Ambassador Trudy Stevenson on BTH
Five new ambassadors from the two MDC formations in the unity government were appointed to serve in different countries. In this 5 part series on Behind the Headlines SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma speaks to Ambassadors Hebson Makuvise ( Germany ), Hilda Suka-Mafudze ( Sudan ), Trudy Stevenson ( Senegal ), Jacqueline Zwambila ( Australia ) and Mabed Ngulani ( Nigeria ). How have they handled the transition from opposition politics to being an ambassador? What are the issues that they deal with on a day to day basis? This week he starts with Ambassador Stevenson in Senegal .
Interview broadcast 06 May 2010
Lance Guma: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to Behind the Headlines. Five new ambassadors from the two MDC formations in the inclusive government were appointed to serve in different countries. In this five part series on the programme we speak to Ambassadors Hebson Makuvise from Germany , Hilda Suka-Mafudze from Sudan , Trudy Stevenson – Senegal , Jacqueline Zwambila – Australia and Mabed Ngulani in Nigeria . This week we start with Ambassador Stevenson.
Trudy Stevenson : My pleasure.
Guma: Let me start off by saying, how is Senegal ?
Stevenson: Ah it’s lovely, so far I have to say, it’s very welcoming, it’s very African so I feel at home. It’s exciting, there’s lots of culture going on, lots of business, it’s a sort of positive country so I’m very happy indeed here.
Guma: There was quite a delay from the time you were nominated for the post by your party and the time President Mugabe finally confirmed your deployment. Did you ever think at one point this was never going to happen?
Stevenson: Well it did start to seem like that when it got to the beginning of February and we still hadn’t had our meeting with the president. I think I wasn’t the only one to think that actually this thing just was not going to happen because you know all of us, we were appointed in August, myself a couple of weeks after the others, because we were earning no salary or anything since August and you know it is difficult to go for one month without a salary, let alone for six months, so we were becoming a little despondent but anyway, there we are, it worked out in the end.
Guma: How has the transition from opposition politics to being an Ambassador for the country – how has that been for you?
Stevenson: Well of course I’ve had time to get used to it because as you know we were appointed, we were nominated anyway, in August, so I’ve had a few months to get used to it before I came here. Generally it’s been a fairly smooth transition, I think also for me partly because having been in parliament, I was already used to being on good, friendly speaking terms with members of ZANU PF and therefore with ministers of government and so on, so I already had quite good communication with government before the government of national unity so I think it’s probably been easier for me than for those who were not in parliament. Yah, obviously there is still a, there’s still a learning curve and its still possible that I may step out of line here and there but it is an inclusive government of course and we’re all trying to assist the economy and so on, so I think it’s gone quite well actually.
Guma: Now what kind of issues do you deal with as an Ambassador? I’m sure our listeners would be very curious to know what does Ambassador Stevenson do on a day-to-day basis?
Stevenson: Well my case is different from my other colleagues because this Embassy has just been reopened, we have reopened our Embassy, so what we are doing is very practical things like buying furniture and fixing things that break, the electricity at my house had a surge last Friday and because I don’t know where to go to get things repaired, I don’t have the telephone numbers of the telephone company and all this kind of thing it takes me, us all a lot longer than it does where there has been an established embassy and they have all their network of contacts and so on, so I think these last two months have really been establishing the place, both the Embassy itself and my residence and we’re still doing that.
I’m also unusual in that after only one month here, I had a visit from President Mugabe and that is a very major event for any Embassy because of course you host the president and his entourage so it was quite a major exercise and I’d only been here four weeks and I’d never been an Ambassador before or in fact a diplomat at all so I was a little bit nervous about that but in fact in the end it went well despite not having very much in the way of crockery or anything for a tea and so on. Those are the practical issues that I was talking about so it kind of came to a head a bit during his visit, but anyway, we managed.
Guma: And any Embassy obviously has staff members, how has that gone on in terms of gelling different members from different political parties?
