Farirai Machivenyika, Harare Bureau
PRESIDENT Mugabe was not formally informed of his so-called appointment as WHO goodwill ambassador in the fight against non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and would have rejected the invitation to take up the post as it is not in Zimbabwe’s national interest to do so.
This was said by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Mr George Charamba, who is also President Mugabe’s spokesperson.
Mr Charamba said this while responding to WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ decision to rescind the invitation following pressure from Western countries.
He said events over the weekend renewed debate on the need for reforms at the United Nations to ensure that it is representative of the views of countries in the world.
“The President was quite surprised that he had been appointed a goodwill ambassador by the WHO,” said Mr Charamba. “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.
“The President went to Uruguay to represent Zimbabwe as a member State of the UN and, under it, of the WHO, which is an agency of the UN. He did not go to Uruguay to accost anyone for any role, whether symbolic or real.
“The decision, if it was one, to designate the President of Zimbabwe as goodwill ambassador is something that he learnt about from the news; which news claimed this had been expressed at a press conference done by one of the WHO officials.
“For his entire stay in Uruguay, there was nothing that was intimated to him suggesting that designation, and, in any case, there is always a formal way of communicating with Heads of States and to date there is no such communication.
“What it means, therefore, is that the WHO cannot take back what it never gave in the first place, and as far as he is concerned, all this hullabaloo over a non-appointment is in fact a non-event, but a non-event which reflects a negative predisposition towards Zimbabwe.”
Mr Charamba said President Mugabe would not have taken up the position as it would have required him to campaign against growing and selling tobacco, which is Zimbabwe’s biggest foreign currency earner.
WHO has a definite position against growing and selling tobacco.
“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 Mr Charamba.
“Lest it be forgotten that Zimbabwe is 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.
“And, in any case, that would have injured Zimbabwe’s national interest. In other words, he was not going to oblige the invitation had it come his way anyway. His views in respect of Zimbabwe vis-a-vis the campaign which is WHO-led are well known.
“He does not believe that Zimbabwe, whose leading foreign currency earner (is tobacco), must stop from growing it for as long as; one, there are people who avidly smoke it and demand it; two, for as long as there are more sinful liquids that the rest of the world manufacture and sell to the world – liquids like whisky, the various brands of beers which in any event account for more deaths than just smoking.”
Mr Charamba said the WHO episode ignited debate on the need to reform the UN so that it fairly represented the interests of all nations, either big or small, around the world.
“What this latest furore, which is needless, has done is to bring, in very sharp relief, the nature of relationship that subsists between the UN as a world body and its agencies on the one hand and the Western world on the other,” he said.
“Let it not be forgotten that in the early 80s, in the context of the New World Economic Order, as well as its economic variant, New World Information and Communication Order, debate on one of the agencies of the UN – namely UNESCO – fell foul to a comparable arbitrariness on the part of Western powers, because UNESCO sought to carry the word of the global underdog.
“And I notice that UNESCO is again in the news this time around in respect of its decision to admit the Palestinian authority as a full member, which decision appears not welcome to certain big powers in the Western hemisphere.”
Mr Charamba said there was a need to interrogate the skewed power relations between institutions that were supposed to represent the world and powerful Western countries.
“As a matter of principle, Zimbabwe and its Head of State do have the right, as any other human being and any other member country of UN, of promoting and furthering the agenda of UN and its agencies,” he said.
“To try and turn resentment of certain policies that a country or a leader has in the interest of his people, to turn that into an operating ethic, suggests the UN is not a world body and that instead is a façade of arbitrary policies of stronger powers – and is unacceptable to Zimbabwe, as it is indeed to many other progressive countries.
“That is precisely why Zimbabwe has been in the forefront of espousing the African position, the Ezulwini Consensus, calling for the restructuring of the UN Security Council; in fact, for a new structure which is subordinated or accounts to the General Assembly, which is much more representative.
“So, what this does is bring a new tenure to the debate about the role of UN and agencies in world affairs, instead of throwing any light on the character of the President.”
WHO, said Mr Charamba, which seems to have no say in the running of the inter-governmental organisation, had bowed to pressure from Western-backed organisations masquerading as NGOs.