Cape Verde: From the history of a seemingly forgotten country

On the occasion of the work on a lecture on the Cape Verde Islands and their history, the process of the liberation of the country from colonial dependence by the freedom fighter Amílcar Cabral came into the focus of my considerations in the discussion. To date, the country and its people have managed to evolve from being the poorest countries in the world into a “middle-income” country according to the UN index. The following passages from the first volume of my book “Kreuz und quer durch Afrika. On the Road on the Black Continent” reflect these considerations.

[…] CABO VERDE has long been the destination of my longing for travel. The curiosity for the República de Cabo Verde had already developed during the years of my professional activity in Mozambique and Angola. It was above all the occupation with the life and revolutionary work of Amílcar Cabral, who is still revered today in Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde as a national hero. On the islands, the main streets of the cities bear his name. He was born on 12 September 1924 in Bafatá in Guinea-Bissau and came to Cabo Verde with his parents at the age of eight. This was not unusual, since both countries were administered by the Portuguese as a colony. Politically influenced by his father in the fight against the colonial power Portugal and shaped by the living conditions, the studied agricultural and forestry scientist turned against the fascist Salazar regime of Portugal and its attempts to suppress the will for freedom of the population with more than thirty thousand soldiers of the colonial army. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives on the islands in times of prolonged drought. Cabral first gained fighting experience in Portugal, where he had studied, then in Angola, and in 1956 founded the African Party for Independence from Guinea and Cabo Verde (PAIGC) in Bissau. In a guerrilla war supported by China and the Soviet Union he fought with revolutionaries of both countries against the colonial power.

In connection with my teaching activities in Mozambique, I had paid special attention to the International Symposium held in January 1983 in the Cape Verde capital Praia on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the death of Dr. Amílcar Cabral. I was particularly interested in how he had succeeded in persuading the inhabitants of colonies that had so far been far removed from any interest on the part of the world public to engage in an anti-colonial struggle.

Of course, the rivalries in the West-East conflict were beneficial to him. His visits to Moscow and Berlin supported this idea. Above all, it was impressive how he, as a participant in a 1953 census, had acquired valuable knowledge about the thirty or so ethnic groups of Guinea-Bissau and their social situation.

Another striking feature was that, unlike other African liberation organizations, he had immediately founded the PAIGC as a party.

He developed into a personality with great charisma, who expressed himself at international conferences in English, French and Spanish. In his homeland, among the liberation fighters in the bush and in the island towns, he spoke Portuguese and Creole to the people.

When the dictatorship in Portugal ended with the Carnation Revolution in 1974, the way was clear for Cabo Verde’s independence, which was proclaimed on July 5, 1975. He did not live to see this day, which he eagerly awaited.

On 20 January 1973, Amílcar Cabral was the victim of an assassination attempt in Conakry.

I tried to recall the time and myself 24 years ago. But Cabral’s picture was limited to photos from the press. They showed an intelligent face with a colorfully embroidered cap on the back of the head, a medium-sized man with a slender figure and natural movements. However, the picture remained fragmentary.

So my special interest in him began at a time when he was already dead. But this tenth anniversary of his death was perceived internationally. My notes from 1983 note that in Leipzig domestic and foreign students as well as scientists from colleges and universities of the GDR gathered for a memorial symposium for Amílcar Cabral. A philosophy student enrolled in Jena named Luís Filipe da Silva from Guinea-Bissau spoke dignifying words.

The project of the PAIGC to establish the state unity of Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde was shattered by the division of the party. Its island wing split off and continued to exist as the African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV). It remained in power until 1991. In 1992, the constitution enshrined the principles of multiparty democracy.

Cabo Verde has rarely made the international headlines in recent decades. It had to be an event like the eruption of the volcano Pico on the island of Fogo in April 1995, which made 1300 people homeless in order to be perceived by the world public at least temporarily.

I was among the few who kept their interest in the islands. For Cabo Verde, the Green Cape.

