Outrage against the nomination of Zimbabwe’s president as a World Health Organization goodwill ambassador led to his swift removal from the post over the weekend. But the outrage appears strongest in his home country, where Robert Mugabe is largely blamed for ruining his nation’s economy and health system during his 37 years in power.
Dr. Fortune Nyamande said he could think of 4,000 reasons why President Robert Mugabe was a poor choice to be goodwill ambassador for the global health body.
Poor health record
Four thousand, he says, is the number of Zimbabweans estimated to have been killed by cholera in 2008 and 2009. Cholera is widely seen as an indictment on modern health care systems, as the waterborne disease rarely causes deaths in developed nations.
The state of Zimbabwe’s health care system, says Nyamande, who heads the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, can be laid squarely at Mugabe’s feet.
“They have failed, in fact they have put in place disastrous policies, which have seen the collapse of our health sector from being one of the best health sectors in the world into a sorry and miserable state," he said. "We still have a lot of people in our hospitals who are losing their lives because of lack of basic things: drugs, health care worker shortages, poor public health care funding, and quite a lot of other things.”
Not that Mugabe has to endure this, says Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch, which also condemned last week’s appointment.
“Mugabe himself has been engaged in medical tourism, frequently flying to Singapore to seek medical attention, leaving behind in Zimbabwe a totally collapsed and useless health sector,” said Mavhinga.
But Mugabe still has cheerleaders within his ZANU-PF party, who say the decision to rescind the post is a sign of international bias against Zimbabwe. Mugabe has claimed for years that Western powers are suffocating his nation with sanctions.
“We saw that that was a befitting honor, and it is one that obviously was going to help in the advancement of that cause at an international level," said Psychology Maziwisa, a member of parliament. "But of course they have had to rescind it for political reasons, which do not surprise us at all, because of course we are are talking of the Western world here.”
Opposition politician Douglas Mwonzora disagrees.
"Every right-thinking Zimbabwean, on social media and in other modes of communication, was condemning the appointment. And for them to say that it is the British and the Americans is simply to find a scapegoat. We, the Zimbabweans, did not want it,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald newspaper, long seen as a mouthpiece for the ruling party, has yet to weigh in on the issue.
Sebastian Mhofu contributed to this report from Harare.