Zimbabwe reopened its embassy in Senegal in 2010. President Mugabe appointed MDC-M Trudy Gertrude Stevenson ambassador to the West African country. Our Features Editor Isdore Guvamombe talks to her about her posting and other issues
This is your first posting as Ambassador, how did it feel when you were first appointed?
I was elated beyond measure! I was thrilled, and felt so honoured and humbled, especially being a white former immigrant woman of the opposition party -- not exactly the best credentials! But I was sure I would be able to promote my beloved adopted country, Zimbabwe, at least as well as other ambassadors.
What do you think about President Mugabe?
He is a strong leader who still commands enormous respect throughout the world. In Senegal, when I say to "the man in the street" that I am from Zimbabwe, the response is invariably "Mugabe! I like your President! He is a very strong man." People like the fact that he still stands up to our former colonisers.
As I have come to know him better, I have been struck by his interest in my family and my life, as well as his sense of humour and his phenomenal memory. I hope and pray that his recollections of pre-independence struggles and meetings, particularly on the rest of the continent, are captured for posterity. He is a walking history book!
Are you with Professor Arthur Mutambara or Welshman Ncube and why?
I was in the main non-Tsvangirai MDC last time I looked, and now I have no idea what is going on . . . I thank God that I am far away from all that, I couldn't take any more.
So, what is your future in politics?
I have really moved out of politics, now: except, I suppose, on the world stage, where I use those skills and that valuable network to promote Zimbabwe.
Do you think the GPA should continue?
Not in its current form. It was only ever intended to allow the conditions for a free and fair election, and that is what we need. That said, those conditions have still not been created - one begins to wonder if they ever will be! Throughout Africa, elections seem to be a recipe for violence and attempts at vote-rigging. Two of Senegal's neighbours, Mali and Guinea Bissau, have just had coups d'état connected to forthcoming elections, while we all remember clearly the terrible violence in Cote d'Ivoire last year. Senegal is rightly proud of its peaceful election and transition of power recently. We in Zimbabwe are not violent people, by nature : We love peace! Surely we can hold elections to end this GPA without violence? That is my prayer, for Zimbabwe.
What do you think about the constitution making process?
From here, it looks very confused! It seems to have become very politicised, used as a campaign platform for the various political parties. I doubt that true national consensus on what we want Zimbabwe to be can come out of this process in the near future.
But who is Trudy Stevenson?
I am a 60 plus woman, divorced and remarried both in Zimbabwe, born in southern Georgia, USA, in the days of segregation, Ku Klux Klan and Martin Luther King, and have always been passionately against racism and for human rights for all. My father committed suicide when I was aged two, my mother remarried a British test pilot who was killed in a plane accident soon after we moved to England in 1957 and she then remarried again. I have had a very unsettled life, but have lived most of my life (32 years) in Zimbabwe and love it fiercely.
What are you by profession?
I am a teacher and translator by profession (all ages, but mainly languages -- French, English, Italian). I taught at Arundel School for 18 years and worked at the French University Research Centre (CREDU/IFRA/IFAS/CIRAD) in Harare for 12 years before being elected to Parliament in 2000, where I served two terms as MP for Harare North.
I have two grown sons, aged 45 and 38, and three grandchildren, with another on the way. My only daughter disappeared aged 22 at the University of Cape Town in 1991 and is presumed dead.
What are the challenges of being an ambassador in an African country?
The main challenge I face in Senegal is the country's extremely strong links with its former coloniser, France, as well as with the Western countries in general. One of our main objectives is to promote trade between Zimbabwe and our country/countries of accreditation, but in Senegal, I was shocked to find that even the floor cloths are imported from France -- despite the fact that they grow cotton in Senegal!
Linked to this, it is very difficult to motivate Senegal's government to give much consideration to our efforts as an African embassy, since we can offer little in terms of loans or donor-funding, compared to the huge funds and aid packages offered by the Western countries and the Islamic nations, which also provide major financial support. Another major challenge is my gender. Diplomats and senior officials themselves generally treat me as an equal, but in Senegal's 95 percent plus Muslim society, women are definitely treated as second-class citizens, and people look behind me for the real ambassador!
