Cape Verde

All About Cape Verde

Cape Verde

The Republic of Cape Verde, an island country, covers an island chain of 15 islands located in the central Atlantic. It sits 570 km off Western Africa. The island’s area is approximately 4,000 sq. km. They are of volcanic origin. Three are sandy, flat, and dry but the remaining ones are rocky. Rainfall is infrequent. The name derives from Cap Vert, on the Senegalese coast.

The Portuguese discovered and colonized the previously uninhabited islands in the 15th century. It became an important part of the slave trade due to its location. At several times, pirates like Sir Francis Drake attacked the islands. In the 1580s its capital at the time, Ribeira Grande, was taken twice. In 1832, Charles Darwin’s voyage visited. An economic crisis occurred when the slave trade declined in the 1800s. The islands had few resources and little Portuguese investment. This lack of support and Portugal’s refusal to give autonomy led to discontent. It culminated in 1975 when Amilcar Cabral led the country to independence.

The islands’ estimated population is approximately 530,000. The capital, Praia, accounts for a quarter of this. Cape Verde has been a developing nation since 2007.

Many migrated to Europe, the Americas, and other African countries during the tough economic conditions following independence. So many left the country that there are more citizens living abroad than in the country itself. Money being sent from citizens abroad has strengthened the economy. The economy is focuses on tourism and foreign investment.


Italian and Portuguese sailors discovered the islands around 1456. Portuguese records show Antonio de Noli, who was later appointed governor, discovered the islands. Other navigators, Diogo Gomes, Diogo Afonso, and Alvise Cadamosto, contributed to discoveries.

The islands were not inhabited before Europeans arrived. Portuguese settlers arrived in 1462 and founded Riveira Grande. This was the first permanent European settlement in a tropical area.

Throughout the 16th century, the area benefitted from the slave trade. This led to pirate attacks, like Sur Francis Drake’s sacking of Ribeira Grande in 1585. In 1712, the French attacked. The town then declined and Praia became the capital in 1770.

Cape Verde’s prosperity declined along with the slave trade. The islands still had a good location for ship resupply. As a result, Mindelo was an important 19th century commercial center. To stop nationalism, Portugal changed the Islands’ status from a colony to an oversea province in 1951. In 1956, a group of Cape Verdeans, led by Amilcar Cabral, organized the African Party of the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). The party demanded social, political, and economic improvement in Guinea and Cape Verde. The party also was the basis for both colonies’ independence movements. The PAIGC began rebellion against the Portuguese in 1961 from Conakry, Guinea. Sabotage led to war. The PAIGC was supported by the Soviet Union and had 10,000 troops. Portuguese and African troops numbered 35,000.

By 1972, most of Guinea was controlled by the PAIGC. The group had not attempted to disrupt Portugal’s control over Cape Verde. In 1974, Portuguese Guinea earned its independence. A revolution occurred in Portugal in April 1974, leading the PAIGC to become active in Cape Verde. An agreement was signed between the two sides in December 1974 to begin a transitional government. Cape Verdeans elected a National Assembly on June 30, 1975. That body received independence from Portugal formally on July 5, 1975.

The 1980 coup in Guinea-Bissau strained relations between those two countries. This led Cape Verde to give up on unification and form the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). Since, relations between the countries have improved. The PAICV ruled Cape Verde as a one-party system until 1990.

In February 1990, the PAICV responded to calls for more parties by convening an emergency congress to discuss the issue. The Movement for Democracy (MPD) formed in 1990 out of the opposition to contest the planned presidential election in December 1990. On September 28, 1990, the one-party state was ended and multi-party elections took place in January 1991. The MPD won a majority of the parliament’s seats. The PAICV presidential candidate lost to Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro, the MPD candidate by an overwhelming majority. In 1995, elections increased the MPD’s legislative majority, winning 50 of 72 seats. President Monteiro was reelected in 1996. The PAICV won the majority of the National Assembly seats in 2001. In 2001, Pedro Pires, the PAICV candidate, won the presidency by only 13 votes.


Located in the Atlantic Ocean 570 km from Africa’s west coast, Cape Verde is part of the Macaronesia region. Its horseshow shaped island cluster has an area of 4,033 sq. km.

The islands are divided geographically into two groups: (1) The windward islands of Santo Antao, Sao Vicente, Santa Luzia, Sao Nicolau, Sal, and Boa Vista and (2) the leeward islands of Maio, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava. Santiago is the largest in size and population. Praia, the capital, is on Santiago.

The islands’ structures, based on magnetic anomalies, date to 125 million to 150 million years ago. The actual islands themselves are from 8 million to 20 million years old. The oldest rocks found are pillow lavas dating to 128-131 million years old. In the early Miocene, volcanism began. It peaked at the end of the period. The volcanism originated in a hotspot forming in the Cape Verde rise. This is one of the largest swells in the world, rising 2.2 km in a partial circle of 1,200 sq. km.

The largest active volcano, Pico do Fogo, most recently erupted in 1995. Its caldera is 8km across with a 1,600 rim. The interior cone is 2,829 m (9.281 ft) above sea level.

Igneous rocks are what primarily make up the islands. Pyroclastic debris and volcanic structures are most of the archipelago’s volume. Salt flats sit on Sal and Maio islands. Arid slopes on Santiago, Santo Antao, and Sao Nicolau change in places to banana plantations or sugar cane fields.


Since it is surrounded by the sea, Cape Verde’s climate is milder than most of Africa’s. Temperatures are generally moderate. The country is part of the Sahelian arid belt and its rainfall is just above the amount needed to qualify it as a desert.

