Cape Verde

Cape Verde (or Cabo Verde as the nation now prefers to be called) is located on an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the West coast of Guinea-Bissau. The first permanent settlers of the island chain were Portuguese explorers who are believed to have settled there in 1462 [i] [ii] . Historically, the archipelago was used as a stop-over for enslaved people being transported across the Atlantic, and for supply ships going to the Portuguese colonies. Cape Verde remained under Portuguese rule until 1975 [iii], when it was officially declared independent. Attempts at creating a unified state with Guinea-Bissau were abandoned in the 1980s [iv]

Since 1991 Cape Verde has been a multi-party democracy, with a change in their ruling party in several elections. In the African context the country is known for its political pluralism and stability [v] . In 2013 Cape Verde changed its official name in the UN General Assembly to Cabo Verde.

Early Settlements

The early settlement in Cape Verde by Arab and African fishermen has only been related through oral history, and remains a part of the mythological stories of origin of the archipelago. It is generally agreed that the Islands where uninhabited when the Portuguese first landed in 1456 [vi] . Several explorers have been credited with being the first Europeans to discover Cape Verde: Diogo Gomes, Diogo Dias, Diogo Alfonso, and Alvise Cadamosto [vii] . It was António de Noli, however, who was credited with the discovery by the King of Portugal, King Alfonso V. António de Noli was an Italian sailor from Genoa and was later appointed Governor of the Cape Verde archipelago [viii].

Cape Verde was the first European colony in a tropical climate [ix] and could be considered as the starting point of Portugal's colonial Empire. The first settlement on Cape Verde was founded in 1462 (30 years before Columbus arrived in the Americas) and it was called Ribeira Grande.

Cape Verdean Society under Portuguese rule

In the first centuries of Portuguese rule in Cape Verde, the archipelago was not seen as a colony but rather as an extension of Portugal [x] . This meant that there was little animosity between the residents of Cape Verde and the Portuguese authorities.  While the Portuguese colonisers attempted to establish an economy based on plantations, efforts were never an economic success as the dry climate was not conducive to growing sugar or cotton.

Slavery and the transatlantic slave trade was therefore the core of the Cape Verdean economy, and Cape Verde was a trading post for enslaved people coming from Guinea-Bissau and going to Brazil.  Cape Verde was strategically placed between Africa and the Americas for becoming a supply port for the transatlantic slave trade; both Portuguese and foreign ships would use the islands for refilling supplies. Because of the transnational impact of the slave trade, Cape Verde became a culturally diverse society [xi] [xii].  A number of the enslaved people who were brought to Cape Verde would remain there, forced to work in the agricultural sector on Cape Verdean plantations. Others would have a short stay on the archipelago during which they would be culturally and materially prepared for the working and living conditions in other Portuguese colonies. Although the enslaved people retained many of their African cultural traditions, creolisation saw the construction of cultures that fused European and African cultural traditions and languages. This creolisation would powerfully shape the cultural and linguistic traditions of Cape Verde [xiii]

Although the official language was Portuguese it was at this time that the Cape Verde creole language ‘Kriolu’ became one of the most commonly spoken languages in the area [xiv] . The Kriolu language was also spoken in Guinea-Bissau and would become a tool for the two countries’ shared struggle for liberation from the Portuguese Empire. [xv]

In 1807 the British government passed the Abolition of Slave Act, abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire, and while this did not end slavery it severely reduced the demand for slaves and made the actual transatlantic slave trade illegal [xvi]. This legislation would have a great impact on the Cape Verde, as the slave trade had been a central part of the Cape Verdean economy [xvii]. The end of the slave trade meant an end to much of the economic activity on Cape Verde and the archipelago was increasingly ignored by the Portuguese mainland. Supplies were not brought in as often as before and starvation became commonplace, causing people to emigrate to other countries. Whalers from the United States of America also used Cape Verde as a supply base at the time, resulting in many young Cape Verdian men seeking employment on whaling ships and emigrating to the United States when the ships returned home.

The last 50 years of the 1800s was a period of decline for Cape Verde. By the 1840s the transatlantic slave trade was in steep decline. [xviii] The end of the slave trade resulted in the archipelago becoming increasingly insignificant as a supply base. In addition Portugal was no longer providing sufficient supplies and materials to the inhabitants of Cape Verde, an omission that created discontent towards the Portuguese authorities [xix]

Struggle for Independence

The neglect of Cape Verde by Portugal continued into the first half of the 1900s. Cape Verde was plagued by natural disasters and food shortages, which Portugal did little to mitigate [xx] . In 1926 a totalitarian regime assumed power in Portugal, an event that caused increasing discontent towards Portuguese rule in Cape Verde. This discontent gave rise to the formation of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), founded on 19 September 1956 [xxi].

Comprising a small chain of islands with a small population, Cape Verde was not a particularly strategic location for the type of protracted guerrilla warfare that had been waged in other Portuguese colonies [xxii] . The people involved in the struggle for independence realised that they needed to be connected to the struggles on mainland Portuguese colonies if they were to stand a chance of gaining independence. Since Cape Verde had a better education system than the other Portuguese African colonies it was used to train colonial administrators who would work in various parts of the Portuguese Empire. This meant that in the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau, there were many Cape Verdean administrators and workers. When Guinea-Bissau launched their independence movement, Cape Verdeans were a core part of that group [xxiii]

PAIGC was therefore formed as a party working for the independence of both countries [xxiv] . One of the founders of PAIGC, Amilcar Cabral, was born of Cape Verdean parents, but lived in Guinea-Bissau [xxv] . The PAIGC launched a program of unity between Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, with Cabral arguing that this would enable Cape Verde to simultaneously fight for its own independence and would prevent the colony from moving further under Portuguese control [xxvi] . In 1973 Cabral was assassinated by a Guinean man as part of a plot engineered by the Portuguese secret services [xxvii] , and the concept of unity espoused by Cabral and the PAIGC elite that had proved useful during the liberation struggle failed to take root in the two countries after independence.

The PAIGC would wage a guerrilla war against the Portuguese authorities, but none of the fighting took place in Cape Verde. Some scholars argue that Cape Verde's later success in establishing a democracy was aided by the absence of actual fighting in the country. The PAIGC would only become active on Cape Verdean territory after the April 1974 revolution in Portugal which toppled the authoritarian regime in the country. The fall of the Portuguese dictatorship paved the way for independence for Portugal's colonial possessions in Africa. In 1975 Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau declared independence from Portugal and Aristides Maria Pereira became the first president of Cape Verde.

Cape Verde after Independence

Cape Verde had a national election which elected a national assembly on 30 June 1975. Cape Verde's precarious situation as an island state in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean led the national assembly to declare the country neutral in the Cold War. Cape Verde maintained good relations with both the U.S.A and Soviet Union during the entirety of the Cold War, and the country never accommodated any foreign military presence as a part of its strict adherence to neutrality.

After a military coup in Guinea-Bissau in 1980 [xxviii] the last remnants of unity between it and Cape Verde disappeared. The PAIGC split into two, with one faction forming the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) which took power in Cape Verde. This split ended the attempts to form a unifiied state between Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde [xxix] . The PAICV and the PAIGC were both dedicated to bringing socialism to the country through slow and pragmatic reforms. A Lisbon-educated grouping in the government of Cape Verde propogated more radical socialist reforms and broke off from the rest of the party in what is known as the “Trotskyite crisis”. Freedom of the press and other civil rights were reduced because of the tensions that followed this political crisis and in 1980, the  PAICV declared Cape Verde a one party state [xxx].  Parliamentary elections continued, however, and in 1985 several independent candidates were elected on the PAICV lists, including the future leader of the Movement for Democracy (MPD), Carlos Veiga. After the 1985 parliamentary elections pressure mounted in favour of a multi-party elections. 

The fall of the Soviet bloc and the subsequent wave of democratisation in Eastern European states ignited a global drive for democratic reform. Some scholars argue that many leaders in Cape Verde viewed these reforms as beneficial for attracting European and American donors.

In January 1991 the first multi-party parliamentary elections were held in Cape Verde [xxxi]. That same year dissidents within the PAICV (such as those involved in the “Trotskyite crisis” of 1978 -79) joined together with the independent candidates on the PAICV lists and formed the Movimento para Democracia (MPD) [xxxii] . The MPD won the election with 62% of the vote and landed a majority in parliament. Carlos Vega was elected prime minister by parliament, and later that year the MPD candidate, António Mascarenhas Monteiro, won the presidential elections with 73% of the vote.

In 2013 Cape Verde submitted a request to the United Nations for the country to be called Cabo Verde in all languages, as this is what the country is called in Portuguese [xxxiii] . The request specifically stated that the name is not to be translated when used in an official capacity.[xxxiv]

End Notes

[i] Diffey, Bailey W. and Winius, George D. 1977. Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415-1580. Ontario:University of Minnesota Press. Page 469.

[ii] Halter, Marilyn. 2013. ‘Cape Verdeans and Cape Verdean Americans, 1870-1940’ in Immigrants in American History: Arrival, Adaptation, and Integration, Volume 1. Barkan, Elliott Robert (eds). 2013. ABC-CLIO Publisher.  Page 269.