Stevenson: Well again I’m lucky here because this is a new Mission or reopen, so it’s completely new, the team is new, it’s only myself and three others and we’ve all come here new although my other colleagues are from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they’ve all served in other Embassies before but so far I can only say we’ve been working very well together as a team, there’s been no problem whatsoever, they’re extremely supportive of my little silly questions which obviously I have not having ever been in this position before, lots of things that I don’t know but they always help me, they are nothing but supportive so I have been extremely pleasantly surprised actually.
Guma: Now Zimbabweans will know in general that we have Embassies in most countries but from what you’ve picked up so far, can you give us an insiders view what is an Embassy supposed to do?
Stevenson: Well we have two main mandates: one is to look after our citizens, our citizens who are in those countries, to look after their interests and provide them with whatever it is that they may need from a bureaucratic point of view from the government in Zimbabwe and also obviously provide, assist travellers from the countries where we are to get their visas and so on to visit Zimbabwe and then secondly it’s to promote the interests of our country, to protect and promote the interests of our country and in our case now, particularly in the inclusive government, its really, we’re looking at rebuilding the economy, so looking for trade links, trade opportunities, export possibilities.
Myself also, Senegal being a cultural country and an African cultural country, I’m exploring cultural links as well because I think that can assist both countries quite a bit and give us a footing into Francophone West Africa, where we in Zimbabwe being Anglophone Southern Africa we don’t really have very much link at the moment but we need to because it is a huge area and so that is one of my priorities as well. Yah literally trade and culture exchanges and whatever else. So those are the two areas.
Guma: Let’s look at issues of promoting economic exchanges, economic activity, tourism for example, how difficult is it given that the coalition government back home has not managed to resolve all the outstanding issues? Is that a major impediment for your work?
Stevenson: Well from the tourism point of view, Senegal itself doesn’t yet have the kind of population that would be looking for tourism very much in Zimbabwe, it would be rather be their links with the French, continental France and so on that would possibly get involved in that but for the economy and looking at industry and exports and so on, it’s actually, there are huge possibilities here but because nobody much has been here from Zimbabwe, we haven’t exploited these possibilities, but Senegal, it was colonized by the French and their system of colonization was very different from the British and in the French system, everything was like centered in France and all the exports and so on went to France and then went off to the rest of the world and so on and their government leaders were all sent to France to be educated and brought up as Frenchmen and so on and so on.
Bu that tradition, although they became independent as you know, 50 years ago, that tradition remains where they are so strongly tied to France in particular that they import nearly everything from France and I mean things like tinned tomatoes, I mean flour, I mean even cooking oil and stuff and they produce a certain amount of this stuff, but even peanuts – if you buy tinned peanuts or something, you’ll find out that they are imported from France. A cloth to wash your floor, and they grow cotton, it’s imported from France, well we can surely make some inroads in a situation like that, there are many possibilities, so it’s just a question of getting ourselves organized and getting our feet in here.
The South Africans are already in here; they are exporting things like Ceres the fruit juice and so on you see in the supermarkets; there’s a hardware store in my suburb which has just been bought by a young South African and they’re going to be doing security gates and surveillance cameras and this kind of thing so we’ve got to get here quickly before other countries – as usual – get in there before us. There are plenty of possibilities.
Guma: I’m sure if you get into any African country the first thing people will want to have an appreciation of what the problems are from where you are coming from. Do the Senegalese understand the challenges that our country faces? What’s your assessment so far of what they think of us?
Stevenson: Well that’s a very broad question, I mean the Senegalese are a very broad population and with different levels of education and experience and so on and interest. Generally speaking they’re not terribly concerned on the whole, just the normal man in the street or woman in the street are not that really bothered about Zimbabwe . They’ve heard that there’s some problems there and so on but they’re much more concerned about their own issues and the majority of Senegalese are not well off like the majority of Zimbabweans and so their issues are very much the bread and butter issues that they have here and much as they may relate to our own difficulties, they say well you know we’ve also got those. We have unemployment, we don’t have water, we don’t have electricity, we don’t have housing, you know the same issues so we can relate very well on quite a number of those issues but the question is how to overcome them.
