UN appointment for Zimbabwe

The industrialised West has found itself in conflict with developing states following the controversial election of a Zimbabwean minister to an important environmental post within the United Nations.

Zimbabwe minister for tourism and the environment, Francis Nhema, was elected to head up the Commission on Sustainable Economic Development by a slim majority at the weekend, despite vocal opposition from EU countries and the United States

The post is filled on a regional cycle and it is now the turn of an African politician to carry out the role.

But Western powers had argued that it was inappropriate for a Zimbabwean to take up the position as the country is currently an economic, and environmental disaster which, with inflation of 2,200%, does not present a good role model for sustainable development.

Germany’s environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, also pointed out that Mr Nhema would be hindered in his ability to carry out his duties in the international post by the EU travel ban on members of Robert Mugabe’s government which forbids them to visit Europe.

The results of the election have been interpreted by most commentators as a deliberate snub of the West by developing countries, particularly those in South America, who object to being told what to do by former colonial masters.

The appointment is likely to further undermine the credibility of the UN, however, as its critics ask how a member of a parliament which has brought its economy to its knees and overseen the mismanagement of national parks and other natural resources can be any kind of effective ambassador for sustainable development.

Lord Triesman, the UK’s Minister for Africa, said: “The UK opposed this nomination and, like others, voted against Zimbabwe. For a Zimbabwean Minister to chair the commission, while his own people suffer the appalling consequences of his government’s policies, is wholly inconsistent with the commission’s aims.

“It damages the credibility of the commission itself and its ability to deal with issues affecting the livelihoods of millions from the poorest countries.”

Mr Nhema won the election by 26 votes to 21, with three abstentions. He is expected to hold the post for a year.

Sam Bond

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