This summer, a 27-year-old former competitive heptathlete and Miss Universe Great Britain became the minister of social development and education of Anguilla, and instantly a face to watch in the region—and perhaps in the U.K.
Becoming a Belonger
Her Caribbean nation is 16 miles long and comprises flawless beaches, a sprawling Four Seasons resort, almost no God-given water or soil, and a population of 15,000, who are referred to as “Belongers” rather than citizens. It’s a British Overseas Territory—one of 14 beautiful and tax-efficient places, such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Gibraltar, that are self-governing former colonies that collaborate with the U.K. for defense and foreign relations, and acknowledge the Queen as head of state.
Kentish-Rogers won the seat previously occupied by Victor Banks, a 40-year incumbent and the premier of the country. According to Kentish-Rogers, Belongers “felt they didn’t have the opportunity to fully rise, especially in our main industry of tourism. Big companies from outside had more of a say in their island than they did. Start-up licenses and costs were a burden and creative industries were being stifled.”
While relatively inexperienced in politics, Kentish-Rogers has proven her capacity to meet great challenges. She grew up on an Anguillan farm, but by the time she was a teenager she was already a track-and-field sensation, running the 400-meter race at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Dehli. A knee injury ultimately dashed her Olympic dreams, but she pivoted and moved to Birmingham University in England to earn a law degree. After graduating in 2016, she was called to the U.K. bar while also pursuing modeling. Two years later, she was anointed Miss Universe Great Britain.
Kentish-Rogers has returned to Anguilla at a precarious moment. At the very beginning of the pandemic, its borders were closed for months following a minor outbreak—three cases—of the coronavirus. As of late July, the World Health Organization has declared the island free of the virus, but a dearth of tourism has decimated the economy. Meanwhile, Anguilla is still reeling from the effects of 2017’s Hurricane Irma and the collapse of its banking sector after the 2008 financial crisis.
The island is at least backstopped to a certain extent by the U.K. Colonized by English settlers during the 17th century, Anguilla has been a British dependency since 1969, after a constitutional showdown with its neighbor islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis. (Three hundred British troops arrived to restore order in what press wags called “The Bay of Piglets.”)
After work, Kentish-Rogers trains with the local women’s soccer league, reads Nigerian novelists, starts up salsa societies, and claims to envision a life post-politics in mediation and sports development. But it’s hard not to imagine a bright future on the larger stage of U.K. politics once the minister’s term or two on-island is done. “I never say never, because the beauty of life is re-invention,” she says. “But if I’m in office for 10 or 15 years, I should make room for someone else with young, fresh ideas.”
Marc Goodman is a writer based in Port Antonio, Jamaica