Cape Verde on the rise

Cape Verde has become one of the most successful self-sustaining economies in sub-Saharan Africa and earned a reputation as one of its star democracies

Separated from West Africa by 400 miles of ocean, with hardly any arable land, few natural resources, little fresh water and recurrent cycles of drought, the ten-island Republic of Cape Verde is an unlikely African development success story.

Yet despite its challenges, good governance has transformed the country into one of Africa’s best performing nations. A stable political climate, secure economic policies and efficient management of aid has kept Cape Verde on course to meet most of the Millennium Development Goal targets – particularly those surrounding poverty, health, education and gender parity.

Cape Verde has experienced one of the fastest economic growth rates in Africa and as a result, has reduced the number of islanders living in absolute poverty and halved the amount of families eating less than the minimum dietary requirement.

The modernisation of its health service is still a work in progress, but new hospitals and clinics mean that 76% of Cape Verdean families now live within half an hour of medical assistance. By doubling the number of births attended by professionals, increasing vaccinations and improving facilities for pregnant women, under-five mortality was reduced from 57 deaths per 1,000 births in 1995, to 21 in 2010. Life expectancy, which was 52 years in 1960, is now at 75, the third highest in Africa.

Investment was also made in education, leading to a 90% attendance rate in primary schools. The success is partly due to a nationwide free school-dinners programme, which discourages parents from keeping children at home – where they may not have anything to eat – as well as providing a precious source of nutrition. “This is a strong investment in the future,” said the country’s prime minister, José Maria Neves.

Gender disparity in Cape Verdean schools has also been eliminated. In fact, the attendance of girls is higher than that of boys. University facilities are also expanding, with the country aiming to prevent a migration of skills and make it easier for young entrepreneurs to set up in business. The government’s decision to insert human rights education into the curriculum is one of the most significant steps forward, embodying free speech into the fabric of the nation. Following this, the independent watchdog organisation, Freedom House, declared Cape Verde the “best democracy” in the sub-Saharan region, while Transparency International ranked it the third least corrupt country in Africa, behind Botswana and Mauritius.

Only 60 years ago, these ten islands were among the most destitute places in Africa. The country’s shift to middle-income status means Cape Verde no longer falls under Least Developed Country classification and will not qualify for the associated financial assistance. This will bring new challenges, but as African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka pointed out during an official visit in 2010: “Here is evidence that no matter how bad the initial conditions, with good governance, solid institutions, and a peaceful political and social climate, take off is possible.”