Ms. Francine Baron took up the post of High Commissioner for Dominica to the UK in the summer of 2012. Arriving in London with lofty goals, Ms Baron has sought both to improve the profile of Dominica on the world stage and engage the Dominican Diaspora at the same time. Kreol met H.E. Baron at the Dominica’s High Commission in London to find out more about her and the role of High Commissioner.
According to the United Nations, there are 193 officially recognised nations on planet Earth. Amidst the mass of free and independent states in this world, it can be very difficult for some of the world’s smaller nations to gain the kind of attention required on the international stage to succeed in a globalised economy. Nations around the world select the best of the brightest from its citizenry to live and travel abroad as representatives of their country, hoping the process leads to international attention and investment for their homeland. As one of the world’s smallest nations, Dominica’s High Commission in the UK is tasked with the job of promoting this island nation of just 71,293 to the major powers in the global economy. Leading this charge for the people of Dominica is Her Excellency Ms. Francine Baron, High Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Dominica in the UK.
According to Ms. Baron herself, one of the biggest hurdles her country faces on the international stage is the relative lack of knowledge about the country’s history. Located in the Lesser Antilles region of the Caribbean Sea, the nation of Dominica was named by Christopher Columbus when he first laid eyes on its beaches on 3 November 1493. That day just happened to be Sunday, leading Columbus to name the island Dominica after the Latin word for that particular day of the week. The island of Dominica would remain largely uninhabited f or the 100 y ears following Columbus’ arrival. The French were the first outside force to establish a colony on the island, bringing in African slaves to work on the island alongside native Caribs who had settled there after fleeing European influence on surrounding islands. Although control of Dominica would pass to Great Britain in 1763 following its defeat of France in the Seven Year’s War, it was the latter nation that had a greater impact on the culture of Dominica. The Antillean Creole language that is still spoken by many of the island’s older generations is the result of the cultural mixture of French colonists, African slaves, and native Caribs.
Her Excellency Ms. Francine Baron
A native of Dominica, Ms. Baron’s father was a politician and diplomat himself who served as Dominica’s First Chief Minister and a non-resident High Commissioner. Despite her father’s political background, Ms. Baron credits her mother with the path that her life would follow. Her mother was, in her own words, a strong independent woman who served as the influence that drove Ms. Baron toward the legal field. After attending a convent school as a young woman, and state college, Ms. Baron attended the Holborn School of Law in the UK beginning in 1991. She was later admitted to the Bar of England and Wales, but would return home to Dominica to pursue her legal career. Ms. Baron began as an Associate Attorney at de Freitas & de Freitas Chambers in 1996. By 2005 she had risen through the ranks to obtain the position of President of the Dominica Bar Association.
It was at this point that her legal career began to open doors in the world of politics. In 2007, Ms. Baron started a four year term as the Attorney General for Dominica. Although her role as Attorney General had her providing legal counsel to the government on a number of issues, her primary success as Attorney General came during the creation of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Economic Union Treaty.
High Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Dominica in the UK
Amid the pomp and circumstance of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Ms. Baron met with England’s Queen Elizabeth to formally present her credentials and assume the post of High Commissioner for Dominica. Although the glory of the games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee had the city wrapped in a glow of patriotism, Ms. Baron was not overwhelmed by the situation and wasted little time getting to work for the people of Dominica. As a nation of about 72,000 population, Ms. Baron is well aware of the challenges that her home country faces in getting attention on the international stage. In remarks to Diplomat Magazine following her credentials ceremony, Ms. Baron acknowledged those challenges: “We are sometimes confused with the Dominican Republic! So it is particularly challenging for a small country to have its voice heard, and also having an economy that is susceptible to external shocks like natural disasters or the financial crisis.
These are things we have no control over, yet they have a great impact on us.” Ms. Baron was blunt in her later remarks, stating that her position as High Commissioner came with two very clear goals. First, it was her job to help encourage the further development of Dominica and encourage economic investment in the nation to help it better serve itself, and the global community. Secondly, it was her job as High Commissioner and the role of the High Commission of the Commonwealth of Dominica to connect with the Dominican Diaspora living in the United Kingdom. One of the largest populations of Dominicans living outside of Dominica is located in the UK, and Ms. Baron believes the High Commission has a duty to encourage these individuals to work for the good of their motherland. Regarding economic investment and development, Ms. Baron is particularly interested in promoting geothermal energy and ecotourism in Dominica. The island’s high level of volcanic activity means the nation can take advantage of geothermal energy for the benefit of Dominica and the surrounding nations.
A new geothermal plant is in development in the Roseau Valley in Dominica with the aim of harnessing energy to provide a cleaner, cheaper source of energy to residents and lower the cost of electricity. Additionally, the Honourable Rayburn Blackmoore (Minister for Energy) has said that by 2015 Dominica will be producing and exporting energy to its neighbours. Ms. Baron points out that Dominica also has magnificent potential as an ecotourism destination. Unlike many of its Caribbean neighbours, Dominica’s small population and relatively low urbanisation has left vast tracts of the island with its natural beauty. Among the more impressive features of the island are breathtaking mountains, dense forests, majestic waterfalls, and Boiling Lake which is the world’s second-largest hot spring.
For nature lovers, Dominica offers a wide open opportunity for ecotourism. Ms. Baron hopes that through her work in the UK she can encourage investment from private individuals and companies in the tourism industry in Dominica. Perhaps most important though, in her mind, is the High Commissioner’s duty to reconnect Dominica with the Dominican Diaspora in the UK. Many of the island’s native sons and daughters now call the UK home, and the government in Dominica is looking to tap the knowledge and resources of the Dominican Diaspora to aid in nation building back home. Ms. Baron put it best in a letter to her fellow Dominicans, as posted in the official Dominica High Commission newsletter, when she said: “The task of Nation building lies not only on the shoulders of the Dominicans who have remained on its shores, but extends also to the thousands of Dominicans who reside in many nations around the world. We share a common heritage, a common desire to see Dominica progress and develop. What part can the Dominican Diaspora play in achieving these shared goals? There is a wealth of talent and resources which reside in the Dominica Diaspora.”
Carrying on a Strong Tradition
Ms. Baron’s position as High Commissioner makes her the latest in a proud line of female leaders that have helped guide and shape Dominica during the course of its free history. As High Commissioner, Ms. Baron is another example of strong female leadership from a nation which produced the first democratically elected female Prime Minister (Dame Mary Eugenia Charles, 1980-1995) in the history of the Caribbean.