The United Nations (UN) tourism body has insisted that Robert Mugabe has not been an awarded an official title, after he and his Zambian counterpart were asked to be tourism ambassadors.
Local and international media have both reported on the shocked and indignant reaction to the news that Mugabe and Zambia's Michael Sata had been selected as tourism leaders. This follows news that the two countries will jointly host the UN World Tourism Office (UNWTO) General Assembly next year.
The UN has since been strongly criticised with some reports stating the decision to choose Mugabe as a 'tourism leader' was hypocritical, because of the UN's commitment to human rights. Other reports said the decision brings the UN's credibility into question, because Mugabe is a known human rights abuser.
But the UN grouping has insisted that no official honor or ambassadorial role has been bestowed on Mugabe or Sata. The UN says it is simply trying to encourage the African nations to promote tourism as a valuable source of revenue.
Sandra Carvao, UNWTO's co-ordinator of communications, said: "UNWTO has presented both presidents with an open letter which calls for them to support tourism as a means to foster sustainable development in their countries to the benefit of their people and consequently ask them to support the sector in this respect."
She added: "UNWTO does not have an ambassadors programme and the receiving of the UNWTO open letter implies no legal commitment or title attribution to the country or the head of state or government in question."
The move however is still being criticised as a questionable embrace of Mugabe as a tourism envoy, despite the ageing dictator remaining under targeted international sanctions.