that America even with all her flaws has always been the greatest force for good in this planet. Until now, the US had kept to that promise; for her own benefit and the benefit of the rest of humanity. Since the inauguration of President Trump, America has reneged on that promise. Today, there is a gaping hole in leadership at the world stage and the world is beckoning at Xi Jinping to step in. We all need to get ready for the meal China would be serving.

The savage that is Covid-19 has exposed the illusion of thinking that any nation could isolate itself in the name of a new-found nationalism, no matter how rich and powerful. The US with the best hospitals and medical experts anywhere in the world has recorded more deaths than any other country in this planet. 

Today, the world faces a looming threat of a belligerent Russia with her imperial agenda alongside a resurging and emboldened China that is overly ambitious and makes no pretence about playing by the rule. As we sing Nunc Dimmitis to the old American republic, having to decide between these two other powers will surely leave humanity with a Morton’s Fork.

•Dr. Agbo is the President/CEO of African Centre for Transparency and writes from the United States


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