Zim’s envoy to Senegal quits MDC 

Source: Zim’s envoy to Senegal quits MDC – DailyNews Live

Gift Phiri      4 April 2018

HARARE – Lottie Gertrude “Trudy” Stevenson is a remarkable political
survivor, appointed as Zimbabwean Ambassador to Senegal in 2009 during the
GNU as a deployee of the smaller MDC led by Welshman Ncube.

A former  national secretary for Policy and Research in the then Morgan
Tsvangirai-led, Trudy continued to serve as ambassador to Senegal and the
Gambia after the fall of the inclusive government. After the fall of
Robert Mugabe, she has continued to serve there as President Emmerson
Mnangagwa’s envoy. Our news editor Gift Phiri chats to Trudy in this
wide-ranging interview.

Q: You attended the Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan last week attended by
President Mnangagwa. Do you get a sense that Zimbabwe benefitted from that
summit?

A: At the Africa CEO Forum, there was excitement and a very positive vibe
about Zimbabwe coming back into the fray. Investors were very keen to meet
with both HE (His Excellency)  and our private sector and ministers. Some
were anxious about the safety of their investments, but as a couple of
bankers noted, “money is a coward.” It goes where it feels safe, and
always need to see an exit window before entering.  As HE and others
pointed out, the early bird catches the worm – and I think that message
was well accepted. There were serious commitments to invest, come back and
rebuild – e.g. Afreximbank formalised their $1,5 billion loan which is
partly for investment guarantee.  Their (Afreximbank) president (Benedict)
Oramah made the point at two events that they have invested $2 billion in
the last 20 years in Zimbabwe, and never lost one cent! We are very
fortunate that the Jeune Afrique Group took an interest in our new
dispensation, and invited HE as their special guest this year, as well as
Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo and of course host president Alassane
Ouattara. As the premier French-language magazine in Africa and about
Africa, that says a lot! HE made the point several times that this was his
first visit to West Africa since he visited Nigeria in 1977, when Obasanjo
was President!  He was carrying Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book, at the
time, and Obasanjo advised him to put it away in his pocket – he was not
interested in ideologies, only human dignity! Nigeria gave huge support to
Zimbabwe during the liberation struggle, in terms of funds, arms and safe
passage.

Q: How are Zimbabwe-Senegal relations?

A: Zimbabwe-Senegal relations are very good. Senegal also supported
Zimbabwe’s independence struggle, and many senior government officials are
well acquainted with Zimbabwe and have a soft spot for us.

Q: There is a sense that President Macky Sall is stifling his political
opposition ahead of elections expected next year. A court in Senegal has
just sentenced opposition leader Khalifa Sall on Friday to five years in
prison for embezzlement and falsifying documents. What is the situation
there?

A: Indeed there is concern about the sentence of Khalifa Sall, but I was
away in Abidjan when it was handed down so have not had chances to study
it yet. I will study the judgment as soon as possible. That said, there is
also concern that Karim Wade, son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, who
was or is also considered a possible challenger to Macky Sall next year,
remains in exile in Qatar under conditions that are unclear, that is
whether he was released from prison provided he never returns to Senegal,
or what?

Q: Have you briefed Harare about the developments in Dakar and what are we
doing to diffuse the tension there?

A: I just returned from Abidjan on Thursday evening, before Good
Friday/Easter weekend, and have not had a chance to brief Harare about
anything, as yet.  However, we do not intervene in another country’s
internal affairs.

Q: Is there risk of unrest over the arrest of the opposition leader?

A: There could be unrest over Khalifa Sall’s sentence – but there could
equally be unrest over any number of other issues, just like Zimbabwe with
the doctors’ strike.

Q: How big is the Zimbabwe Diaspora there?

A: There are not many Zimbabweans in Senegal, mostly because of the
language issue. Senegal is French-speaking, which is a challenge to most
Zimbabweans.  There are quite a number of Zimbabweans working in the
different mines, however – but we generally don’t see them, they slip in
and out on their 6-week-on-2-week-off contracts or whatever.

Q: What is our embassy doing there to improve ties?

A: To improve ties, our embassy holds regular meetings with the host
government both at ministries and elsewhere, and is currently following up
on requests to assist Senegal in reviving its national parks, especially
Niokolo-Koba, in terms of both training of trainers for its game rangers
and re-stocking and managing its wildlife.  This is a very promising
win-win field of cooperation, and both sides are very enthusiastic.

Q: In 2009 at the advent of the GNU, you were appointed as Zimbabwean
ambassador there. You continued to serve as ambassador to Senegal and the
Gambia after the end of the inclusive government, under Robert Mugabe’s
government. Why?

