Cape Verde

November 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

cape verde

Who lives there?: About 500,000 people on the small group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, almost all of creole descent.

There are considerably more Cape Verdeans living abroad than in Cape Verde with the largest populations living in the USA’s New England (500,000), Portugal (80,000), Angola (45,000), São Tomé and Príncipe (25,000), Senegal (25,000), France (25,000), Holland (20,000 of which 15,000 live in Rotterdam), Spain, Italy, Argentina, and Scandinavia (about 40,000 in total). It is thought more Portuguese citizens may be of Cape Verdean decent but are not traceable as all Cape Verdeans had Portuguese passports before 1975. Nani is probably the most famous Cape Verdean

How does the system work? (the theory): Executive power is shared fairly evenly between the President and the Prime Minister. The President is elected by first past the post with a runoff if required. The Prime Minster is nominated by the Assembly but has to be approved by the President. Even so they tend to be the leader of the largest party in the assembly.

The National Assembly is the unicameral Parliament. 72 seats are elected by d’Hondt PR. Terms are five years and coincide with presidential terms.

Each island has its own directly elected president with a reasonable degree of autonomy. The islands are further divided into municipalities and parishes who administer local services via elected councils.

How does the system work? (the practice): Cape Verde is the only country technically in Africa to have been awarded top marks by Freedom House for democracy. Until fairly recently many programmes, particularly around education and poverty, were administered directly by NGOs such as the World Food programme. However due to the ongoing good governance displayed, most of these have now been taken over by the Cape Verde authorities.

How did we get here?: Cape Verde was uninhabited when the Portuguese found it in 1496. It became a Portuguese territory and stop over port (except when twice sacked by Sir Francis Drake) and a key part of the slave trade – hence its demographic makeup.

In the 1950s growing nationalism led to Portugal giving the islands more autonomy, However this was not enough to stave off a war of independence with the left wing PAIGC. The war was fought jointly in Cape Verde and Portuguese Guinea. Thousands of Cuban troops supported the PAIGC and thousands of Portuguese troops came in to prop up the government. The PAIGC took control of much of Guinea-Bissau  but couldn’t make much headway in Cape Verde. However the 1974 revolution in Portugal led to a negotiated settlement with the PAIGC leading to independence, which they received in 1975.

The deteriorating situation in Guinea-Bissau led to Cape Verde wishing to separate. After the 1980 coup in Guinea-Bissau this separation became permanent, and Cape Verde became a one party state under the new centre-left (formerly hard left) PAICV. Opposition groups coalesced around the centrist MPD and after a peaceful campaign multi-party democracy was restored in 1990. Since then Cape Verde has been a model democracy.

Who’s in charge?: Democracy is highly competitive between the PAICV and the MPD. At the last presidential elections Pedro Pires of the PAICV narrowly won with 51% of the vote to the MPD’s 49%. Pires had been Prime Minister from independence in 1975 to 1991. With the restoration of democracy the PAICV lost to the MPD in 1991 but with Pires as a candidate he won the Presidential election in 2001 (by just 17 votes) and has held on ever since. The perennial MPD candidate Carlos Veiga is by far the second most influential politician on the islands.

Those two parties are the only ones strong enough to challenge for the presidency (and so the others do not try). There are a number of other political parties who do challenge for assembly seats but politics is strongly two party: in part because results are so close between the two main parties, and in part because both parties are keen to include any factions that may emerge.

At the last parliamentary elections PAICV won 41 seats, and the MPD won 29 seats. Three small centre right parties formed a coalition called the ADM. They won two seats, both of which went to the main part of the coalition: the Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union. Two other parties stood unsuccessfully: the centrist Democratic Renewal Party and the centre-left Democratic Alliance for Change.

cape verde parties


José Maria Neves of PAICV was chosen as Prime Minister.

What does it look like?: Blasted rock. The Cape Verde islands were volcanoes and have been shaped by 150 million years of sandblasting by the wind. What little vegetation there was has been further depleted by 500 years of intensive grazing.


What are the issues?: Cape Verde is held up as a model for Africa and leads the way amongst African nations in most development indicators (although some might query whether it is really in Africa). The government passed a major test last year when they successfully contained the country’s first ever outbreak of dengue fever.  The main problem is the agricultural fragility of the islands – which are susceptible to drought.

There are issues around biodiversity – introduced cats are killing the islands rare birds.

A good source of impartial information is: The press is free but it is all in Portuguese. Expresso das Illhas updates its website the most frequently.

A good book is: Cape Verde is a little small to have many books specifically written about it, but Cape Verde Foreign Policy and Government Guide and Cape Verdean Women and Globalization: The Politics of Gender, Culture, and Resistance are both said to be good.

However as a case study for good government Cape Verde does feature prominently in several regional studies such as Reframing Contemporary Africa: Politics, Culture, and Society in the Global Era, Programme Aid and Development: Beyond Conditionality (more interesting than it sounds) and Handbook of Political Science Research on Sub-Saharan Africa: Trends from the 1960s to the 1990s (again).

When are the next elections?: Elections will be held in 2011.


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