Kevin Isaac is making history: he is the first career diplomat to be appointed High Commissioner for St Kitts and Nevis to London. That sends a clear message, he says: “That as a career diplomat you can now aim for the highest post.”
A rising star at the foreign ministry, Isaac is no run-of-the-mill envoy. A published poet, he has written two volumes of verse – a talent he discovered thanks to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after he won an FCO-sponsored a poetry competition while on a Chevening Scholarship.
Describing his poems as “verbal snapshots” he is inspired by the many people he has met and places he has visited as a student and during his 18-year diplomatic career. Calling himself a “professional student” the High Commissioner has studied in England, Trinidad, Barbados and France.
Yet one place figures larger than most: the island of Haiti. As strategic political advisor to the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS in Washington, Isaac visited the Caribbean island at least six times as part of the organization’s efforts to promote good governance in Haiti.
“We were making great progress, but the devastating earthquake in 2010 has set the island back in development terms by many years,” he explains.
Not long after the disaster, the High Commissioner published his second volume of poetry, Memories in Serenade. “I had a book signing at the OAS and I donated all the proceeds of the sales of the book to underprivileged children in Haiti,” he says.
During his career, the High Commissioner has developed an expertise in multilateral diplomacy. He spent a total of 11 years in Washington, first as deputy head of mission, with responsibility for consular affairs, relations with the White House and the OAS, and later he moved to work at the OAS, where he had responsibility as an advisor and coordinator for the OAS country offices in 28 member states.
Prior to his Washington posting, he was the DPR at the United Nations where he deputized for a non-resident Ambassador and was forced to learn the ropes of top-level diplomacy very quickly.
“In a globalised world, multilateralism is a necessity for a small state if you want to make your voice heard,” says the High Commissioner.
Now in London, he plans to work closely with the Commonwealth, which is a supporter of small states. He is particularly keen on exploring areas of cooperation such as preventative public health care and skills training for young people.
Lobbying Britain and the EU together with his CARICOM colleagues on areas such as trade and economic resilience will also be a crucial aspect of his work in London, he adds.
“We have to be proactive in our diplomacy and in our strategic development plans. We cannot afford react to global trends; we must anticipate things and prepare for them. It is difficult when you are a small country with limited resources to take on the behemoths of the world, but if we work together, it becomes easier to address these challenges.”
And the challenges are becoming increasingly difficult for small Caribbean states, he says.
The withdrawal of preferential access to EU markets led St Kitts and Nevis to “bite the bullet” and abandon its sugar industry six years ago and focus on the services industry. Offshore financing was an obvious option, but having once been blacklisted by the OECD as a tax haven complicated this effort.
Tourism is another mainstay and St Kitts, as the UK’s oldest former colony or ‘Mother Colony’ in the Caribbean, offers an imaginative mix of history as well as sun and surf.
But the UK government’s proposals to reform Air Passenger Duty – which could make long-haul flights more expensive – is yet another blow to a tourist industry already reeling from the effects of the financial crisis.
“Geography also conspires against us,” adds the High Commissioner, referring to devastation wreaked by hurricanes and other natural events.
And being on the transit route for narcotics between producers in South America and consumers in the US and Europe, has begun to infect some sectors of society with a gang culture, which is why the High Commissioner is so keen on programmes to re-skill the unemployed youth.
St Kitts and Nevis needs all the help it can get so reaching out to the UK-based diaspora is a priority for Isaac.
“We need all hands on deck. To have a transformative agenda we have to work together because every individual is important,” says the High Commissioner who has already started work on compiling a skill set database.
“The forthcoming Olympic Games will be a good way to get our community together – St Kitts and Nevis has produced some medal contenders in the past!” smiles the High Commissioner, an enthusiastic sports fan.
And who knows, perhaps the global sporting spectacle will inspire the High Commissioner to poetry?