Dr Gail Rigobert’s personality is as strong as her conviction about the political path she has chosen. The leader of St Lucia’s parliamentary Opposition speaks with fervour about her commitment to her country and to the Caribbean.
“My calling I think, is transforming lives, which is why I love academia so much and I think politics has afforded me the opportunity to continue in that vein” Rigobert told Easy last week, while on a visit to Barbados.
She accompanied her party’s political leader Allen Chastanet of the United Workers’ Party for meetings with regional and international organisations based here because she said “we have adopted a posture that we will maintain active engagement and dialogue with them and to ensure that we keep them in the know.”
“Politics has always been on my bucket list,” said the 43-year-old whose attractive shaven-headed style contributes to the definitive statement about who she is and how she sees herself.
When she was “even too young to understand what politics meant” her politically-aware parents exposed her to political meetings. “I grew up on a political staple of John Compton,” said Rigobert who was also “excited” by “the people-centred rhetoric” of another well-known St Lucian politician, George Odlum.
With such exposure, from the outset she determined she would be a politician, and she went through schooling making deliberate choices about the courses she took “because that was where I was heading ultimately”.
What she did not plan for was the rapid rise up the political ladder at such a relatively young age.
She spent eight years in academia lecturing in government, international political economy and international relations at the University of the West Indies
St Augustine Campus. Those were years she now confesses feeling very “dogmatic” about certain theoretical or philosophical positions that she held. “I was still in the ivory tower theorising.”
Now the UWP’s parliamentary representative for Micoud North, and parliamentary Leader for the Opposition, Rigobert finds herself thrown into the fray and having to apply the same academic theories in a reality that most definitely tests her political mettle.
But she insists she is up to it.
As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated arena she is fearless. “There is no denying that women are held to a higher standard, that there is a greater expectation of female politicians, that with many of those traditionally male-dominated fields you sometimes feel that you have to arm wrestle the men. But I must say that has not been very challenging for me as a woman.
“I don’t wake up thinking that I am a girl and I need to receive special treatment because of that, but by the same token, there are some expectations that are gender specific.”
Even as Opposition leader, she gives way respectfully to the authority of Chastanet, who was sitting within earshot of the Easy interview.
Rigobert says she was thrust into politics “a lot sooner” than she had anticipated. She was catapulted up the party ladder, winning her seat in the 2011 general elections, while Chastanet lost his and is cautious about making pronouncements about Gail Rigobert as a prime minister of St Lucia. She became Opposition leader in February last year.
“It has been very humbling…being a politician has really opened my eyes in that regard that there are so many people who are suffering, so many people who need assistance…”
Rigobert is as much a St Lucian as she is a regionalist, but she says: “The time has come for us to be frank about what it is that CARICOM has achieved and to reconfigure its priorities.”
She acknowledges “the altruism in the intent and mandate of the organisation and that it is meant to serve our interests as an entity.
“I recognise that regionalism is important to the region not least because of the small size and the challenge of the economy of scale, that it would augur best to all concerned to pool our resources to maximise on our respective strengths and to ensure we can benefit from whatever we can bring to the table collectively.”
At the same time, the St Lucian politician is mindful that many CARICOM citizens are not too sure as to what are the real benefits to be derived from CARICOM membership.
“I have often felt that perhaps in part it could be that the political directorate throughout the region may not have done a fantastic job in relaying to the citizenry what the real purpose of CARICOM is, that perhaps some of the initiatives undertaken by CARICOM do not immediately translate into bread and butter issues that are the primary concerns of the electorate of the citizenry, that some of the initiatives remain very abstract and nebulous.
“I think the time has come for us to be frank about what it is that CARICOM has achieved and to reconfigure its priorities.”
She observed the regional grouping had recorded some success in the area of functional co-operation and suggested “maybe we need to de-emphasise this notion of one Caribbean with respect to the regionalisation initiative and coming together as one sovereign entity.
“I think notions of insularity and the myopia that we complain of sometimes and the anxieties in respect of sovereignty of states continue to hamper and thwart efforts in that regard and too often it seems as if we are set to repeat the errors of the first West Indian Federation so to speak.”
Single with no children, the tall, attractive MP confessed the thought of marriage was out of her scope until now. But any suitor looking to capture this prize has a tall order before him.
“ It has to take a very strong male to stand beside a female politician. That male has to be very confident within his own skin; has to be very secure within the content of the relationship and has to make a fine distinction in his mind between the public persona and that female heart and spirit that he is connecting with.”
Is marriage on her bucket list then? “For a long time it wasn’t. I have only just started to imagine that as a possibility,” she responded.
The Cambridge University graduate is also looking beyond a political life, aware that politics is “an all-consuming profession”.
“I would advise anybody to make time for life after politics” she said, considering that the four years she has been in the game “feels like 44”.