Stephen’s family were refugees in New Zealand from a China torn apart by World War II. He was born in the year of the Communist victory and, although the Chinese exiles in Auckland were staunchly Kuomintang and supported the rump Nationalist Government on Taiwan, Stephen would secretly listen to broadcasts from the mainland on a smuggled transistor radio. As a teenager, he discovered the Communist Progressive Bookstore in downtown Auckland and began reading Das Kapital, finding it the ‘most boring three volumes on earth’ – but he persuaded his unsuspecting father to name his automobile business, ‘Progressive Cars’. His Marxist phase did not outlive adolescence, although his father’s business did.

As an undergraduate student in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Stephen became Treasurer of his university’s Vietnam Peace Society and helped organise New Zealand’s first sit-in, occupying the US Consulate. At the ensuing trial, he cross-examined the US Consul from a script prepared by members of the university’s School of Law. His interest in law prompted him to convene a widely-reported conference on civil rights and international law, and his account of the event won him the Bank of New South Wales Prize for Feature Journalism. Stephen became national auditor of the Halt All Racist Tours organisation, which opposed Apartheid and, as the national student President in 1973, hosted the New Zealand tour of the Zimbabwean freedom fighter, Herbert Chitepo.

After moving to London and joining the Commonwealth Secretariat, his first fruitless effort in international relations occurred in Sri Lanka in 1979, when he questioned a dismissive Prime Minister Premadasa on the Tamil Tigers rebellion then just beginning. Some of the young Ministers with whom Stephen then worked were blown apart by Tiger bombers in the years to come. After Sri Lanka, Stephen toured Thailand, ostensibly to inspect New Zealand aid projects, but found himself observing a polite civil war in the heart of the country.

From January to March 1980, as part of the Commonwealth Observer Group, he helped pioneer modern electoral observation in Zimbabwe’s independence elections. With Peter Snelson, Stephen conducted the preliminary reconnaissance of the entire country and, afterwards with Emmanel Apea, anchored the group’s operations in Matabeleland North and South. Headquartered in Lusaka from 1980, he worked with Ministries throughout Africa and rehabilitated the Ugandan Ministry of Social Development and Culture in the wake of Idi Amin’s bloody rule. In those days, Stephen saw the aftermath of much violence, and was threatened with much, leading to a vow never to withdraw his commitment to the African continent.

He continued his work as an English-based scholar, training the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs both before and after independence; and the Ethiopian Parliament, together with its Ministers and Army Generals. He acted, again fruitlessly, to dissuade the two countries from going to war – but not before he had seen the devastation mass air-raids can cause, and counted hundreds of bodies on execution grounds.

Stephen was a member of the Trilateral Dialogue in the 2000s, established by the Brenthurst Foundation to seek agreed principles of trade involving Africa, China and the United States. Senior Ministerial figures were involved in these talks, and the Chinese were astounded that Stephen sat with the African delegation. He was invited to return to China and worked to persuade the Chinese to change their stance on Darfur. He was influential in this Chinese policy change. However, despite his childhood affiliation to the mainland, Stephen finds much fault with Chinese domestic policy and refused to visit in the years after Tienanmen until every Chinese leader involved in the decision to kill students had died or left office.

Stephen was an election observer at the Sudanese elections of 2010, under the auspices of Paul Moorcraft’s Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis, and worked out of Juba and Rumbek in South Sudan. Starting in the same year, he worked with senior members of both the Israeli and Palestinian Governments on Middle Eastern issues and made an extensive tour of Palestine in 2012.

Stephen was asked to advise the Libyan rebellion against Colonel Gadaffi in 2011, and did so throughout the military campaign. He also worked closely with the UK Ministry of Defence at that time. He is active in the diplomatic manoeuvres to open a negotiating space in Zimbabwe and between all Zimbabwean parties and the outside world. He is on first-name terms with Morgan Tsvangirai and his book of interviews with Tsvangirai, first published in an underground edition, has become both infamous and key reading. The ZANU-PF-controlled newspaper, The Herald, devoted a full page feature declaring Stephen a spy. Stephen has briefed both UK and US Ambassadors to Zimbabwe and continues to work closely with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, remaining the only academic in its ‘Ginger Group’ on Africa.

Stephen has toured the world, lecturing to academic and high-level audiences on international politics. He has been a frequent broadcaster on the BBC, Al Jazeera, Sky, CNN, and ITN, and has been a feature of television and cinema documentaries. Ministers and audiences are still surprised when a long-haired figure, dressed in designer suits and wearing variously-coloured handmade shoes rocks up. He is still remembered for dining at Washington’s members-only power-broking Cosmos Club, respectfully attired, only without sox.