A: Yes, I was appointed ambassador under the inclusive government, by
former president Mugabe. When one becomes a diplomat, one becomes
apolitical – or should do so.  So you promote your country, and the
interests of all its citizens, not only those of one particular party.
When the inclusive government ended, Mugabe felt that I was doing a good
job as ambassador, so he kept me on – and now the new President Mnangagwa,
apparently also thinks I am serving Zimbabwe well as our ambassador in
Senegal, The Gambia and generally in French-speaking West Africa.  Most
Zimbabweans are not aware that I speak French fluently – so this is a big
advantage to us, in a French-speaking region. It’s a good idea to use
people’s skills where they are most useful – human resource management,
indeed.

Q: Before your deployment, you served as MDC’s national secretary for
Policy and Research for both the original MDC and in a smaller faction of
the MDC. Are you still a member of the MDC or you have defected to the
ruling Zanu PF?

A: I am no longer a member of any political party. I am a diplomat.

Q: What do you make of the fall of Mugabe in a military coup?

A: That military intervention to force Mugabe to step down was supported
by the vast majority of the people of Zimbabwe. I watched it all on TV,
and was overwhelmed with emotion, seeing everyone together again, after
all these years. This was what we needed.

Q: You continue to serve under the Mnangagwa regime. Why?

A: I continue to serve under Mnangagwa because he is the president of my
country, and I am his representative in Senegal and The Gambia. The
Presidency is an institution, not a person.  While some countries recall
all their ambassadors on change of president, this is not the case for
Zimbabwe. Nor, interestingly, was it the case for Donald Trump, even
though there was a big brouhaha at the time!

Q: What do you think of Mnangagwa’s ascendancy to the presidency and his
rule?

A: President Mnangagwa has given a new breath of life to Zimbabwe – we
needed that.  He is a very astute person, with huge experience both in
international finance – he was Zanu PF treasurer for a long time, I
believe, both before and after independence – and in government.

Q: The new president has ruled out the Diaspora vote. What are Zimbabweans
there saying about this decision?

A: The Diaspora vote is a big challenge. I would have liked to see all
Zimbabweans able to vote in this election, and certainly we would have
organised that at our embassy in Dakar, had we been instructed to do so.
However, I also understand the logistical challenges, especially in terms
of funding. Perhaps if the UN had offered to fund our Diaspora vote, we
could have organised this.

Q: Are you coming home to vote, are you registered to vote in the
forthcoming harmonised elections?

A: I registered to vote when I was home in February for the Ambassadors’
reorientation workshop – indeed, I was the one who asked Zec to send a
team to our workshop to register us!  I understand we still have the right
to a postal vote, so assume I will be able to vote by post, as before.
Sadly, my officers and their families will not be able to vote, because
they have not been able to register with the new BVR system – so I feel
guilty about that, and have protested officially, but it seems there is
nothing more I can do.

Q: Government owes foreign embassy staff millions in salary arrears,
arrears for operational expenses, and school fees refunds for children of
staff at the 46 diplomatic missions and consulates. What is the situation
at the embassy there?

A: Like all our missions, we are in arrears, in terms of salaries,
rentals, school fees, medicals and other allowances.  I was evicted from
my Residence at Christmas 2017, because of 9 months’ arrears – so I spent
the Christmas/New Year holiday packing and moving to another house, for
which I had to pay the security deposit and 3 months’ rental myself, to
avoid being on the street!  Things have improved a bit, here – and we did
manage to pay off those Residence arrears, to my relief – especially
because the landlady is “a big someone” at the AU in Addis Ababa – and you
know how this kind of news spreads!  We have just received funds to pay
some rental and utility arrears, so we are treading water, as I write! I
must add that HE is very aware of our situation – he mentioned it to me in
Abidjan this week and apologised for this. I find his hands-on approach
refreshing. That’s what we need, just the acknowledgement that we have
these challenges and that they are doing their best to address them is
comforting.

Q: Your last word?

A: My last word: I have to say that I am incredibly proud to be one of
Zimbabwe’s ambassadors.  We have one of the most professional, dedicated
and really decent ministries of Foreign Affairs in the entire world.  Our
ambassadors fly our flag with all their might and all their heart – and I
think our citizens need to know this. When I joined the ministry, there
was an assumption that the ministry and our embassies are full of CIO and
Zanu PF stalwarts, and that no reasonable person would go anywhere near
one of our embassies.  I can assure you that this is not the case at all.
We are often offended when Zimbabweans avoid our embassy – we are there to
help you! This is your home from home.

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