How does it feel to be a female ambassador?
I just referred to this above, but I have to say that I enjoy the challenge of being a female ambassador! I have always been a gender activist, and this post gives me even more opportunities to promote women. When I arrived, I decided that one of my main personal projects here would be to form a women ambassadors' group -- at that time there were 13 women ambassadors out of 82 missions. The group has been up and running very successfully for 18 months now, and we are more active than both the global Corps Diplomatique and the African ambassadors' group. We meet once every two months at a member's residence for tea and a talk and discussion of some aspect of life and society in Senegal, usually given by a Senegalese.
What is there for Zimbabwe in Senegal?
I think there are massive opportunities for exchange, if Senegal really believes in the African Renaissance and NEPAD, which it has championed for years. Senegal has a very limited manufacturing sector (importing nearly everything, as I mentioned above) whereas Zimbabwe has all the know-how for joint ventures, machine exports, etc -- particularly in the agriculture sector. Likewise, we can assist each other with education and training exchanges, especially in language teaching (French-English), wildlife and natural resource management, mining, tourism, cultural exchanges . . . There is huge potential; we just need to get the whole thing started! Now that the Senegal presidential election is over, we are waiting for a date from the Senegalese government to hold a first Joint Commission meeting in Harare, on all these areas.
What do you think about the GPA?
It is much maligned, but I believe that it has helped move our country forward. Above all, the terrible violence of the 2008 run-off period stopped. All parties have learned to talk to members of other parties, and have learned that they are human beings, just like themselves. That communication has lowered the political temperature and enabled us to see our country in a different light. I like to think that we have become a little less self-centred and a little more focused on what is good for our country.
What is your view of the current political situation in Zimbabwe?
I regret to say I notice it's becoming more polarised, again, as the next elections approach, but there is also a certain realisation, which wasn't there before, that the economy needs support and protection from all sides if we are to retain any meaningful sovereignty.
Recently, the president of your party or is it former party, Welshman Ncube said the party will never go into coalition with MDC-T what is your view on this?
I don't recall him saying that: I would be very surprised if it were true. There is no such thing as "never" in politics!
What have you done for Zimbabwe in your mission?
Tried to promote our interests to the best of my ability. As such, we have revived the Joint Commission agreements, which were signed but never implemented before our two countries closed our missions in each other's territory.
We also lobbied for and got Senegal's crucial support for our joint hosting of the World Tourism Organisation congress in Victoria Falls next year. We have promoted Zimbabwean arts and culture, participating in FESMAN in December 2010, in the Gorée Island "Regards sur Cours" exhibition last year and in various other events. We have created a website for both Zimbabweans and Senegalese and others wishing to visit Zimbabwe, where we highlight our attractions and news, and where visitors can download visa requirements, etc. Before our mission re-opened in 2010, people had to go to Ghana to get a visa or other document. We have put Zimbabwe on the map, in Senegal, and I think we have also put Senegal on the map in Zimbabwe!
The Prime Minister has been in the Press over bed-hoping. As a woman what do you think about him?
I love the misspelling -- what a whopper!
After that, it is difficult to be serious . . . But I think he definitely needs a wife. It will be extremely difficult for any woman to fill Susan's shoes, but I hope the new fiancée is the right woman for him. I wish them well!
Finally what is your message to the women in Zimbabwe?
Educate yourselves, and bring up your children to be gender-sensitive and to respect women. It is the younger generations that will make the difference as to women's role in our society. Most especially, stand up for your rights - without trampling on the rights of others.
Do you think economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe are still justified?
They have long outlived their sell-by date! All three parties to the GPA have long agreed with this, so it is not really useful for us to keep debating it among ourselves. We should rather spend our time and energy persuading countries that imposed sanctions to remove them.