Chantal Ononaiwu Profile
Chantal Ononaiwu (Jamaica & Wolfson 2003) is an Attorney-at-law practising in the field of International Trade. She is currently the Trade Policy and Legal Specialist in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Office of Trade Negotiations, based in Barbados. Chantal holds a DPhil in Law from the University of Oxford, a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from the University of Cambridge and a Bachelor of Laws degree (First Class Honors) from the University of the West Indies.
Rhodes Project: Who is your favourite author?
Chantal Ononaiwu: My favourite author, I would have to say, is Chimamanda Adichie.
Rhodes Project: What is one of your hobbies and why do you like it?
Chantal Ononaiwu: I really enjoy travelling because it allows me to experience different cultures and see how people live in different parts of the world. It’s more challenging now to eke out time for leisure travel but it’s something I plan to do more of in the future with my family.
Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favourite memory of Oxford?
Chantal Ononaiwu: The Caribbean Students Association had a carnival fundraiser, it was actually held in February - around the time that Trinidad Carnival is held - whilst it was freezing outside! We had a party in the Cellar at Wolfson. Everybody, both from the Caribbean and elsewhere, were just enjoying the music and revelling in the experience together and it’s a fond memory because I felt like I was experiencing a piece of home in Oxford but clearly in a new setting that I wouldn’t have associated with carnival!
Rhodes Project: If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what would you be doing instead?
Chantal Ononaiwu: I think I still would’ve found my way into some field involving international relations. Inter-governmental relations are something that I’ve always found interesting. If I weren’t in this field as a lawyer, I would’ve found my way into it in some other capacity.
Rhodes Project: After studying law in England and Barbados, you chose to practice in Barbados. What legal challenges do you encounter that are unique to the Caribbean?
Chantal Ononaiwu: I practise in the field of international trade, more specifically in the area of the negotiation of international trade agreements where there is a strong interface between law and policy. One of the challenges I’ve experienced is devising and advocating for rules that are truly supportive of the sustainable development of small economies like those in the Caribbean. That’s the constant challenge that I face in my area.
Rhodes Project: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Chantal Ononaiwu: Knowing that we’re finding ways in which Caribbean countries can better integrate themselves into the global economy. Anything that we do that contributes to our countries standing a better chance of tackling the economic challenges that they will consistently face as small economies is rewarding. One of the challenges that we constantly battle with is how to make our economies more competitive and if we have found ways, whether through trade agreements or otherwise, to help our countries tackle that challenge then that’s exceedingly rewarding. You have to hold on to those moments because the obstacles are significant.
Rhodes Project: Is there anything that consistently frustrates you?
Chantal Ononaiwu: One of the most frustrating parts of my job is encountering instances where I think we’re not taking enough ownership or responsibility for our future or the choices we make. Encountering instances where I think we’re not demonstrating enough self-belief is the most frustrating aspect of my work.
Rhodes Project: Whose life and career do you most admire?
Chantal Ononaiwu: My mother is someone who I have admired for many years, for a host of reasons. One is the dedication she’s always shown to her family. She never let any of the career aspirations that she pursued ever compromise the focus and the attention that she would devote to her family and that’s something I’ve grown to admire even more over the years, especially since becoming a mother myself.
I’ve also admired Tracy Robinson, another Jamaica Rhodes Scholar, because of the passion she’s always brought to her career. She was one of my law lecturers at the University of the West Indies and I’ve always admired the dedication she’s brought to her work as a feminist, lecturer, human rights advocate and legal scholar.
In the area of international relations, I have admired those Caribbean leaders who confronted, head on, the challenges we faced while sustaining the belief that we should take our rightful place in the world.
Rhodes Project: What is your favourite meal to cook and eat?
Chantal Ononaiwu: My favourite meal to cook and eat is ox tails with rice and peas. It’s something people always ask me to cook for them so that’s probably one of the reasons I enjoy making it. It’s something that I like to cook partly because how I cook it is very much inspired by how women in my family prepare it – my mother, my mother-in-law and my husband’s aunt.
Rhodes Project: What brings you the most joy?
Chantal Ononaiwu: Spending time with my family. It’s taken on a completely new dimension since I became a mother so just the opportunity to spend time with my family, especially with my son, that brings me the most joy. There is nothing in the world that can parallel that for me, nothing.
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