Africa, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Europe, Headlines, Human Rights, Poverty & SDGs

Q&A: Cape Verde – Good Student, Reluctant ‘Example’

Interview with Foreign Minister Víctor Barbosa Borges

LISBON, Jan 3 2008 (IPS) - Cape Verde Foreign Minister Víctor Barbosa Borges dismisses out of hand the label placed by various international institutions on this small Atlantic archipelago, which are calling it an example for the rest of Africa.

This chain of 10 islands, located 600 kilometres off the coast of Senegal in West Africa, was uninhabited when Portuguese navigator Diogo Gomes made landfall there in 1460, and its people are all descended from foreigners, basically a mixture of Europeans and Africans.

In an interview with IPS correspondent Mario de Queiroz, Barbosa Borges acknowledged that since winning independence from Portugal in 1975, Cape Verde has proved its capacity to achieve the different development milestones at a fast pace in comparison with other African countries.

Now, after persevering for three arduous decades, Cape Verde is graduating to the club of middle-income developing countries, and is about to achieve associate status with the European Union.

IPS: In other words, it’s an example to the rest of the countries on the continent.

VICTOR BARBOSA BORGES: I find that expression difficult to accept, because it implies that on the one hand there are people qualified to evaluate, who know what they are teaching, and on the other there are child-like pupils who need to learn.

IPS: Nevertheless, Cape Verde is often cited by different international institutions as a successful example that should be followed in Africa.

VBB: Yes, and we’ve also been described as "good pupils." But from a philosophical point of view I am rather disturbed that Cape Verde should be regarded as an "example." We do not wish to be set up as an example for anyone. Each African country must choose its own road toward development.

IPS: In spite of this, the so-called "Cape Verde model" is highly recommended by the international community.

VBB: Cape Verde is a country that lacks natural resources. Even our water is obtained through an industrial process (desalinisation). We are a small country, with the high costs of a fragmented island economy. Despite these difficulties, since independence we have made continuous progress in terms of development.

That is why we are graduating this month from the group of least developed countries (LDCs) to the group of middle income developing countries (MICs). Having said that, Cape Verde is a long way from having found solutions to all of its problems. Each successive government has concerned itself with development, respect for human rights and civil liberties, but I am still hesitant to use the expression of a "moral example" for the rest of the countries of the continent.

IPS: The economic and social indicators are encouraging. Could this lead to an attitude of complacency?

VBB: We are pleased with what has been achieved, but our aspirations for a higher level of development are much greater, regardless of the opinion the rest of the world may have of us.

At independence we had an illiteracy rate of nearly 70 percent, but today it is 24 percent. Life expectancy stood at 50 years, and now it is between 75 and 77 years. The infant mortality rate has fallen sharply and is now one of the lowest in Africa.

The government (of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde, PAICV) regards it as essential to respond to the expectations of Cape Verdeans by increasing the levels of education, training, health, safety and stability.

In a word, more development is needed. While our people recognise the progress already made, they are not satisfied yet, and it is the dissatisfaction of Cape Verdeans and of the government itself that will propel us further.

IPS: With respect to foreign investment and development aid, the enormous activity of Portugal in this field now seems to be overshadowed, particularly by Brazil, which with its 190 million people is by far the largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world.

VBB: It is not Cape Verde’s policy to replace Portugal with Brazil as our main international partner. Our policy is to diversify cooperation, trade and investments, with Portugal, the European Union, Brazil, China, West African countries and also the United States.

In the specific case of Brazil, we are forging closer trade, economic and cultural ties, because it is a country that is geographically, linguistically and culturally close to us, and because the relationship has enormous potential for Cape Verde and we foresee a great future for it.

The visits by President Pedro Pires and Prime Minister José María Pereira Neves to Brazil, and of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to Cape Verde, were clearly a prelude to strengthening our mutual relations.

IPS: At the EU-Africa Summit on Dec. 8-9, 2007, Pereira Neves spoke out about the need to regulate emigration to Europe and to vigorously combat trafficking.

VBB: Cape Verde has a privileged geographical position, which can potentiate economic growth, but which also poses a threat from traffickers of persons, and of drugs from Latin America. Criminals use our territorial waters as a stepping-stone to the EU.

It is not our market of 450,000 people with very low purchasing power that attracts South American drug traffickers. It is the European market, and therefore the EU and we ourselves have to face a common challenge. Europe is the final destination, and Cape Verde is a way stage on that route.

Cape Verde even has a de facto border with the EU in the (Spanish) Canary Islands. So this is a concrete cooperation issue which goes beyond development aid.

There is a real tragedy going on, with people drowning at sea or living at the mercy of organised crime gangs, so it is essential for the EU to be our partner in solving these problems.

In this respect, the Africa-EU Summit in December was a high point in the dialogue between the two continents, and now continuing that dialogue depends on political will on both sides.

IPS: But the difficult relations between the governments of the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe might block those intentions.

VBB: This issue does come up again and again in the international press, and in coverage of the EU-Africa Summit it often upstaged the truly important debates. A lot of people heard all about the problems between Zimbabwe and the UK, but received very little information about Africa’s real concerns.

It’s true that there are problems in Zimbabwe, but we insist that dialogue, however difficult and disagreeable, is the only democratic means of finding solutions, nationally and internationally.

IPS: Analysts and experts have criticised London’s inconsistency in refusing to sit down at the same table with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, because he has persecuted white settlers of British descent, yet having no scruples about holding talks with other African heads of state accused of trampling on human rights. What do Africans feel about this?

VBB: As things stand, we see both sides of that dispute engaged in radicalising their positions, which helps no one. There is a sense that a line has been drawn between the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other. However, the situation is more complicated than that, and the line may not be quite so straight.

Democracy in Zimbabwe is certainly in need of a quantum leap, but we should never use that as a pretext to make dialogue impossible.

Republish | | Print |