Obviously people in government, ministers and diplomats and so on are much more interested in what’s actually going on now and how I and we see the future, how is it going to unravel and so on, they’re very, very interested in that, but I should also point out that in Senegal, Senegal is also now in election mode virtually so they’re very much focused on their own elections which are coming in 2012 and their President Wade is making all the noises of standing again which will be a third term and he’s no chicken either, he’s 84 now and the election is in 2012 so, and it’s the third time and the constitution doesn’t actually allow that so there are some issues there that concern even politicians here much more at home than they are really concerned about Zimbabwe issues, much as they relate to them.
Guma: Ambassador Stevenson, do you ever find yourself caught between speaking on behalf of your party and speaking on behalf of the country as an Ambassador?
Stevenson: I haven’t yet really I have to say, I haven’t yet. I think that the big question of course where there seems to be a lot of flak is over the issue of sanctions but I personally have the, hold the inclusive government view that sanctions have to go and I don’t think any of us in the inclusive government are disagreed over that, so I support that wholeheartedly – sanctions have just got to go. They have outlived their time and they are no longer really useful, they are a hindrance, we need to get rid of them and get on with life in my view, but apart from that, I haven’t, I don’t think there’s anything else really delicate that I’ve had to deal with anyway.
Guma: If I may just follow up on that whole sanctions debate, where exactly in terms of having the sanctions removed do you differ with ZANU PF because I have spoken to some officials in the MDC-Tsvangirai who have said their position is that it’s a joint responsibility of all the parties who signed up to the GPA to have it removed, to have the measures removed, whereas from ZANU PF’s view, it seems they are saying the MDC should have that done on their own. Is that somewhere towards where you differ or…?
Stevenson: Well you see from my perspective it’s actually neither MDC nor ZANU PF which imposed those sanctions, those sanctions were imposed by other countries and they are sovereign countries, like I’m talking about the European countries, America – those countries are the ones who made those, who put those sanctions in place and those sanctions were put in place by a democratic process of those countries’ institutions and the people in those countries would have to agree then to remove the sanctions, it’s really not up to the MDC to remove sanctions because they never put them there in the first place.
Guma: Final question for you Ambassador Stevenson, you’ve got quite a history in activism, tracing all the way back to your days in Harare, Combined Harare Residents Association, civic issues, through to the MDC and now Ambassador. Summarize for us how you feel about that whole journey and did you ever think you would end up where you are or it’s just one hell of a ride?
Stevenson: Well I think it was rather what you say – one hell of a ride. It never really occurred to me, certainly not in the old days when I was really very involved in the local government thing, took Harare City Council on, that I would ever be sitting in Dakar as the Zimbabwean Ambassador. It never occurred to me for a minute but on the other hand I suppose I’m not completely surprised because I do, I did work before I went into parliament.
I worked as you may or may not know, for the French in Harare for 12 years in their research centre and it was attached to the Embassy so I’ve got a certain diplomatic background and so it’s not completely extraordinary to me to be sitting now as a diplomat because I’ve had a certain grounding especially in French diplomacy and of course that stood me in extremely good stead because my French is pretty well fluent and so I’ve been able to use that so it’s surprising in one way and not surprising in another.
Guma: So I suppose we may close the programme with Ambassador Stevenson saying bye-bye to Zimbabweans in French? Can we have that?
Stevenson: Indeed. Au revoir mes amis (inaudible)
Guma: OK and what does that mean?
Stevenson: It means goodbye my dear compatriots, citizens and see you soon I hope.
Guma: That’s Ambassador Stevenson joining us on Behind the Headlines all the way from Senegal . Ambassador thank you so much for your time.
Stevenson: My pleasure.
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