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No goodwill came of it

Thursday, 26 October 2017

No goodwill came of it

Poor Robert Mugabe. One day he is named as a goodwill ambassador by the World Health Organization, the next he is fired.

Mr Mugabe scarcely had time to order new business cards or build an ambassadorial residence before the rug was pulled sharply from under him.

How cruel to raise a chap’s expectations only to dash them so soon. One imagines that at the age of 93, Mr Mugabe is unaccustomed to new job offers. How long might he need to wait for another?

Why the WHO changed its mind is unclear. Mr Mugabe’s stature is not in question. He has relevant qualifications on his CV: Zimbabwe used to have a health service. Mr Mugabe ran it successfully for a while before running it into the ground. We all make mistakes. The point is to learn from them.

Mr Mugabe has tried. He has travelled the world to find out how healthcare works in other countries. He has taken a close interest in the Singaporean system, which he insisted on trying for himself when it would have been more convenient to visit one of Harare’s run-down hospitals. That shows commitment and an enquiring mind – just the sort of qualities we seek in our ambassadors.

Mr Mugabe also encouraged those around him to research other countries’ health systems. His ministers regularly travelled to South Africa for treatment.

It may have been this robust approach to fieldwork that put the wind up the timid academics of the WHO. Or perhaps it was the stories circulating in the wake of the Hollywood sex scandal that Mr Mugabe had skeletons in his own closet. While movie moguls were accosting women, stories circulated of Mr Mugabe “pestering” his political opponents.

Be that as it may, Mr Mugabe’s record as a brutal dictator has no bearing on his qualifications as a goodwill ambassador. The two jobs require a very different skillset.

And where is the evidence that Mr Mugabe presided over the ruin of Zimbabwe’s health service? Most of those who have made such claims are either dead or in prison. Disgruntled patients with an axe to grind, probably.

The British media has been getting itself in a lather about “health tourists”, overseas visitors who deliberately use NHS services to which they are not entitled. The government plans to put a stop to them.

Last week, in a front-page story about British people going abroad to avoid lengthening waits for NHS treatment, the Telegraph got itself equally worked up about health tourism in the opposite direction.

Like Mr Mugabe, these people have worked hard and can afford to pay for priority boarding. The more of them who travel to Germany or Poland for treatment, the shorter waiting times will be in future for the rest of us. If the exodus continues, we may even come to rely on health tourists to stop the NHS grinding to a halt through lack of demand.

Tourism is a two-way street. The Zimbabwean health system might also welcome an influx of overseas visitors. It could be just the boost it needs to get back on its feet.

Mr Mugabe appears to have grasped the importance of the international trade in healthcare before the rest of us, and has shown strong leadership in promoting it by example. This presumably is why the WHO thought he would make a fine ambassador.

The WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was prepared to overlook some of the more questionable aspects of Mr Mugabe’s career in the interests of finding the right man for the job. He should have anticipated the outcry that greeted the appointment – and he should have stood by his candidate.

Mr Mugabe has never let the absence of popular support or goodwill stand in his way. He would have ridden out the storm – or found some other more robust way to deal with it.

Should the WHO decide to get rid of the vacillating Mr Ghebreyesus, there is an obvious choice of candidate to succeed him.

Diplomatic editor: Julian Patterson


Simon David Currah
Simon David Currah says:
Oct 27, 2017 07:34 AM

Well now that would be hilarious if there were not so many corpses and so much suffering in the wake of the appalling Mugabe. I used to live in Zambia when it all started. Southern Rhodesia was a rich beautiful place before the **** took power. Rant over

Anonymous says:
Oct 27, 2017 08:38 AM

Oh dear. Here's historian A.J.P. Taylor's account of what happened: Bernard in the WHO press office in pulled the standard template press release for an ambassador appointment. He'd been given the name of the appointee by the President's office earlier but had mis-laid the Post It he'd written it down on. So he quickly put together the press release and instead of leaving the name blank, he just put in the most improbable name that came to mind as a place-holder, as sometimes people do. Then it was lunch-time. News that an announcement was impending had started to circulate and they started getting incoming on it. So someone picked up Bernard's incomplete press release and ran it. The rest is an all-too-brief history.

Anonymous says:
Oct 27, 2017 09:20 AM

If they're looking for replacements to Dr Ghebreyesus can we nominate our very own Jezza Hunt?
He has all the right qualifications:
- worked in health care
- overseen massive transformation in standards of health care
- is full of goodwill for all, particularly up and coming medics, nurses and service managers.
I'm sure there are many within the NHS that would support his candidacy and give him a reference for the next step up in his career??

Anonymous says:
Oct 27, 2017 02:35 PM

The issue that JP does allude to strongly is not the inappropriateness of Mr Mugabe's as a candidate for the GWA role but the wholesale lack of definition around what a Good Will (Hunting) Ambassador actually does. Clearly, the lack of paperwork meant the panel where unable to differentiate the core skills and competencies required for good will ambassador from those of a despot dictator.

If there had been a properly crafted job description, person specification & skills and competencies framework linked to a strong values based criteria assessment and a HR process that demanded a minimum of three references from upstanding referees (one being your previous or current employer) – then I think you would have found that the outcome from the interview process would have been very different!

Frankly, I am not surprised MR M was appointed. If you let sloppy HR procedure exist within your organisation then you will reap what you sow in terms of inappropriate appointments to senior staff positions!

Mr Angry HR