The Republic of Cape Verde consists of ten main islands and five islets located in the Atlantic Ocean some 600 kilometres off the western tip of Africa. Cape Verde has an arid climate and is subject to cyclical drought.
The islands of Cape Verde were uninhabited until Portuguese explorers arrived in the fifteenth century. Portuguese settlers brought with them slaves brought mainly from the area known as the ‘Guinea Rivers’ from Cap Vert in Senegal to Sierra Leone, and the islands served as an important transit point in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. After the abolition of slavery the sparse Portuguese population intermarried with the African majority to produce a distinctive Crioulo culture. Cape Verde society had a complex racial structure cut across by higher levels of wealth, power and education which ‘lightened’ one’s appearance. The legal status of assimilado – open to anybody of European ancestry – incorporated and perpetuated negative colonial images of Africanness. Repressive prison camps and strict ideological control, exerted through schools and churches, supported colonialism.
Until the end of the colonial period 90 per cent of the population laboured in an agricultural system dominated by sharecropping and absentee landlords. Under a 1930 act, the vast majority of the African population were made wards of state and denied their civil rights, including the right to vote. They were also subject to a head tax, restricted movement and to severe and arbitrary punishment. The few known instances of slave and peasant rebellions were among the Badiu population of the São Tiago interior, who preserved their Africanness. Many Badiu were transferred to the cocoa plantations of São Tomé and Príncipe; that group’s survival is undocumented. Cape Verde gained independence in July 1975, and with the end of colonialism the Badiu melded into the general Creole and African population.
Main languages: Portuguese (official), Crioulo
Main religion: Roman Catholicism
Minority groups: West African immigrants
The population of Cape Verde today is 71 per cent Creole, 28 per cent African and 1 per cent European. (CIA Factbook 2006)
Cape Verde’s independence movement was highly integrated with that of Guinea-Bissau, and when the African Party for Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) took control of the country at independence, it adopted a constitution that foresaw the unification of the two countries. Following a coup in Guinea-Bissau in 1980 that created an incompatible government there, the plan was dropped and the PAIGC was renamed the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). From independence the PAIGC and PAICV ruled the country as a one-party Marxist state. In 1991 Cape Verde held its first free, multi-party elections, which were won by the Movement for Democracy (MPD), which advocated political and economic liberalization. The MPD dominated government until 2001, when it lost control of the presidency and legislature to the PAICV, which had since abandoned Marxism. PAICV retained government control of the parliament in 2006 elections, and its incumbent candidate, Pedro Pires, was re-elected president. Although the 2001 and 2006 elections were closely fought, all parties respected the results.
Cape Verde has seen strong economic growth in recent years due to a boom in tourism, but in 2003 its National Institute of Statistics published a report that found rising poverty to have accompanied growth because it benefited urban areas while rural areas became poorer. Infrastructure between the nine inhabited islands remains poor, and farmers have difficulties getting their crops to market. They also suffered repeated bouts of drought in the mid-1990s, making the country reliant on food imports. Cape Verde’s economy is also heavily reliant on remittances from the large numbers of Cape Verdeans, a majority, who live outside the country.
Minority based and advocacy organisations
Cape Verdean Women’s Organisation (OMCV)
Tel: + 238 621 2455
National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH)
Tel: + 238 624 516, 623 257
Zé Moniz Association for Solidarity and Development
Tel: + 238 261 50 56
Sources and further reading
Chabal, P. (ed.), A History of Postcolonial Lusophone Africa, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2002.
Meintel, D., Race,Culture and Portuguese Colonialism in Cabo Verde, Syracuse, NY, Syracuse University Press, 1984.