World Health Organization chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu has been at the helm of the fight against COVID-19 but he said a war in his home region of Tigray in Ethiopia is a “personal pain” for him.
“2020 has been very difficult for me, because my country is in trouble, my country, Ethiopia, is in trouble, and the war, the devastating war that’s happening is actually in my home region, Tigray, northern part of Ethiopia,” he told reporters on Monday in the UN health agency’s last press conference on the Covid-19 pandemic of the year.
The conflict broke out on November 4 after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, ordered troops into the region following alleged attacks by Tigray People’s Liberation Front forces on federal military camps in the northern region.
Thousands have been killed in the fighting, according to the International Crisis Group think tank, and tens of thousands of refugees have fled to neighbouring Sudan.
“As if Covid is not enough, I have that personal pain also, I worry about my country,” DR Tedros said.
“I have many relatives there, including my younger brother and I don’t know where they are.
“I haven’t communicated with them because communication is not there.”
Ethiopia restricted media access to the conflict-hit region and Tigray was under a total communications blackout for six weeks as the conflict raged between federal and regional forces.
The Ethiopian government had last month accused Tedros, who from 2005-2012 served as health minister under TPLF leader Meles Zenawi, of lobbying for and seeking to arm leaders in the conflict-torn dissident region.
Tedros denied those accusations in a tweet last month, saying he had seen the destructive nature of war as a child, and had “used that first-hand experience to always work for peace.”
But the world’s highest-profile Tigrayan also voiced hope for 2021 despite a challenging year of COVID and conflict.
He said he became a grandfather two months ago.
“I worry, considering the two difficult situations that are happening, about my granddaughter, but at the same time, looking at her, I see hope.”