The African Union on Sunday named Dr Jean Kaseya, a public health expert, as the next director of the continental agency for disease control and surveillance.
Dr Kaseya, a citizen of the Democratic Republic of Congo, will head the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the agency that helps member states deal with health emergencies and design programmes to deal with public health.
The DRC presidency made the announcement, declaring it as a victory over a “secret struggle.”
“It is done! Dr Jean Kaseya takes over [as] the head of CDC, the African Centres for Disease Controle and Prevention,” a statement from President Tshisekedi’s office said, indicating heads of state had endorsed him.
Diplomatic sources told The EastAfrican DRC’s lobbying machinery rode on the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) campaign, for which President Tshisekedi is the outgoing chair. Gabonese President Ali Bongo will succeed him in less than a week.
The bloc had endorsed Dr Kaseya, who needed at least two-thirds of the vote to win directly from the 55-member African Union.
The 53-year-old medic beat 180 candidates to a list of three, including Kenya’s Ahmed Ogwell, who has been the acting Africa CDC director.
“It is the epilogue of a long secret diplomatic struggle led for six months by President Felix Tshisekedi. With this vote, the DRC has just earned a great diplomatic victory by snatching this post,” Tshisekedi’s office said.
At the CDC, Dr Kaseya replaces Cameroonian-American virologist John Nkengasong who, since May 2022, has been leading and overseeing US President Joe Biden’s Programme for the Fight Against HIV/AIDs (PEPFAR).
This is the highest position at the AU for the DRC since Gérard Kamanda’s stint as Secretary General of the defunct Organisation of African Unity, the precursor of the African Union.
“It is also proof that the DRC has regained its place in this institution from which it was excluded from voting rights,” noted the president’s office.
Dr Kaseya has over 20-year experience in public health.
He is fluent in French and English, had a career in the DRC and internationally in senior positions including at Unicef in Congo-Brazzaville and Namibia, where he worked for four and three years, respectively and at the World Health Organisation, where he led the Meningitis Vaccine Project.
He studied at the University of Kinshasa and holds a master's in public health from Henri Poincaré University in France. Prior to his election, he was a member of the Technical Review Panel for the Global Fund in Geneva since January 2023.
Since November 2020, he has also been responsible for the African Health Diagnostic Platform/European Investment Bank team (AHDP/EIB).
From June 2020 to February 2021, Dr Kaseya served as Global Head of the Africa Polio Team for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In this position, he led the advocacy, implementation and monitoring of emergency operations centres in ten African countries.