Tourism - the engine of future growth
By early March Cape Verde has changed the soft covering of
greenery left by the rains for the ochre dust of its volcanic soil and it is
prey to the winds. That dry wind from the mainland, the dreaded lestada, blows
relentlessly night and day. The islands plant life, starting with the
glorious Prosopis Juliflora, the providence of these sere regions, has learned
to adapt, bending to deflect the furious gusts. Yet the wind, never ending in
its punishing of the fragile soil and its whipping away of its precious
particles, may be on its way to becoming one of the stars of the countrys
future development. For it is the wind which brings the dozens of wind surfers
to spend hours at their favourite sport on the coast by the Morabeza and
Belorizonte hotels on Sal island.
Cape Verde is one of the best places for wind surfing, which is
very popular among western holiday-makers, and it is there, off Mindelo on Sao
Vicente, in a narrow channel providing extra acceleration, that world speed
records are set. The word has got round and more and more funboard fans are
coming to the countrys beaches. New equipment is tested there every year
and Wind Surf International is soon to sponsor a combination competition there.
Conditions are ideal for surfing too, although this is not so well publicised
for the moment. Ask Virgilio Mendon the deputy director of the Hotel
Belorizonte, why tourists come to Cape Verde and the immediate answer will be
the wind in the winter and the beach in the summer and peace and quiet all
the year round. The islands already have 5000 tourists every year.
But it is early days for tourism. The main stumbling block is
the difficulty of actually getting the tourists from their country of origin to
Cape Verde and moving about between the islands is not always easy either.
Although the Gulf crisis has pushed up the price of air tickets twice since the
start of the tourist season, it had some positive spinoff too, as German
tourists who used to go to Egypt came to Sal instead this year. Mr de Souza
Lobo, the general manager of the Morabeza was delighted when these providential
arrivals filled the hotel and no more rooms were vacant. The Morabeza has just
improved its range of excursions by buying a fast trimaran that takes only an
hour to get from Sal to the sandy beaches of Boa Vista, undeniably the finest in
He and his colleague Mr Mendonagree that the government
should boost Cape Verdes tourist trade by cutting through the red tape
that hinders tourist projects, making it easier for promoters to get credit and
being flexible about the organisation of charter flights. There is no doubt that
the new Minister of Industry Trade and Tourism, Gustavo Araujo, will be keen to
hear what they have to say. Mr Araujo, a former expatriate recently back from
Lisbon, where he ran a travel agency, is convinced that tourism will be the
driving force of the countrys new growth and that this is the
sector to release resources to finance investments in other fields. He means to
start by attracting the top end of the market, people who set trends and go to
luxury hotels and are copied by the less well-off. Plans siting future tourist
facilities and outlining types of promotion schemes, the requisite financial
means and the extent of national staff involvement are on the drawing board.
A strategic sector
The new team has high hopes of another sector too, fisheries.
This is the only sector that can really be called strategic here in Cape
Verde, Rural Development and Fisheries Minister Antonio do Rosario says,
because the fishing potential of our Exclusive Economic Zone is
considerable, because our geographical situation is such that we can develop
fishing in other areas too and because of the possible links between fishing and
industry - boats and processing, for example.
The government is to have a complete overhaul of this sector,
privatising Pechcaf, the State fishing firm at Mindelo, and reorganising the
company which markets fish products abroad. It will also be helping private
operators, emphasising research and training fishermen and other people working
in this area. All Cape Verdes islands have good potential when it comes to
developing the fish industry, but Sao Vicente has the mote particular advantages
of a natural deep-water port, refrigeration facilities and a shipyard, so this
is where the fisheries development institute on Santiago is to be transferred.
This will be an extra asset for Sao Vicente and its port,
Mindelo, which will one day have a vital part to play in developing the
countrys geo-strategic position, as the time-honoured
expression of Cape Verdes situation half way between America, Europe and
Africa goes. Mindelo was already a popular coal supply centre for ships going
round the Cape of Good Hope in the last century and if projects on the drawing
board for some time now were actually put into practice, they could bring back
this lost importance.
