Simone de Commarmond

Simone de Commarmond

Date: June 5, 2012
  • SHARE:

Leading from behind: Simone de Commarmond, Minister of tourism and transport, Seychelles.

Above the desk of the Seychelles Minister of Tourism and Transport Simone de Commarmond is a plaque that reads: “you are a leader, not a boss.” A few blocks away in the picturesque Seychelles capital of Victoria, Minister for Administration and Manpower Development Noellie Alaxander adorns her office with posters like UNIFEM’s: “Break the silence, a life free from violence.”

“There is a difference between being strong and being domineering,” says Simone de Commarmond, as she looks out of her window to the lush green hills that tower above the Seychelles capital of Victoria, a few minutes away from the turquoise sea.

This is the philosophy that has guided her in a career that has seen her climb the ladder from being a secretary to heading the ministry responsible for Seychelles leading economic sector- tourism.

De Cammarond left to work in the then Deputy Govenors office as a clerk after finishing her “O” levels; her parents could not afford for her to do the pre university “A” level course. She worked her way up the bureaucratic ladder to assistant secretary, moved from the public service to economic planning, and in 1983 became the private secretary in the president’s office responsible for the public service. She turned down a ministerial post in 1986, saying she was not ready, and later accepted this post in 1989.

It has been a tough call. Constituency politics are rough and they can be dirty. She recalls for example the pain of being accused of corruption by her opponents when she built a house with hard earned savings. Others have accused her of being a lackey of the president whom she has known for many years through working in the bureaucracy, and with whom she enjoys an “excellent working relationship.”

“I work late; I wake up early. I travel a lot. It is a difficult job. My younger son has felt it. When he brings it out, it hurts,” she says.

In 1992 de Cammarmond went through a divorce: “Politics affects your personal life. You give too much of your time and work. We parted friends, but ofcourse I worried about the effect on the children.”

In holding her constituency, de Commarmond has had to contest two male candidates. She says she feels a difference between her rapport with the constituents and theirs. “Women come to me and say: you understand what we are saying. I say I understand. I have been there. And I see the look of comfort in their face.”

With forty tiny islands that are not suited to agriculture no minerals and hardly any natural resources to speak of, tourism is the mainstay of the Seychelles economy. The minister says she had to “start from scratch with a vision for the next twenty years.”

Like the other ministers in this chapter, de Commarmond has felt herself to be under the spotlight: “It is not that women are treated unfairly, but that they are scrutinised more carefully.” She believes that her femininity has served her well in this task.

“As a woman I am blessed with a sixth sense. I am able to look at things differently. I have a mother trait. I am a good listner. I am more patient, I am more understanding. It does help. It enables me to manoeuvre better than men. I am open to ideas, and ideas are what tourism is all about. In tourism, you have to be a people person. I am that. It helps me to do a better job.”

De Commarmond says another enabling factor is her good working relationship with the president, that dates back to her days as a bureaucrat: “He respects people who are competent, men and women. He assesses you based on performance, on your ability to deliver.”

Like the two South African ministers in this section, the Seychelles minister of tourism has made it her business to help women in the sector organise. She helped to found the Seychelles Association of Women Entrepreneurs, and the local brach of the Commonwealth Women’s Business Network.

She is also active in the women’s caucus in parliament, and is keen to interest young women in politics. According to (first name) Bengsten, the mayor of Victoria, “we want to interest a pool of young women in standing for office. The Minister of Tourism is pushing it. She is a very important role model.”


Comment on Simone de Commarmond

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *