28-year-old minister on why youth should take up leadership roles

Sunday October 6 2019

Delegate. Ms Sharie de Castro, the British

Delegate. Ms Sharie de Castro, the British Virgin Islands junior minister of trade. PHOTO BY THEMBO KAHUNGU  

By Thembo Kahungu

This is your first time to attend the CPC. What are your takeaways?
I attended a regional conference in Trinidad earlier this year, but this is my first international conference. It has been an amazing opportunity and the hospitality in Uganda has been mind-blowing. But most importantly, to be among hundreds of parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth, especially the women who have empowered themselves and sought leadership positions in their countries with one singular aim, that by far has been the greatest experience this year.

What are some of the issues that affect women that you discussed in this conference?
I actually had the opportunity to be a discussion leader in one of the sessions which was promoting women to leadership roles and senior positions. I spoke of how important it is despite one’s economic status, to access education.
We spoke about gender equality, about women with disability, we spoke about sexual harassment in the work place. Most importantly, I think in the women’s conference we spoke about how we empower each other.
I told women that we are a walking advertisement of what it looks to be a woman in leadership and we have to tell our story so that more women can be empowered to join.

Looking at Uganda, our Speaker is a woman; women hold key Cabinet positions and the Opposition in Parliament is led by a woman. What lessons can the rest of the Commonwealth pick?
It is a prime example because it speaks volumes. I have seen the leadership and stewardship of the honourable Speaker of Uganda, you can see that she is very well respected, and to see so many women in such esteemed roles making a difference and owning their space, you know that she worked for this opportunity.
So, I am truly inspired by the women in Uganda who have taken up these roles, as well as the women who are coming up.

If you look around the Commonwealth, especially the African member states, the leaders seem not to want to leave power for the young people who are always promised that they will lead tomorrow. How do you think the narrative can be changed?
I think the older parliamentarians and presidents should begin to look at succession planning. A young person coming into politics does not lessen the legacy of the older leaders. What the older leaders must learn is that the legacy they leave is the people they inspire to take their place and carry on their legacy.
So, it is not so much as seen as young people are coming to try to push you out and take your place; it is about seeing that you have made a difference. You can mentor and reach out to the young people who have the same ideas like you, who would like to one day sit in the same seat as you do.

How do African countries change situations where presidents don’t want to leave the stage for the young people?
I think it is empowerment among the people. I think the peoples’ voice is seen on the ballot box when we vote and the people have to be empowered to see change if change is needed. I don’t live in Uganda, so I don’t know the dynamics of the politics here as much as Ugandans would, but I urge Ugandans to continue to play a very keen role and understanding what works in the current affairs and from that make a collective decision to ask questions and inquire to truly determine what the future of your country will look like.

You were once Miss Virgin Islands. Is it the beauty pageant that inspired you into politics?
That was part of it. I am a teacher by profession, so my aspiration and desire to make a difference started in the classroom. I realised that as a teacher, I needed to make a difference, but I understood that for fundamental change to take place, policy has to change and in order to change policy I had to become a policy maker.
Outside that, when I was Miss British Virgin Islands, my platform was education and youth development. So I was able to carry on that mandate, and that desire to see change in those areas. I became Miss Caribbean World and in 2013, I went to Miss Universe where I competed in Russia but I did not win that one.
So, it’s been an interesting journey. Whether through pageantry, politics or in the classroom, my simple desire is to make a difference and leave a legacy and leave a mark in my country.

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As a junior minister of trade in your country, how are you managing your docket?
I am just six months now in office because I am newly elected but in these early days, it’s been about the strategy. I have tried my best to be behind the scene, trying to strategize in terms of what my portfolio looks like; how it is unfolded and how to meet the demands and expectations of my people.

When you look at trade as a docket, what should the world look out for from the British Virgin Islands?
Right now the pillars of our country are tourism and financial services. We now seek to diversify our economy through various ways and our government has committed itself to seek out what those opportunities are. But when one hears the British Virgin Islands, people think financial services and tourism.
We are known as natures de la secret so people come here to paradise. We are known as the sailing capital of the world. So when you come to the British Virgin Islands, you have not come for a product but for an amazing experience.

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