[iii] Meyns, Peter. 2013. ‘Cape Verde: An African Exception’ in Journal of Democracy, Volume 13, Number 3, July 2002, pp. 153-165 (Article).Page 154.

[iv] Ibid,,156.

[v] Baker, Bruce. 2006. ‘Cape Verde: the most democratic nation in Africa?’in The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Dec., 2006), pp. 493-511. Cambridge University Press. Page 493.

[vi] Halter, Marilyn. 2013. ‘Cape Verdeans and Cape Verdean Americans, 1870-1940’ in Immigrants in American History: Arrival, Adaptation, and Integration, Volume 1. Barkan, Elliott Robert (eds). 2013. ABC-CLIO Publisher.  Page 269.

[vii] Diffey, Bailey W. and Winius, George D. 1977. Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415-1580. Ontario:University of Minnesota Press.

[viii] Ibid., 107.

[ix] Ibid., 111.

[x] Halter, Marilyn. 2013. ‘Cape Verdeans and Cape Verdean Americans, 1870-1940’ in Immigrants in American History: Arrival, Adaptation, and Integration, Volume 1. Barkan, Elliott Robert (eds). 2013. ABC-CLIO Publisher.  Page 269.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Almeida, Miguel Vale de. 2007. ‘From Miscegenation to Creole Identity: Portuguese Colonialism, Brazil, Cape Verde’ in Charles Stewart (ed). Creolization: History, Ethnography, Theory. Charles Stewart (eds). Left Coast Press.

[xiii] Ibid., 270.

[xiv] Ibid., 270.

[xv] Meyns, Peter. 2013. ‘Cape Verde: An African Exception’ in Journal of Democracy, Volume 13, Number 3, July 2002, pp. 153-165 (Article).Page 154.

[xvi] Rawley, James. A., with Behrendt, Stephen D. 2005. The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. Page 147.

[xvii] Halter, Marilyn. 2013. ‘Cape Verdeans and Cape Verdean Americans, 1870-1940’ in Immigrants in American History: Arrival, Adaptation, and Integration, Volume 1. Barkan, Elliott Robert (eds). 2013. ABC-CLIO Publisher.  Page 270.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Loban, Richard and Mendy, Peter Karibe. 2013. Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, Scarecrow Press, Page 305

[xxii] Meyns, Peter. 2013. ‘Cape Verde: An African Exception’ in Journal of Democracy, Volume 13, Number 3, July 2002, pp. 153-165 (Article).Page 154.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Ibid., 156.

[xxix] Ibid., 156.

[xxx] Baker, Bruce. 2006. ‘Cape Verde: the most democratic nation in Africa?’in The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Dec., 2006), pp. 493-511. Cambridge University Press. Page 494.

[xxxi] Meyns, Peter. 2013. ‘Cape Verde: An African Exception’ in Journal of Democracy, Volume 13, Number 3, July 2002, pp. 153-165 (Article).Page 158.

[xxxii] Ibid,

[xxxiii] Lima, Antonio Pedro Monteiro. 2013. ‘Request for United Nations General Assembly: Change of Name Cape Verde’. United Nations inter-office memorandum to Mr. Tegegnework Gettu in the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management. 29 October 2013.

[xxxiv] Ibid.


References:
• Almeida, Miguel Vale de. 2007. ‘From Miscegenation to Creole Identity: Portuguese Colonialism, Brazil, Cape Verde’ in Charles Stewart (ed). Creolization: History, Ethnography, Theory. Charles Stewart (eds). Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.
• Baker, Bruce. 2006. ‘Cape Verde: the most democratic nation in Africa?’in The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Dec., 2006), pp. 493-511. Cambridge University Press.
• Diffey, Bailey W. and Winius, George D. 1977. Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415-1580. Ontario:University of Minnesota Press.
• Halter, Marilyn. 2013. ‘Cape Verdeans and Cape Verdean Americans, 1870-1940’ in Immigrants in American History: Arrival, Adaptation, and Integration, Volume 1. Barkan, Elliott Robert (eds). 2013. Oxford: ABC-CLIO Publisher.
• Lima, Antonio Pedro Monteiro. 2013. ‘Request for United Nations General Assembly: Change of Name Cape Verde’. United Nations inter-office memorandum to Mr. Tegegnework Gettu in the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management. 29 October 2013.
• Loban, Richard and Mendy, Peter Karibe. 2013. Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press.
• Meyns, Peter. 2013. ‘Cape Verde: An African Exception’ in Journal of Democracy, Volume 13, Number 3, July 2002, pp. 153-165 (Article).
• Rawley, James. A., with Behrendt, Stephen D. 2005. The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. 

Last updated : 06-May-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 19-Feb-2016