One such scheme is a Brazilian plan to set up warehouses to
store goods which would gradually be sold on markets in West Africa.
Shipping companies are also very keen on the idea of warehouses.
They would mean that, instead of grouping their freight as they have to do at
the moment and sending large ships to drop off small quantities at various ports
in the region, where the goods can well be stuck for long periods, an expensive
undertaking, they could unload the whole of their cargo at Mindelo in one go and
send small boats to do the final deliveries.
The geographical situation could attract finance too, at least
Cape Verde hopes so, since it is preparing to set up off-shore banks. The
decision will be coming soon, Gustavo Araujo told me, and it will
mean we can find out how the international capital markets work, which will help
the modernisation of our central bank.
Another important side of the policy of capitalising on the
geographical situation has to do with industrialisation. The Minister is
convinced that his countrys low wages and skilled labour force will
attract Spanish and Portuguese industries which cannot stand up to greater
competition in the Single Market in 1993 and that these industries will bring in
a knowledge of the markets which the Cape Verdeans do not have. This sort of
transfer has already taken place in the footwear industry. A Mindelo footwear
firm, which was doing very badly, was taken over by the Portuguese and has been
doing well ever since, as the new organisers brought with them their list of
Industrial promoters could also be attracted by the fact that
Cape Verde belongs to a number of regional organisations - ECOWAS, for example,
whose treaties (on the free movement of goods especially) could open the door to
the markets of 16 countries in the region. Gustavo Araujo believes that African
solidarity will do a great deal for his countrys producers, as Cape Verde
is small and, he hopes, people wont be wary about it.
None of this means that agriculture will be neglected. In spite
of the shortage of arable land (only 10% of the countrys 4033 km²)
and very unreliable rainfall (Cape Verde is in the Sahel, let us not forget),
farming is the dominant sector of the economy and provides jobs for a large part
of the population. But these two major handicaps have given the islands a
structural food deficit. Only in good years can the nation cover even a small
percentage of its cereal requirements, so the new government is not aiming at
self sufficiency, which is out of reach, but at ensuring that the peasants get
as much from the land in terms of revenue as they can. Accordingly, it has no
problem with the fact that a large part of the irrigated land on Santo Antao is
given over to sugar cane, which is distilled to make aguardente, a much prized
and very expensive alcohol. Nor that experienced vine-growers (grapes were
introduced in the 19th century by a very prolific French Huguenot called
Montron) working the land at the foot of the Fogo volcano, which last erupted in
1951, manage to produce thousands of litres of wine on a lunar landscape of
volcanic ash and lava at various stages of decomposition. This year they
produced 50000 litres of a highly alcoholic, syrupy beverage halfway between
grape juice and traditional wine. One of the growers was proud to tell me that
his vines bring him in an annual 350 000 to 400 000 escudos (a top civil servant
only gets 25 000 a month) and that his son had emigrated to the USA but came
back two years later because he earned less and had to work harder for
There is more talk of agrarian reform from the new government.
But it will not behave like the old regime and go in for more land
redistribution. It intends instead to modernise farming by bringing in new
methods - greenhouses for example, and drip irrigation to maximise the water
resources and double the current 3000 ha under irrigation. It will also promote
new crops and develop livestock. Antonio Rosario, the Rural Development and
Fisheries Minister, says that agrarian reform is essentially a cultural
problem of relating with the land, of changing outlooks and of encouraging
people to look to the market. We have to set up an efficient rural extension
service and give people who have no land the opportunity to develop other types
of activity, herding and craft and cottage industry, for example, and the
processing of agricultural produce such as pawpaws and coconuts and being
involved in rural tourism.
