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close this bookThe Courier N░ 127 May - June 1991- Dossier 'New' ACP Export Products - Country Reports Cape Verde - Namibia (EC Courier, 1991, 104 p.)
close this folderCountry reports
close this folderCape verde: A mudanša - change
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAn interview with the President, Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro
View the documentProfile
View the documentAn interview with Prime Minister Carlos Veiga
View the documentTourism - the engine of future growth
View the document‘...and not a drop to drink’
View the documentThe Cape Verdeans and America
View the documentCooperation with the EEC


In January, the whole world was on tenterhooks watching the fate of a little country in the Middle East, Kuwait, and, other than for the occasional mention of the Baltic States, the media had no interest in anything else. So the political upheavals of another little country, Cape Verde, thousands of miles away from the Gulf, had no chance of hitting the headlines and in some cases indeed, passed virtually unnoticed by public opinion in the countries of Africa, although they were to have their influence later on.

It was on 13 January, just 48 hours before the UN ultimatum to Iraq expired, that the Movement for Democracy (MPD), the party 41-year old lawyer Carlos Veiga had founded a mere eight months previously, achieved Africa’s first political switch in an election. And what a victory it was. The MPD took twice as many seats (56 to 23) as the country’s African Independence Party (PAICV), the single party in power since independence 15 years before. Prime Minister Pedro Pires accepted defeat and resigned. His party’s only good showing had been on Fogo island, his own constituency, and Boa Vista, President Pereira’s. There were heavy losses on the more populated islands of Santiago, Sao Vicente and Santo Antao.

A month later, it happened again. While international attention was focused on the land battle soon to be waged against Iraq, Cape Verdean voters were determinedly back at the polls on 17 February, confirming their vote in the legislatives and electing political newcomer Antonio Mascarenhas, the challenger, over incumbent Aristides Pereira, the Father of Independence, by 72 % to 26 % in the presidentials. This put an end to speculation about cohabitation by an MPD government and a PAICV president by those who were convinced that the outcome of the legislative election meant more of a lack of confidence in the rather authoritarian rule of Pedro Pires than a decline in the influence of the PAICV. They had to submit to the evidence. The Cape Verdeans had rejected their longstanding leaders and the policy they stood for en bloc.

The ironic thing is that the PAICV only had themselves to blame for their own downfall. Without any pressure from the street (as there was in Cd’Ivoire and Benin and Cameroon, for example), it looked to events in Eastern Europe and decided to abandon its constitutional single party status in February 1990, a decision which was rubber-stamped by the National Assembly in September. At that stage, of course, the leaders were convinced that their historical legitimacy as independence fighters and the undeniable progress the country had made under their management were adequate protection against electoral defeat, as former PM Pedro Pires readily admits. ‘That is so. We never imagined we could lose ‘ So, as Georgina de Mello, a former party official in Praia, adds, ‘we didn’t campaign to win. We spent most of the time preparing the institulional framework for the democratic transition. Defeat wasn’t one of the scenarios and even our most pessimistic forecasts predicted victory’.

Although this does not detract from the old team’s merit in opening the door to democracy, it does tarnish the crown prepared for the conversion to pluralism and put a question mark over its commitment to political pluralism had it known its days were numbered. At all events, it would have behaved differently and tried the well-known tactic of divide and rule among its opponents. ‘We should have encouraged other parties to emerge’, Pedro Pires says regretfully. ‘It would have enabled us to prevent the Contra front against the PAICV’. The UCID (the Independent and Democratic Party) and the UPICV (the People’s Union for Independence) were clandestine for years and indeed tried to become legal, but they were unable to get all the signatures they needed in time - despite a last-minute push from a PAICV worried about the first bad opinion polls, it is whispered in Praia - although they could have expected to do well on at least the two most heavily populated islands of Santo Antao and Sao Vicente.

There is no doubt that the MPD landslide was due to the forced union of the opposition and to Movement candidates getting the anti-PAICV vote. But why was the electorate in a country which even the IMF and the World Bank said was properly run so disenchanted? The World Bank’s latest report on Cape Verde had said there was ‘proper, 5% pa growth of GDP in the 1980s largely thanks to sound financial and economic management’. The new Prime Minister recognises (in his interview) that there was no real corruption in the country. So why was the old government team thrown out?

‘Because of a whole range of factors of varying importance’, claims Pedro Pires. He is still badly upset by defeat and has not finished shaking up his party, which has no more State subsidies and no idea what to do with its many permanent staff. The PAICV, he claims, ‘was hit by shock waves from the drive to modernise Cape Verdean society and had to carry the can for problems which were the by-products of its achievements... We solved the education problem, but it made the employment crisis worse. We ran an agrarian reform and redistributed the land, but it upset the old owners. We set up a lay State and got the abortion law voted, but the very influential Catholic church was angry about it. And we wanted to put an end to the welfare state and get the people to help pay for education and health care and they didn’t line that either’.

Pedro Pires waved away the idea that his (according to some) autocratic running of the country and the arrogance of a number of PAICV leaders might have had something to do with the electoral downfall. The ‘immediatist’ mentality of the people was to blame, he maintained, for they wanted an instant solution to their employment, housing and health problems and had been seduced by MPD promises. Nonetheless, there was a massive turnout for the Carlos Veiga party in rural Santiago and Santo Antao, where there are big contingents of beneficiaries of the agrarian reform, and if there was anyone who should have been happy and shown their gratitude at the elections, it was these former landless peasants who had become landowners thanks to the PAICV.

And perhaps the Cape Verdeans were just tired of having the same (power-weary) leaders for 15 years and all they wanted was Mudan a change, and new, young leaders. That is perhaps what Joshantre Oliviera, a young Sa island tradesman, meant when he said that the ‘African Independence Party has lost its raison d’e now the country is sovereign. It’s the party of the past. Most Cape Verdeans are young and they are looking for something to develop the islands’.

Perhaps, quite simply, despite the nearness to Africa and the lessons that might be learned from it, Cape Verde is above all a piece of the Caribbean which has drifted to this side of the Atlantic. In the West Indies, to which its Creole society unites it, spectacular changes of majority are nothing unusual, as the recent history of Jamaica and Barbados shows. But that is something that only future elections will tell.

For the time being, the PAICV is getting ready for what it hopes will be a salutary spell in opposition. The party has to be reorganised to meet the new situation and modernised to give it fresh impetus and bring out new leaders.

As for the MPD, it knows it has to respond to the great expectations it has aroused in the people of Cape Verde soon. But will the people have the patience to wait for the new policy to beat fuit? That is the question. But as Rural Development and Fisheries Minister Antonio Gualberto do Rosario says, ‘not only do they have a lot of waiting to do. They are also available to participate’. And the key to government action, as he sees it, is ‘how far it can enable Cape Verdeans to take part in the proper democratisation of society and take part in development at all levels’.

The country’s new leaders are young (they are all around 40) and enthusiastic. They have no complexes about what they have to do and the fact that they have all got undeniable professional success behind them and left well-paid jobs for meagre ministerial salaries augurs well. The most important thing is that they ate not starting from scratch. The country’s economy is healthy, overall, bearing in mind its particular characteristics, and the successful transition to democracy may attract greater interest from funders.

So, Cape Verde, as State Secretary for Cooperation Josonteiro pointedly remarks, is well placed to fad out whether the causes of under-development really are solely the oft-blamed bad management and corruption combined with no democracy and no people participation. ‘We are getting rid of these problems, so logically speaking we should develop... Unless there are other rearsons...’