Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s President of 30 years, appointed as a ‘goodwill ambassador’ by the World Health Organization. The choice of an ambassador for the UN’s agency looks odder year to year, say the health officials who were “shocked and deeply concerned” with that news.
The World Health Organisation’s new Director-General made President of Zimbabwe a “goodwill ambassador”, the new chief told delegates in Uruguay that Robert Mugabe could use the role “to influence his peers in his region”. In his speech, Mr Tedros described Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all”. Thanks to Mr Mugabe, of course, who promotes health issues over 30 years of his presidency in Zimbabwe.
Two dozen health organisations released a statement slamming the appointment, saying health officials were deeply concerned, taking into account Mugabe’s record of human rights violations. In 2008, the charity Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting failures in Zimbabwe’s health system, saying that Mr Mugabe’s policies had led to a man-made crisis.
UN and its ambassadors
Recent years, the United Nations make rather an odd choice while appointing its ambassadors. The naming Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador looks strange because Mr Mugabe is subject to EU economic and travel sanctions. In fact, being the world’s longest non-royal head of state, Mr Mugabe is able to do something good for the Zimbabwe’s health system, while other celebrities as WHO’s ambassadors hold little actual power. They are just to draw attention to issues of concern.
The charity Physicians for Human Rights report said Mr Mugabe’s policies led directly to “the shuttering of hospitals and clinics, the closing of its medical school and the beatings of health workers”. According to that document, Mr Mugabe does a lot for politicizing the health sector instead of raising its effectiveness and modernization.
In 2017, the UN dropped the superhero Wonder Woman as an ambassador for “empowering girls and women” after the decision drew widespread criticism.