Alex Hamasaki, Student Intern
Last Modified: 23:41 p.m. EDT, 4 March 2013
On March 1, 2013, Aljazeera reported that the United Nations (UN) was accused of covering up the 2008 cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe. The UN dispute tribunal in Nairobi, Kenya, found that the UN did not inform the Robert Mugabe government of the potential for a cholera outbreak.
Aljazeera further reported that George Tadonki, the then head of the UN humanitarian office in Zimbabwe, warned his superiors of the potential outbreak, but no actions were taken.
Tadonki claims that he was fired in January 2009 in part because he “sounded the alarm about the cholera crisis.” Supposedly, the UN did not want to upset the government of Robert Mugabe, therefore did not warn the government of the upcoming outbreak. Tadonki pursued the issue, and the UN dispute tribunal in Nairobi ruled that he was unjustifiably removed from his job.
The UN dispute tribunal concluded that there should be disciplinary action taken against four senior UN officials, including the former humanitarian chief of the UN, John Holmes. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told Aljazeera that they intend to appeal the judgment.
Upon reading reports of this incident, I embarked on an effort to verify the Aljazeera news report. I was unable to located independent verification of Tadonki’s assertions on any news sources. This seemed inconsistent and smacked of a coverup given the magnitude of this story both in terms of the adverse health impact, as well as the political ramifications of an organization as high-profile as the UN failure to live up to one of its core tenets.
I finally found the original report, Tadonki v. Secretary-General of the United Nations, Case number NDT/NBI/2009/36, on the United Nations Dispute Tribunal website. Published on February 26, 2013, the report suggested that the failure of the UNCHA to renew Tadonki’s contract was “unlawful,” and that the UNCHA ignored humanitarian values in their dealings with Tadonki. Further, the UN report said on page 304 of their report, the Applicant being Tadonki:
308. Even ASG [Assistant Secretary-General] Bragg had testified that there were problems with the RC/HC and Mr. Mukhtar and that the UNCT was weak so that by January 2009 deaths from cholera had reached the thousands. In spite of this, the Tribunal finds that whenever something went wrong in Zimbabwe at the material time, the blame was laid at the door of the Applicant. It appeared that while he achieved some positive results no credit was given to him. In fact, ASG Bragg told the Tribunal that the achievements made by the Applicant in Zimbabwe were nothing extraordinary because it was his job. Management listened to rumours from all quarters instead of objectively assessing the situation and the performance of the Applicant.