Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. (File Picture)
Harare - Zimbabwe’s recently appointed foreign minister Minister Walter Mzembi says the the UN “system” needs urgent reform after the World Health Organisation, WHO, withdrew its appointment of Robert Mugabe as a “goodwill ambassador. ”

In the first reaction from Zimbabwe since WHO rescinded the honour it handed Mugabe last week, Mzembi said he too had suffered when he failed to secure appointment as secretary-general of the UN’s tourism authority, UNWTO earlier this year.

“I am personally a victim of the goings-on in the UN system. You cannot reform it at the top unless you start with its building blocks or pillars, the UN Agencies, bottom up and my own experiences at the UNWTO are in themselves a global case study on the need for reform,” Mzembi said.

Mzembi accompanied Mugabe to the WHO conference on Non Communicable Diseases, NCD's in Uruguay last week where WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus honoured Mugabe with the “goodwill” post, and then after an outpouring of criticism from mainly western countries and human rights organisations, withdrew the appointment.


“The inordinate noise around the designation of the President (Mugabe) as WHO….does not assist the cause in the first place. If anything, it is WHO that has benefited tremendously from its decision in nominating President Mugabe to lead the fight against NCDs through media amplification of WHO itself, and curiosity by the general public on what really are NCDs, by tagging the name Mugabe to the debate. On a name recognition scale, this name beats them all but it is our business to protect its brand equity from unnecessary besmirching,” he said.

Mzembi was appointed foreign minister earlier this month when Mugabe reshuffled his cabinet and promoted Mzembi, who had previously been a popular member of the cabinet in charge of tourism.


“The President will carry on with his passion for NCDs which are killing over 40 million people per annum with 80 percent of them from the developing world,” he said.

Other Zimbabweans expressed relief that the WHO had reversed its decision to reward Mugabe. Prominent opposition leader Tendai Biti, arrested many times since he was first elected to parliament for the Movement for Democratic Change in 2000, said he was “relieved” Mugabe’s WHO appointment was reversed: “What was the WHO doing appointing a tin pot dictator like Mugabe in the first place? There is no water at the Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare today, and that is our main hospital, there are no drugs for patients. We have had 37 horrible years with Mugabe in power.”

Independent Foreign Service