Mugabe welcomed by Uruguay's President Tabaré Vásquez. Credit: Presidential photographer Joseph Nyadzayo.
Earlier today, I posted Helen Branswell's report on the appointment of Robert Mugabe as WHO's goodwill ambassador on noncommunicable diseases. It certainly looks like the first serious misstep of the new WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Curious to see how Mugabe's own media were responding to this unexpected honour, I found most Zimbabwean news outlets didn't even mention it. A couple of reports were, um, neutral. The only one I saw that treated the appointment positively was The Herald, which called it "a new feather" in Mugabe's cap.
BBC Africa also reported the appointment, but observed: "A goodwill ambassador may be a largely symbolic role, but the symbolism of giving it to a man whose leadership of Zimbabwe has, critics say, coincided with a collapse of its health service, and major human rights abuses, will be very unpopular."
Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet and a longtime critic of WHO, tweeted a memorable series of blasts about the appointment, ranging from "A charitable view might be that Tedros does not yet have his full team in place to consult with and advise him" to "WHO DG stands for Director-General, not Dictator-General. Tedros, my friend, retract your decision, consult with colleagues, and rethink."
When Horton puts together a real Lancet editorial on what he calls "a surprising/unforced political error," it's going be exponentially worse for Dr. Tedros.
Meanwhile, WHO's own websites are notable for the absence of any mention of the Mugabe appointment. This is not a good weekend to be working for the World Health Organization.