Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Ambassador-designate Trudy Stevenson reveals the political incongruities of Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on October 15, 2009

While in Harare in August I was startled to read that Zimbabwe was to open an embassy in Senegal. I understand the two countries had embassies in each others’ capitals some years ago, but both had been closed.

African countries tend to put more stock in their relations with their former colonizers than they do with each other, so of course it is a welcome development when they resolve to change this. My surprise was on several grounds:

*The Zimbabwean government makes no secret of it being broke, and the signs of that are abundantly evident all over the country. There have been reports of diplomats in its embassies going unpaid for months at a time. Given all the pressing problems at home for which there is no money, it therefore seems odd that new embassies are being opened up at this time.

*There are few or no economic ties between Senegal and Zimbabwe and that is unlikely to change any time soon. The physical distance between southern and west Africa is vast, and in the case of these two countries there is an even more daunting gulf: language. While many educated Senegalese can communicate in good English, the number of Zimbabweans who have any knowledge of French at all is negligible. So while the politicians and diplomats may be able to address each other at their cocktail parties, these barriers do not bode well for the prospects of any wider and deeper links between the two countries in the short term.

*In recent years Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade has made some abortive good-faith efforts to intervene in “the Zimbabwe crisis,” going as far as going to Harare to meet with president Robert Mugabe before those efforts quietly fizzled out. And new prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai has made a visit or two to the Senegalese capital, presumably to explain his case to the leaders of a country with a good African and international reputation politically, and widely acclaimed for its democratic credentials.

So perhaps the new embassy is being justified on the basis of political links. But is this enough basis for establishing an embassy, particularly at an especially difficult time for Zimbabwe economically? Could whatever diplomatic or political function it is thought the new embassy will serve not have been just as well served from nearby Ghana or Nigeria, where Zimbabwe already has embassies? It will be interesting to see how the new embassy justifies its reason for existence.

According to the Sunday Mail of August 30:

The MDC-M has moved to take up its allotment of diplomatic posts under the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by the three principals to the inclusive Government by nominating former legislator Mrs Trudy Stevenson for the position of Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Senegal. Mrs Stevenson, the party’s secretary for research and policy and former Member of Parliament for Harare North, is already undergoing training with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as she prepares to assume her new role in the West-African country. The decision to second Mrs Stevenson to the position came after the party’s
first nominee and House of Assembly Member for Insiza South constituency Mr Siyabonga Ncube, declined the ambassadorial post last week.

One interpretation I heard was that the original nominee felt slighted that he had been nominated as diplomat to a ‘lowly’ country like Senegal instead of to a Western country! Unfortunately, if true there would be nothing at all surprising about such colonial thinking amongst the MDC elite!

Ambassador-designate Stevenson has just given an interesting inkling of her thinking. She attended some talk shop in Prague, Czechoslovakia and was interviewed by a newspaper there.

Excerpts:

Q: Recently there has been much talk about the EU sanctions. Should they be cancelled or should the EU wait a bit longer?

A: The (EU) sanctions have not achieved a lot. The regime has continued, the violence has continued. In my personal view I would say get rid of the sanctions because then Mugabe does not have anything to beat the EU with. He uses the sanctions as an excuse for everything.

True enough, but it seems very odd for the ambassador of the government run by Robert Mugabe, whose government she will be representing in Senegal, to be continuing to talk as a party official than as a diplomat of the government! If the ambassadors who have agreed to take up these positions (in this case one report claimed Stevenson actually volunteered for the Senegal ambassador-ship after Ncube declined it) are going to continue to talk as representatives of their parties or factions than as envoys of the government, how on earth can this work?!

I have no trouble at all understanding Stevenson’s feelings about Mugabe. But would it not have been more consistent, honorable and tenable to decline to be representative of his government in a foreign land than to accept/volunteer for the appointment and then continue to bad-mouth the appointing authority you have willingly agreed to be answerable to?!

This will be a very interesting appointment and relationship to watch.

Q: What is your experience as a white woman and an opposition politician working in Zimbabwe?

A: It has been a bit lonely, I must say. As you know, I was beaten up (in 2006 until now by unknown perpetrators) but I would have been beaten up whatever my color was. To some extent being white protects me. Because I am more visible. I am certainly more protected than a black woman. Male politicians respect me perhaps a bit more. Because they don’t know how to deal with me. They deal very roughly with a black woman politician in their traditional way where the black women are down. I love politics and it is a like a drug – once you have been bitten by the drug politics, you cannot let go.

Oh boy, I don’t know where to start with this.

If being white protects her because she is ‘more visible,’ and if  indeed she iscertainly more protected than a black womanand if Zimbabwean ‘male politicians respect me perhaps a bit more,’ that is a terrible indictment; proof of the colonial mentality and inferiority complex that must still exist amongst those male politicians.

And how would this special treatment that she says she gets because of her whiteness have affected her? Could this perhaps explain the confusion of accepting a position in the government headed by a man you then expect to keep on attacking in a very partisan way, but expect not to be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency? Does the special treatment Stevenson intimates she gets from her colleagues because she is white perhaps blind her to the awful inconsistency of her current position?

My goodness, how this funny yet sad little story reveals so much about the messy unfinished business of Zimbabwe’s torturous political and racial history, and of how complicated fashioning a new thinking and reality from it is proving to be.

Q: The Czech embassy may close soon because of savings. have you heard about it? If yes, what was your reaction?

A: I was horrified when I heard about this. Any embassy, particularly Western democratic embassy to pull out now when we are just starting to move forward gives us a very bad impression. It removes a bit of our courage. It makes us a bit nervous: Have we done something wrong?

The presence of the country like the Czech Republic when you yourselves have overthrown an authoritarian regime and succeeded is what gives us courage. It seems illogical and to me immoral for the Czech Republic to abandon us particularly as Myanmar is going to set up an embassy and the Czechs are pulling out. This is bizarre.

I found Stevenson’s answer as bizarre as she says she found the Czech decision to close their embassy in Zimbabwe. As the interviewer made clear, the given reason for the closure is a pragmatic one: affordability, to effect savings in government expenditure. In other words, they make decisions on where to have embassies on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis, not any kind of mushy sentimentality as suggested by Stevenson’s ‘The presence of a country like the Czech Republic when you yourselves have overthrown an authoritarian regime and succeeded is what gives us courage.’

Surely it is an example of the worst kind of dependency mentality to expect the Czech Republic or any other nation to keep an embassy in Harare to give the Zimbabweans courage!!! How many Zimbabweans are even aware that there is a Czech embassy in Harare?!

If the Zimbabwean government made its embassy-locating decisions on the same pragmatic basis of affordability and cost-benefit, would it have made sense to open an embassy in Dakar, or would it have perhaps made more sense to open a Senegal section at one of its other West African embassies?

And Madame Ambassador makes an interesting allusion to part of the courage-imparting presence of a Czech embassy in Harare being from the fact that ‘you yourselves have overthrown an authoritarian regime…

Fair enough, but if Stevenson is suggesting there is an authoritarian regime in Harare to be overthrown Czech-style, I fail to understand why she has just signed up to be it’s representative in Dakar, Senegal!!!

Please don’t call me cynical. Zimbabwean politicians are far more so than I could ever be.

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