It is one of the last natural paradises on earth, forgotten in the Cape Verde basin of the Atlantic Ocean. More than a hundred million years ago, enormous forces lifted the first of these islands above the surface of the water from a depth of six thousand metres, the last eighteen million years ago. Gigantic lava flows flowed glowing into the sea, cooling bizarre landscapes of an appearance as if they were not of this world. But the processes were imperfect for later human life on the islands. It still lacks sufficient drinkable water and fertile soil for its inhabitants. In the course of millions of years the islands were eroded and rain-filled clouds passed unhindered over them, where once even higher mountains demanded their tribute in the form of fog and rain. The indescribable beauty of the islands cannot make up for the lack of mineral resources and water. Perhaps that is why people have stayed away from them over the centuries. Of the fifteen islands, only nine are still inhabited today. Now it is up to their inhabitants to make up for the shortage of food by increasing the wealth and abundance of the sea.

[…]

The islands reviving tourist interest was only triggered with the eruption of the Pico de Fogo. The only jewel, the island of Brava, which is called the “flower island” because of its lush vegetation, has no airfield and is therefore rarely visited by strangers. Some few come with unsafe, slow ferries, which one does not trust the ability to the return journey any longer and with whose sight German TÜV experts would suffer heart attacks after few minutes of the inspection.

Sometimes it doesn’t rain on the islands for years.

People resist the prolonged periods of drought by importing necessary food. Nevertheless, an economic upswing can be observed, although so far flowing international development aid has been discontinued.

“The UN has removed Cabo Verde from the list of the poorest countries in the world. We heard this sentence more often on our travels through the islands. To our astonishment, it was not presented with bitterness, but with pride, as if one had been rewarded for something positively achieved. And indeed we did encounter huge social differences, but we did not see the hunger-stricken and dying citizen in this African country.

However, the “removal” from a list of poor people is such a thing. In 2004, the UN published a ranking list (UNDP) of ninety-five developing countries. It was led by Barbados. Burkina Faso, an African country, occupied the ninety-fifth and thus the last place. In this series, Cabo Verde ranked forty. The Human Development Report 2006 listed 102 developing countries. Uruguay took first place, while the African state of Mali came last. Cabo Verde was ranked forty-three, roughly at the same level as two years earlier. It was interesting to see how the other former Portuguese colonies were placed in Africa: Angola ranked 79th, Guinea-Bissau 92nd and Mozambique 94th. Seen in this light, Cabo Verde performed somewhat better than a less poor country among extremely poor countries.

The improvement was mainly due to remittances from Cape Verde abroad to their families on the islands. It is estimated that the number of people living abroad far exceeds the current estimated population of four hundred and twenty thousand. Two thirds of Cape Verdean families receive benefits from their relatives outside the world.

In addition, the government with its leader José Maria Neves, who took office in 2004 and was re-elected in 2006, has set itself the goals of poverty reduction and a more efficient economy. In view of the dry Sahel climate and the rapid decline in dry-field construction as a result of the rain that has mostly failed since 1968, as well as the simple manual technology of fishing, their fulfilment depends on many imponderables. Foreign fleets cavort on the rich fishing grounds. As already indicated, ninety percent of food has to be imported. Without water supply, nothing grows on the semi-desert-like, dry grasslands. There is no wealth to be gained from salt marshes and mangrove groves. Only a few palm species, such as the Canary date palm, have adapted to the drought with a few specimens.

However, the islands have a pound with which they can grow in perspective: Three quarters of the population are younger than fifteen years. On the other hand, it is rare to encounter sixty- to seventy-year-olds, as the 1940 to 1960 cohorts have emigrated en masse to seek happiness and prosperity elsewhere.

The political development speaks for a certain continuity and stability. President Pedro Pires has held office since 2001 and in 2006 received voter confidence for the second time. But since the constitutional amendments of 1993, he has only been given a representative role, as in Germany, while the prime minister has been given more power. In parliament, the ruling PAICV currently holds forty-one of seventy-two seats.


Rainer Grajek: Kreuz und quer durch Afrika. Band 1 – Unterwegs auf dem schwarzen Kontinent.  novum pro 2014. pp.  17-137. ISBN: 978-3990384312

original text: https://www.rainergrajek.de/kap-verde-aus-der-geschichte-eines-scheinbar-vergessenen-landes/

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