My belief is that a nation is more important than any of its daughters or sons
Twenty-two years after completing my fellowship at the Humphrey Center of the School of Public Affairs, I feel delighted and grateful to come back to where we are “driven to discover”, the University of Minnesota.
I come from a recent African country: the Cape Verde Islands. I grew up during the period following the Second World War, and it so happened that my life progressed in parallel with that of my country. I can even say that my adulthood began with my people fighting for its national independence. These special and unique circumstances are, probably, the ones that led me to today, standing in front of you, receiving this award.
Before I continue, you must know that my belief is that a nation is more important than any of its daughters or sons. And that is why, instead of merely talking about my personal journey, I will somehow try to talk about it by describing Cape Verde’s experience.
The independent Cape Verde is a story of four decades of success and tremendous challenges
An independent Cape Verde is a story of four decades of success, with daunting challenges today and for the future. To accomplish my task with honesty and efficiency, I shall present Cape Verde’s various dimensions, shedding some light on its main achievements and biggest challenges.
In a general analysis, which includes politics, economy, health, education, culture, religion, science and technology, indeed, the balance of the 40 years nation-wide experience is remarkably positive. And this verdict has not yet been contested. Admittedly the devil is in the details, as probably will become clear, but the results of the country are beyond reasonable doubt.
In a political dimension, six specific years stand out because of their impact both in the past and for the future:
1975: year of independence from Portugal
1980 (five years later): first constitution
1990 (fifteen years on): change from one-party to multiparty rule
1991/2001: alternations in government and consolidation of democracy
1992: New constitution of the Republic.
But I also note six remaining deficits in the Cape Verdean democracy:
we lack our own systematic analyses, instead largely relying on those of others;
we are afraid to tell hard truths, with political parties contributing to the creation and maintenance of a culture of posturing;
we lack a model of political organization that gives equal voice to all parts of the territory; this is a challenge in an archipelago consisting of very different islands like Cape Verde;
regarding good governance or corruption, we should not limit comparison to worse achievers;
we are dazzled by the formal democracy we have achieved, while neglecting to work on improvements.
In the economic domain Cape Verde’s landmarks are:
First fifteen years (1975-1990) of planned economy and viability of the rule of law
Since 2004, Cape Verde has been transitioning to a middle-income country category
Has been continuously achieving human capital development
Has a constantly increasing income per capita.
But the country still suffers from:
Weak expansion of the economy
Sharp rise in unemployment
High public debt ratio (114% of GDP)
Increase in urban-rural disparities
Increase in social inequality.
In terms of social welfare, Cape Verde has made substantial progress regarding the millennium development goals, as reflected in its transition out of the group of least developed countries. Generally speaking, politics, economics and solidarity came together in Cape Verde and the result was human development. However, it should be kept in mind that about a quarter of Cape Verde’s population lives in poverty, and education and health are far from being achieved by all. Social security still has a long way to go in order to become universal and sustainable.
In the cultural and religious domain, in a manner of speaking, the Cape Verdean people were reborn with national independence. Cape Verdeans built happiness on formal democracy and set out to establish an orchestra for the future, which will have the voices and instruments of all the islands. Yet, while it is good to be creative, it is also not enough. Here the gaps may be not visible, but to me, it is clear that we also need better management of expectations, hopes, and innovations. It is indisputable that democracy is the basis but this needs to be strengthened by accountability. Therefore the cultural sector needs more rigorous management in order to gain more credibility and effectiveness.
Also thanks to independence, the Catholic Church regained humility and renewed itself with a more than ecumenical vision to include philosophies and religious and non-religious ways of life, based on humanism and peace. Later in this transformation process, new immigrants arrived and, with them, their cultures and religions. We do not know how the fusion of cultures and religions will go, but we do know that the history of Cape Verde is made of integration, to which neither Christians nor Jews, nor Muslims have resisted. Creolisation is a national asset that we must nourish.
In terms of science and technology, an autonomous society and one that has the ambition to think by itself and to sell in order to buy, requires good education, i.e., scientifically and ethically prepared and qualified people. Therefore, investment in science and technology is a long-term issue, and one requiring a new national strategic vision and a pact of regime.
In conclusion, the following can be said about the Cape Verde islands:
The past 40 years have radically changed the nation. However, the problems yet to be resolved are many and the stakes are high.
Imagine how development would accelerate come the day when political parties decide to tell voters the truth, and only the truth. More so, what would happen if instead of thinking about how to get re-elected, the elected tried to fulfill their election promises. You know this!
And what if we spent the little public money we have on implementing the results of assessments and summits rather than repeating them?
Who, in civil society, in the private sector, in public administration has questions to raise or feels free to raise them? I ask, because apparently everything is fine.
The review of Cape Verde’s political and economic strategy for the medium and long-term requires the end of the ambiguity between regional integration and globalization, the effective inclusion of migrants, patriotism, courage and more cooperation from citizens and political parties.
More than a signal the award is a powerful symbol
This award could be interpreted as a signal of strength of the virtuous cooperation triangle: governments – private sectors – academia and civil societies of both countries. An example of this cooperation, is the fact that, 10 days ago in Washington DC (Nov. 02), Cape Verde became an “ancor state”, which means an African special partner for the US, with Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal. The context is the regular partnership dialogue reestablished.
My experience and career tell a story of Cape Verde as a country of origin and the US, and many other nations, as destinations for Cape Verdean migrants. My time in the US as a Humphrey Fellow allowed me to continue further on the path of personal and professional development, which, as we have seen, is intimately tied to the trajectory of Cape Verde.
Your letter informing me about winning the 2015 University of Minnesota Distinguished Leadership Award for Internationals is a powerful symbol that gives an opportunity to reflect on individual Humphrey fellows own experience, on their countries, and on the Humphrey Program itself. Please do so.
Our special thanks to Ignez Schuh, and our good friend Ed Schuh, in memoriam; also to Prof. Brian Atwood; Dean Eric Schwartz, Sharon Anderson, her Team and Fellows; Ambassadors of the US in Praia, Nhudé and Francis Thierry McNamara (1993), and Donald Heflin (2015). Last, not the least, welcome to our beloved American family, Joan and Dave. Many, many thanks to the organizers Nkayo, Pepe and Sherry. We dedicate this talk to all Cape Verdean Freedom Fighters and their friends in the United States of America.
The Twin Cities, Minnesota, 2015. 11. 11