Robert Mugabe

WHO Revokes Mugabe’s Goodwill Ambassador appointment

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reacted swiftly to international outrage over its appointment of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador, rescinding the post less than one week after it was announced.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the first African director general of the Geneva-based WHO, announced the 93-year-old leader’s appointment on October 18. The WHO leader faced criticism in the wake of the decision from the international community and public figures in Zimbabwe, where Mugabe has been in power for 37 years and the public health system is rife with problems.

I have decided to rescind the appointment,

Ghebreyesus said in a statement on saturday, saying he had reflected on his decision.

I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised,

Ghebreyesus said.

Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe.

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 Organization, he said.

Just five days earlier, Ghebreyesus had said he was honored to appoint Mugabe as ambassador. He also claimed the Zimbabwean leader  whose decades-long rule has been characterized by authoritarianism and corruption  would focus on the issue of noncommunicable diseases in Africa.

Speaking at a conference in Uruguay, Ghebreyesus expressed hope that Mugabe would influence his peers in his region to prioritize [non-communicable diseases], including heart attacks, cancer and diabetes.

The global condemnation of this choice was swift and staggering. The State Department said Mugabe’s appointment ‘clearly contradicts the United Nations’ ideals of respect for human rights and human dignity’.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau compared the choice to ‘a bad April Fool’s joke’. 

Ireland’s health minister, Simon Harris, called the nomination offensive and bizarre’. And Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, said WHO was ‘endorsing a repressive dictator’. 

More than two-dozen health organizations, including the World Heart Federation and NCD Alliance, said in a joint statement that they were ‘shocked’ by the appointment.

‘While we recognize that President Mugabe was the only African Head of State to accept the invitation to attend the WHO Global Conference and has made commitments to prioritize NCDs in his country, nevertheless [we] are shocked and deeply concerned to hear of this appointment, given President Mugabe’s long track record of human rights violations and undermining the dignity of human beings,’ the statement read.

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