Cape Verde has a number of endemic species due to its isolation. This includes birds and reptiles that are threatened with extinction. Birds include Bourne’s Heron, Alexander’s Swift, the Raso Lark, the Iago Sparrow, and the Cape Verde Warbler. The islands are also an important seabirds breeding area. The Cape Verde Giant Gecko is a local reptile.


Creole is the dominant ethnic group, mixed from European and African descent. Wives and families did not typically come with European settlers. Inter-marriages occurred with female African slaves brought there. The ancestry was revealed to be 57 percent African and 43 percent European in a genetic study.

Christians make up 95 percent of the population with 85 percent Roman Catholic. The Church of the Nazarene is the main Protestant group, but other sects are also present. A small number of Muslims and Baha’i also live in Cape Verde. Less than one percent of the population are atheist.

Portuguese is the official language and is used in government and education. Cape Verdean Creole is the first language of nearly all Cape Verdeans. The dialect varies from island to island. Substantial literature is written in creole and it has been gaining prestige since independence. It has been difficult to standardize the language between the islands. Some advocate two standards, on for the north, and another for the south. The total population is 558,109.


There are more Cape Verdeans living in other countries than live in Cape Verde itself. The United States’ community is approximately 500,000. Other countries with large populations are Portugal, Angola, Sao Tome and Principe, the Netherlands, France, Italy, and Scandinavia. Argentina also has a Cape Verdean population.


Cape Verde’s government is a representative democracy. The constitution was originally adopted in 1980 and was revised in 1992, 1995, and 1999. The head of state is the president who serves five year terms by popular vote. The prime minister appoints government ministers and secretaries. The National Assembly members are elected every five years by popular vote. Three parties are active in government, the MPD, PAICV, and the Cape Verdean Independent Democratic Union (UCID).

The Supreme Court of Justice is made up of members appointed by the president, the National Assembly, and the Board of the Judiciary. There are also regional courts. Different courts hear cases on constitutional, civil, and criminal issues. All are appealed to the Supreme Court.

Cape Verde seeks cooperative relations with all friendly states. Embassies in Praia include Brazil, Angola, the People’s Republic of China, France, Cuba, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Senegal, Russia, and the United States. Cape Verde takes an interest in foreign affairs, particularly those in Africa. Cape Verde has a special partnership status with the European Union and could apply for membership.

Cape Verde’s military consists of a coast guard and the army. Military spending was .7 percent of GDP in 2005.

International organizations have recognized the country as a good example for other African nations. It was ranked highly in evaluations of human development, freedom of the press, corruption, and economic freedom, among others.


Cape Verde has limited fresh water, rainfall, and few natural resources. Only 4 of the 10 islands support agriculture. 90 percent of consumed food is imported. Minerals include salt, limestone, and pozzolana, which is used to make cement. Local wineries are starting to gain international acclaim.

The economy is generally service oriented. Commerce, public serves, and transportation are 70 percent of GDP. Agriculture is only 9 percent of GDP despite significant portions of the population living in rural areas. Shellfish and fish are abundant and some are exported. Expatriates contribute about 20 percent to the economy when money is sent back to Cape Verde.

Market policies have been pursued since 1991. The government welcomes foreign investment. It promotes a market economy and tourism development, fishing, manufacturing, communications, energy, and transportation.


Significant improvements to Mindelo’s Harbor and at airports in Sal and Praia have enhanced the effect of Cape Verde’s strategic location. Two new international airports were recently opened. Mindelo also has ship repair facilities. All inhabited islands have airports and all but Brava have scheduled air service. Of the 3,050 km of roads, 1,010 are paved.

Economic growth will continue to depend on aid, tourism, emigration and remittance, and the development program.

Tourism has grown and hotels have been built across the country. Cape Verde has a low crime rate.

The country linked its currency to Portugal and later to the euro.


Cape Verde shares similar cultures with Africa and Portugal. Social interactions occur at church or football games. Television is broadcast in Cape Verdean and Portuguese.

Music is influenced by Caribbean, African, Portuguese, and Brazilian styles. The morna is the national music. This is a sad, slow song delivered in Cape Verdean Creole. Coladeira is the next most popular genre. Funana and Batuque are also popular. Ildo Lobo is one of the most well-known of the country’s singers. Other musicians are also born to Cape Verdean parents, such as pianist Horace Silver, Paul Gonsalves, and Lura, a singer.

Dance forms include the morna, coladeira, the passada, the Funanam and the Batuque dance.

Cape Verdean literature is very rich with famous poets like Paulino Viera, Manuel de Novas, Sergio Frusoni, Eugenio Tavares, and B. Leza. Famour authors include Antonio Aurelio Goncalves, Baltasar Lopes da Silva, Manual Lopes, Germano Almeida, Orlanda Amarilis, and Henrique Teixeira de Sousa.

The local diet is based on fish, corn, and rice. Other vegetables available are onions, tomatoes, cabbage, potatoes, kale, and beans. Papayas and bananas are eaten year round but mangos and avocados are seasonally available. Cachupa is a popular dish.

There is a Cape Verdean national football team, but other international players are from Cape Verde or born of Cape Verdean parents but play for other teams.

Health and Education

Cape Verde’s infant mortality rate is 24 per 1,000 live births. The overall literacy rate is 83.8 percent. Of the youth, 97.9 percent are literate. For males, the life expectancy is 69. It is 75 years for females.

There is mandatory primary education between ages 6 and 14. School is free for those 6 to 12. 90 percent of school children have textbook access. One problem exists in that many students speak Creole at home and have a poor command of Portuguese. There is also insufficient funding and a high grade-repetition rate.