The backlash over Mugabe was hypocrisy

Published by The Times (24th October, 2017)

Robert Mugabe has held Zimbabwe in his vice-like grip for 37 years while his obnoxious one-party regime stole elections, crushed rivals, plundered billions and wrecked the economy. At one stage of his rule the country saw life expectancy drop to 43. Mugabe plans to stand for president again next year despite being 93.

Like so many African leaders, this old rogue goes abroad when he needs treatment rather than rely on the chaotic health system inflicted on his subjects, with medics often going unpaid and medicines scarce. So yes, it was risible that Mugabe was appointed goodwill ambassador to the World Health Organisation (WHO). And good to see this daft decision rapidly rescinded.

Yet witness the hypocrisy of those howls of protest led by Britain and the US over giving this minor role to a man guilty of hideous human rights abuses. For a start, WHO is part of the same United Nations that put Saudi Arabia on its women’s rights commission with backing from some of those same western nations fuming over Mugabe. And is his appointment really worse than Paul Wolfowitz being made head of the World Bank after devastating the Middle East as architect of the Iraq war?

Now look at the man who gave Mugabe that gig: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO since May. Before that, Dr Tedros served as health and then foreign minister in the Ethiopian government. This is another nasty one-party state, run on ethnic lines and guilty of grotesque human rights abuses arguably worse recently than those in Zimbabwe. Protesters mown down, rival groups tortured, journalists jailed, a British citizen grabbed in another country and slammed behind bars without trial.

Yet where were the protests at his appointment? Those politicians and charity chiefs screaming over Mugabe stay silent over Ethiopia’s terror. Meanwhile they prop up this brutal state by pouring vast sums into its pockets. Britain is spending £1 billion in aid there over three years despite Whitehall documents acknowledging rampant corruption. Our cash has assisted forced land clearances amid the rape and murder of minority groups.

Clearly some bogeymen are better than others. As Felix Horne from Human Rights Watch says, should we be surprised Dr Tedros did not see any problem appointing Mugabe given the lack of serious questions over his own job? Ethiopia highlights how a torrent of British cash props up some of the world’s cruellest regimes. This makes the outcry by sanctimonious politicians and self-serving charities over Mugabe ring shamefully hollow.

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