Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP/JEKESAI NJIKIZANA
Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP/JEKESAI NJIKIZANA

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) new director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, made an ever-so-slight miscalculation.

He appointed Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe to the position of "goodwill ambassador".

The "goodwill ambassador" is the ultimate junket ticket. Unlike the "special envoy" who must expend energy appearing to attend to an actual problem, the "goodwill ambassador" has no tasks other than to travel the globe, stay in first-class hotels and affect a great interest in humanitarian affairs.

Ghebreyesus said he appointed Mugabe because of his admiration for the latter’s "commitment to public health". Mugabe would, he said "influence his peers in the region" to improve their health-care provision.

When it was pointed out that Zimbabwe’s health-care system had in fact collapsed in recent years, that staff often went without pay, that medicines were in short supply and that Mugabe himself travelled abroad to get his personal health attended to, Ghebreyesus was a little embarrassed.

He embarked on an earnest round of consultation with Zimbabwe’s government before announcing that it was "in the best interests" of the WHO to rescind the appointment, the BBC reported.

If the incident was embarrassing for Ghebreyesus, it appears to have had no effect on Mugabe at all.

Zimbabwe’s presidential spokesman, George Charamba, told the country’s Herald newspaper that Mugabe had not been formally offered the position and, if he had, would not have taken it up.

"The decision, if it was one, to designate the president of Zimbabwe as goodwill ambassador is something he learnt about from the news," said Charamba.

Such a request, if it had come, would have been "awkward", Charamba said.

"Lest it be forgotten that Zimbabwe is a world-famed producer of tobacco, and for its head of state to be seen to be playing goodwill ambassador in respect of an agency which has a well-defined stance on tobacco growing and tobacco selling, that would have been a contradiction."

Looks like the WHO is more than a little politically clueless.

hartleyr@tisoblackstar.co.za

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