The price of success
Clearly, the country has ideas to help it breathe fresh life
into the economy. It intends mobilising its large emigrant population as it has
never been mobilised before. There are apparently as many Cape Verdeans abroad
as at home (some say twice as many) and, even when they have been in their host
country for generations, they never completely cut the ties with their ancestral
land, as the sumptuous villas with closed shutters and glittering motor bikes
(especially on Fogo) are there to prove. Less visible proof, although there is
no doubt more of it, is the money; the thousands of postal orders which the
emigrants send to their families back home, $29 million in 1986 and $35 million
in 1988, mainly from the USA and the Netherlands. This represents a vital
contribution to the balance of payments.
More than ever before, the emigrant community is going to be the
subject of government concern and the idea is for it to invest more in the
priority sectors of tourism, fishing and industry. The fact that a number of the
current ministers are themselves from the ranks of the emigrants may encourage
the government here, but it will take more than that to make a success of the
reforms. Cape Verde will have to go on counting on external aid and,
traditionally, it receives a lot, that is certain. In 1987, the figure was $87
million, which is $256 per head, and the democratic process should logically
result in an increase in this manna.
But paradoxically, the country is starting to be a victim of its
own success. It is a major beneficiary of food aid from the USA and now it is
going to have to pay the transport costs of about $1 million, because it is
considered to be a medium-income country, with a per capita GNP of $758 (1988).
Much of this is not the result of local production, but of food aid and postal
orders from the emigrants as the authorities are quick to point out.
However, if development country classification criteria continue to be based on
this kind of gross figure, Cape Verde will find it more and more difficult to
obtain the concessional resources which have enabled it to get on so well over
the past 15 years.
Infant mortality, for example, has dropped sharply to 50 per
thousand now as against 130 per thousand at the time of independence. There is
now one doctor for every 5220 inhabitants, whereas the figure for 1976 was one
for every 23 000. And the school attendance rate for children of seven to 10 is
100%. Terrible famine was frequent in the last century, but everyone now has
plenty to eat, the average consumption of the staple pulses and cereals now
being 207 kg per person as against 165 kg at independence. Life expectancy is
good too, at 65 being a record for the region, and the people have the fourth
best quality of life index in Africa, after Libya, Mauritius and Seychelles.
The Community and the Member States have been the biggest
financers of Cape Verdes development programmes. In 1985-87, for example,
they supplied 56% of the countrys total aid between them. But the new
authorities see the quality of aid as being every bit as important as the
quantity. Cooperation State Secretary Jose Luis Monteiro is convinced that the
conventional ways of managing external assistance programmes, with all the rigid
machinery of project submission and control, do not give maximum returns in Cape
Verde. What we need is aid arrangements that are based on agreeing on the
main objectives with our partners, who will then supply us with flexible
financial means that can be apportioned on a decentralised basis as
unforeseeable situations crop up.
The ideal would be for all donors to follow the example of
Swedish aid, which the Cape Verdeans are tireless in praising. There is a large
amount of it, about $10 million-worth per annum, the extent to which it is tied
has been reduced to a minimum and, most important, it all comes in cash, which
Cape Verde is using to pay for two (goods and services) import programmes,
justifying the expenditure afterwards. Sweden appears to be satisfied with Cape
Verdes performance and has just increased the period of aid programming
from two to three years.
One Community country, the Netherlands, is following
Swedens example. A dialogue between The Hague and Praia was set up several
months ago and, even if it fails to lead to aid in hard cash, it could trigger a
major decentralisation of Dutch aid, with the central government agreeing on the
main lines and then delegating to its ambassador powers which cannot be left to
the Cape Verdeans.
This quest for more and more flexible assistance will not be
easy, although the countrys sound management and the transparency
attendant on its alternation of political parties should help. And of course
there is the sympathy and admiration generated by a brave people, shaped by the
pitiless natural selection of the terrible famines which punctuate its history,
ever unwilling to bow to fate. These are the people who decided to stop
desertification by planting 3 million trees every year (be it happy coincidence
or the first results of reafforestation, rainfall has returned to normal). These
are the people who have shown great maturity in electing the leaders of their
choice in a peaceful manner. So what can stop them from achieving their goals?