, Harare, Zimbabwe, Oct 25 – Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe did not know he had been appointed as a goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organization but would have rejected the role that has since been rescinded, state media reported Tuesday.
The WHO on Sunday reversed its decision to award the 93-year-old the honour to help fight disease after widespread global uproar.
“The president was quite surprised that he had been appointed a goodwill ambassador,” 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 of the appointment from the news.
“He was not going to oblige the invitation had it come his way anyway.”
Mugabe attended the WHO summit in Uruguay where the UN agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the announcement in a speech on Wednesday that was publicly released.
The Herald last week reported the appointment under the headline “New feather in President’s cap”.
The honour 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.
Charamba added it would have been an “awkward” situation for the 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.