Robert Mugabe removed as WHO goodwill ambassador amid outcry

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe speaks at a rally in Harare on July 27, 2016 as he launched a blistering attack on anti-government activists, foreign embassies and disaffected war veterans as he sought to assert his grip on power following recent protests. Mugabe addressed thousands of supporters outside the headquarters of the ruling ZANU-PF party, issuing a clear threat to Evan Mawarire, the pastor who has become the figurehead of a new opposition movement. / AFP / WILFRED KAJESE (Photo credit should read WILFRED KAJESE/AFP/Getty Images)

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe may be one of the longest-serving leaders, but his stint as a goodwill ambassador was anything but.

Days after the World Health Organization named him as a goodwill ambassador, a move that angered and stunned human rights activists, it rescinded the appointment.

“I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“It is my aim to build a worldwide movement for global health. This movement must work for everyone and include everyone.”

Tedros said he consulted the Zimbabwean government and concluded it’s in the organization’s best interests.

The public health agency announced the appointment last week, saying the African leader would focus on noncommunicable diseases on the continent such as heart attacks and strokes.

A public outcry ensued. Angry tweets took aim at Tedros and the public health agency.

“The government of Robert Mugabe has brutalized human rights activists, crushed democracy dissidents and turned the breadbasket of Africa — and its health system — into a basket case,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, which monitors the performance of world body.

WHO is part of the United Nations and focuses on international public health. Mugabe has long been criticized for corruption and abuse of power.

In making the appointment, Tedros, an Ethiopian and WHO’s first African director-general, had said Mugabe would use his role to ensure other leaders make noncommunicable diseases a priority.

“Zimbabwe … places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all,” he said.

At 93, Mugabe is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders and has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 with little opposition.

Along with his inner circle, he has been under US sanctions since the early 2000s over human rights abuses and the erosion of democratic institutions. President Barack Obama extended sanctions for another year before leaving office in January.

In 2009, Mugabe’s ruling party spent more than $250,000 on a lavish birthday party for the leader despite an ongoing food shortage and cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe.

Goodwill ambassadors for WHO are public figures appointed to two-year terms by the director-general. They work closely with UN officials to raise awareness of global health issues.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was named a global ambassador for noncommunicable diseases last year.