THE World Health Organisation (WHO) unceremoniously stripped President Robert Mugabe of the goodwill ambassador for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) honour yesterday after the United Nations agency’s director-general Tedros Ghabreyesus succumbed to pressure from rights activists hardly four days after being appointed.
By Richard Chidza/Online
The rights groups claimed the Zanu PF leader did not deserve the recognition.
For a man who does not shy away from the international diplomatic highway, WHO’s decision yesterday left the 93-year-old Zanu PF leader, reeling with his public relations handlers groping for a response.
State media last week crowed over Mugabe’s appointment, describing it as “a new feather in the President’s cap” before social media went into complete meltdown yesterday as news of Mugabe’s demotion went viral.
Ghabreyesus, in a terse statement yesterday, admitted that the decision to reverse the appointment came following an outcry from rights activists across the globe, who accused Mugabe of having a well-documented “long track record of human rights violations”.
“Over the last few days, I have reflected on my appointment of HE President Robert Mugabe as WHO goodwill ambassador for NCDs in Africa. As a result, I have decided to rescind the appointment,” Ghabreyesus said.
Ethiopian Ghabreyesus suggested Mugabe had agreed to be stripped of the honour.
“I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised. I have also consulted with the government of Zimbabwe and we have concluded that this decision is in the best interests of the World Health Organisation,” the WHO boss said.
Foreign Affairs minister Walter Mzembi yesterday chose to be diplomatic over the humiliating incident, saying WHO had embarrassed itself more than the President.
“The inordinate noise around the designation of (the) President as WHO Africa global ambassador does not assist the cause in the first place. If anything it is WHO that has benefitted tremendously from its decision in nominating President Mugabe to lead the fight against NCDs through media amplification of WHO itself. We respect the WHO decision as much as we respected the initial decision to honour our President,” Mzembi said.
“On a name recognition scale, this name beats them all, but it is our business to protect the brand equity from unnecessary besmirching. So on the balance its wiser to let go and help WHO focus on its mandate while Zimbabwe (focuses) on its membership obligations.”
But Zanu PF Highfield West MP and ruling party’s former information director Psychology Maziwisa expressed disgust at the decision.
“A very, very disappointing decision by WHO, but not an entirely unexpected one, given the well-known political position of its donors on Zimbabwe,” Maziwisa said on Twitter.
Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo had warned Ghabreyesus could not reverse the decision without losing his dignity, suggesting it could have been part of a sinister plot to soil Mugabe’s image.
“If @DrTedros wasn’t part of a sinister plot in the first place and if his decision was professional and with goodwill, then he must stick to it!” Moyo ranted.
Before Ghabreyesus’ late afternoon bombshell, Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba had scoffed at the protests by rights activists.
“They are just protests and do not matter. He was not appointed to represent civil society,” Charamba said dismissively.
Efforts to contact him later were unsuccessful, while Information minister Simon Khaya Moyo was unreachable.
Mugabe’s critics had described the appointment as a “sickening irony”.
WHO partners in the fight against NCDs – in a statement earlier – rejected Mugabe’s appointment given the Zimbabwean leader’s checkered human rights record.
“While we support WHO and Dr Tedros in their ambition to drive the NCD agenda forward, we are unable to recognise President Mugabe as a champion for NCDs,” the statement said.
The civil society groups indicated WHO could not justify Mugabe’s appointment, adding the UN agency might have been left with no option given the Zanu PF leader was the only African President in Montevideo.
“Given these systematic abuses and his approach to NCDs and tobacco control in the past, NCD civil society present in Montevideo believe that President Mugabe’s appointment as WHO goodwill ambassador for NCDs cannot be justified,” it said.
Mugabe has turned Zimbabwe into an international pariah amid accusations of human rights abuses. The soon-to-be-94 years old leader has, however, dismissed the accusations as a figment of a paranoid Western hemisphere bent on pushing him out of power.
Yesterday, a senior Mugabe aide confirmed authorities in Zimbabwe were jittery, as the possibility of global shame lingers.
“It’s a worry for us and we are consulting and engaging WHO. We are aware of the protests from pressure groups, but we cannot be reacting to social media rants because we are recipients. We will wait for official communication from WHO and see whether they will stand by their decision or change then we will take a position. It would be a case of jumping the gun if we respond,” the official said on condition of anonymity.