US diplomats urge Harvard to rescind Zimbabwe First Lady’s health award


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Ms Mnangagwa’s award was written up in Zimbabwe’s state paper The Herald as “bagging another award…due to the sterling work she is conducting in the country’s health sector”.

The First Lady received the prize and honourary ambassadorship in the US, where she is attending the UN General Assembly in New York as part of the president’s entourage.

The timing is telling, considering the crisis currently gripping her country, according to Jeffrey Smith, founding director of Washington DC-based Vanguard Africa, an organisation that advocates ethical leadership on the African continent.

Smith spearheaded the letter to Dr Wilfred Ngwa, the director of Harvard Global Health Catalyst, who awarded the first lady, and Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow.

RFI contacted Harvard Global Health Catalyst, but the organisation was unavailable for comment.

“Oftentimes, abusive, wholly repressive regimes like the kind that exists in Zimbabwe will attempt to use these prestigious, international institutions, such as Harvard, to put a positive veneer on what is happening in the country, to deflect from human rights abuses, the massive shortfalls in medicine,” Smith told RFI.

“That’s exactly what is happening here. Currently Zimbabwe is working with the biggest PR firms here in Washington DC, paying them substantial sums of money, along with another lobby firm in London,” said Smith.

The honorary ambassadorship bestowed on Ms Mnangagwa comes a day after Harare City Council had to shut down its waterworks due to lack of foreign cash to buy water treatment chemicals.

There is now no running water in the capital.

Lack of access to clean water was a key culprit in the 2018 cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe, where more than two dozen people were killed, mainly in Harare.

“Instead of Zimbabwean leaders working to fix these largescale problems, they’d rather invest in bogus awards and PR and lobby efforts,” Smith said. “This is an indication of the misplaced priorities of the government, and an indication of the direction this regime is going – which is entirely backwards.”

The letter to Harvard Global Health Catalyst implores the group to exercise due diligence and rescind the honour to First Lady Mnangagwa.

Smith says it’s important that it came from a high-level group of Americans – all who have vast amounts of experience in Zimbabwe or the region.

“For the average Zimbabwean who picks up The Herald or another state-run media, they will see that the US, by extension, is supporting this abusive regime that very clearly does not care about the well-being and the dignity of their citizens,” he said. – RFI

NB: The original story said Auxillia Mnangagwa was MP for Chirumanzu District which is not true. She was MP in the last Parliament before the husband was elected President.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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