Robert Mugabe was never officially asked to become a goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organization (WHO), his spokesman has claimed, adding Zimbabwe’s president would have turned down the role anyway.
The UN’s health agency on Sunday said it was reversing a decision to appoint Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old leader to the largely ceremonial post to help in the fight against non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Africa.
The move came after widespread criticism by WHO member states and human rights groups who noted that the health system in Zimbabwe has suffered from severe challenges under Mugabe’s decades-long leadership.
Tedros Adhanom, WHO director, said in a statement he had “decided to rescind the appointment” of Mugabe after listening “carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised”.
But George Charamba, presidential spokesperson, insisted on Tuesday that WHO had never formally asked Mugabe to take up the position.
“There was nothing, whether verbal or written, from the WHO intimating that WHO wished to make the President a goodwill ambassador in respect of NCDs,” Charamba told The Herald, a state-run newspaper.
Charamba went on to say that Mugabe would not have accepted the role, as it would require him to campaign against the production and export of tobacco, a major source of foreign currency earnings for Zimbabwe.
“As a matter of fact, had anything been put to the President in the direction of helping WHO by the way of being a goodwill ambassador, the President would have found such a request to be an awkward one,” said Charamba.
His comments came despite The Herald reporting last week that Mugabe “had accepted” a request by WHO “to be its goodwill ambassador” in Africa.
Calling it “a new feather in the President’s cap”, The Herald said Mugabe was going “to spearhead the fight” against NCDs on the continent.
Following Charamba’s comments, some social media users in Zimbabwe took to Twitter to question his version of events.
Hahaha George Charamba, I just love that spin doctor. Muwedzerei mari mukomana uyu https://t.co/Aley6EfX9R
— Carja (@ShoriwaC) October 24, 2017
— Stormbreaker (@bernardvhuta) October 24, 2017