Reporter- Lovemore Lubinda

Zimbabwe and Australia has had low profile country to country relations since 2000, of late this has been steadily improving for the better, courtesy of good diplomacy fronted locally by the hard working, Australian Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Her Excellency (H.E.) Suzanne McCourt.

In terms of credentials, H.E. McCourt’s academic and professional pedigree suits her office. She is a career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In Canberra (Capital city of Australia) she has served in trade law and in-house counsel positions. Overseas she has served as Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Dili, and in The Hague. Currently she is the Australian Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the Republic of the Congo. H.E. McCourt holds a Bachelor of Law (Honours) and a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Adelaide. She has an Executive Master of Public Administration from the Australian National University, and Post-Graduate qualifications from the University of South Australia and Monash University.

For some, issues to do with diplomacy is a far-fetched thing, many people wonder what is it like being a diplomat; readers, be of good cheer, your favourite publication, is happy to take you into the insights of this complex, intriguing, but, interesting job. We had a one on one no holds barred interview with the Australian Ambassador to Zimbabwe, H.E. Suzanne McCourt at her Embassy in Harare.

Can you briefly describe how it has been, staying in Zimbabwe?

The Australian Embassy in Harare has been here for a long time, as you noticed it is a very beautiful environment and lovely place to work. I have been here for two years, and it has been a great experience.  One of the key things I have been trying to promote is to improve the commercial relations between Australia and all other countries we are accredited including Zimbabwe. And I continue work in that area to enhance good cooperation by talking to the media, government, and business about improving the investment environment here and make it more attractive for Australian companies. I have also been working on encouraging policy reform; for example, in mining as Australian mining companies are spread across Africa and their presence has been low in Zimbabwe, so that is one area I am trying to achieve.

What are the considerations before one is appointed ambassador?

Ambassadors tend to come from two groups, political appointees, like former politician and former ministers, and the other group is people whose careers have been in foreign affairs, like me. I joined the foreign affairs department 18 years ago in Canberra. I have also been posted to other countries like the Netherlands and East Timor before coming to Zimbabwe, and this is my first ambassadorial position.

What are the roles of an ambassador?

My key role here is being the public face of Australia, talking to the media, making speeches, representing my country at events hosted by the government, civic societies, etc. I run the mission, responsible for the finances and the human resources of the Embassy. When there is a special consular case which needs support of the embassy, to assist Australians in the countries, I am accredited to; it is an area that I would press more attention on. My roles also is to understand the environment we are living and working in and report back to Canberra what is going on here because there are people in the Australian Government who are interested in the developments especially leading to the elections, and need a correct assessment of what is happening here.

You mentioned of being also the Australian Ambassador to countries such as Malawi, Zambia, DRC, and the Republic of the Congo.How are you managing this great task?

I owe this to teamwork. I have an excellent Embassy staff team in Harare and together we look after Zimbabwe and these other countries.  

What is your view on the Zim- Australia relations?

Zimbabwe-Australia relations have many elements.  We have government to government relations which have not always been plain sailing, but they are improving so we continue to work for the better. We also have people to people relations, with Australian citizens working in charities, churches, schools, etc for example.  We have development cooperation programmes to assist the people of Zimbabwe, which focuses on health, water and sanitation, as well as in subsistence agriculture, and we also have small grants programme which is terrific because it means visiting rural areas and render financial support. On education we have people who go to Australia as recipients of Australia Awards, and also Zimbabweans who go to Australia to study as private students. They can all come back to join Australia Alumni Association of which I am a big fan of, because they can also be ambassadors of Australia, they lived there and understand the country, hopefully their experience in Australia was positive, and they would encourage others to study there.

Any developmental projects you have carried out so far?

As I have indicated earlier on, we have a number of developmental projects running across the country, also not forgetting the recent Harare Hospital Children’s section project.

May you please tell us a bit more on this Harare Hospital project?

I have mentioned the small grants programme earlier, Harare Hospital Children’s section is one such project we are pleased to have supported. On the grants, communities apply for funding, we don’t necessarily go out and seek things we want to fund, but we encourage communities to apply, that was also the case with the Hospital, they applied. The most recent support we have provided is that we gave beds for mothers to be able to sleep with their babies at night, before that they had to travel to the other areas of the Hospital to sleep, and in order to feed the babies, they had to come back in the middle of the night. That was dangerous for both mothers and babies. We also made provisions for them to have a place to make some tea, shower, that made them feel comfortable. We are delighted to have provided this support that has made a big difference.

What are the prospects of the two nations in the future?

There are a lot of synergies for Zimbabwe and Australia, we have a lot of mining expertise in Australia, and Zimbabwe is a major mining nation, we are also an agro-based economy just like Zimbabwe. I think there is a lot of investments opportunities, and also in the area of tourism which is a major part of both economies. My view is that there should be some improvements in the Zimbabwe economic policies to encourage Australian companies to come and invest here.

As ambassador, I cannot tell Australian companies to come, that has to be their commercial decision to come if they are sure the environment is conducive, and I see a win win scenario here, we want both nations to benefit. I think this reflects a broader shift in the Australian government policy, we are less interested in engaging Africa just with a donor-aid recipient relationship, but, more in business mutual kind of relationship, that is more beneficial for all.

Zimbabwe will be holding general elections next year. What is your advice to the nation?

We are interested and watching closely the political developments leading to the elections, and it is our hope they will be held in a peaceful environment and will be free and fair.

Social life: What do you enjoy doing in your past-time?

I love Zimbabwe, and I think it has the best weather in the world, even more than Australia, so I spent time outdoors. I have two small children, and we love going out at weekends. Outside Harare one of my favourite places to visit is Domboshawa, but, also the rest of Harare is such a beautiful place.

What is your favourite food?

(Laughs…) I have to confess this, my boys like sadza, for me I can enjoy it, but not every day; I enjoy the assortment of fruits Zimbabwe can offer.

Thanks, Your Excellency for hosting us

Always my pleasure!