22, October 2017
The World Health Organization (WHO) has overturned it controversial decision, made quite recently, in appointing Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe as its “goodwill ambassador” to Africa following international outrage.
The director-general of the United Nations organization, Tedros Adhanom, made the announcement on Sunday, four days after he appointed the 93-year-old Zimbabwean president at a high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Uruguay.
“Over the last few days, I have reflected on my appointment of H.E. President Robert Mugabe as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for NCDs in Africa. As a result I have decided to rescind the appointment,” Tedros said in a statement published on the WHO official website.
On Wednesday, Tedros, an Ethiopian politician, academic, and public-health authority, who assumed power as the eighth head of the WHO in July, had praised Zimbabwe as a country which had managed to place “universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all.”
The unexpected decision, however, faced criticism from the beginning and sparked outrage among key WHO member states, the United States in particular, and other critics of Mugabe’s decades-long long rule. Tedros’ decision was described by critics as the result of “poor judgment” and “miscalculation.”
Critics say that Zimbabwe, under Mugabe, has seen a significant reduction in life expectancy, dropping from 61 in 1985 to 44 in 2003, largely due to the nation’s ailing economy and widespread poverty.
Mugabe is also under fire for the longevity of his role as the leader of the African country. He served as the prime minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987. In December 1987, the country’s parliament amended the constitution and declared Mugabe to be the executive president, a new position that lasted until now and gave him much more power.
However, Mugabe, who is suffering from several health scares, has pledged never to give up the presidency.
“I will be there until God says come, but as long as I am alive I will head the country, forward ever, backwards never,” he told the African Union last year.
As the goodwill ambassador, he was supposed to co-ordinate the WHO’s battle against heart disease, cancer and diabetes across Africa.
“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 Organization,” further said Tedros, whose election as the first African leader of the UN organization was billed as a pivotal moment for the continent, where much of the organization’s work is based.
UN agencies often name high-profile personalities as goodwill ambassadors to draw attention and highlight their tasks in the eyes of the global community and to garner support for the cause. Tedros’ contentious decision, however, has raised doubts regarding his leadership just four months into his tenure.