President Robert Gabriel Mugabe. PHOTO: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images/AFP
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe did not know he had been appointed World Health Organisation goodwill ambassador and would anyway have rejected the role that has since been rescinded, state media reported Tuesday.
The WHO reversed its decision on Sunday to award the 93-year-old the honour to help fight disease after widespread uproar around the globe.
“The president was quite surprised that he had been appointed a goodwill ambassador by the WHO,” Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba told The Herald newspaper.
“There was nothing, whether verbal or written, from the WHO intimating that WHO wished to make the president a goodwill ambassador in respect of noncommunicable diseases,” he added, saying Mugabe learned about it from the news.
“He was not going to oblige the invitation had it come his way anyway.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian health minister who took charge of WHO UN agency in July, rescinded his decision to appoint Mugabe goodwill ambassador for non-communicable diseases in Africa after facing fierce criticism.
The appointment angered international rights campaigners and opposition parties, who also accuse Mugabe of violent repression, election rigging and presiding over the country’s economic ruin.
Zimbabwe’s healthcare system, like many of its public services, has collapsed under Mugabe’s authoritarian regime, with most hospitals out of stock of essential medicines and supplies, and nurses and doctors regularly left unpaid.
Charamba said it would have been an “awkward” situation for WHO to appoint Mugabe as goodwill ambassador, as Zimbabwe is a top producer of tobacco.
Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, is in increasingly fragile health and makes regular trips abroad for medical treatment.