The history of Cape Verde

According to official sources, Cape Verde was discovered in 1460 by Italian and Portuguese navigators. When these first explorers arrived on the islands, they were uninhabited, which was favourable for their occupation and settlement as from 1462. In that same period, they founded the city of Ribeira Grande on the island of Santiago (now Cidade Velha). For the construction, native slaves were brought from the West African coast. Hence, Cape Verde started to function as a commercial and strategic warehouse, particularly in the slave traffic between the Americas, Europe and Africa. Soon, the archipelago became a centre of concentration and dispersion of men, plants and animals.

Later, other explorers also landed in Cape Verde, like Charles Darwin, a naturalist scientist who arrived in the islands in 1932. He carried out some studies on his evolutionary theories, using as reference, certain types of plants and animals found only in climatic conditions similar to that of Cape Verde. To go deeper, visit his story on the website Darwin Online.

Sir Francis Drake, English corsair, plundered the city of Ribeira Grande de Santiago 3 times between 1576 to 1586. Until 1747, the islands remained under Portuguese rule and prospered until the arrival of the most severe droughts and, consequently, the famine. Overexploitation of livestock and fierce deforestation did nothing but make things worse, preventing the low residual moisture in the soil from fertilizing the fields.

Famine and drought have occurred several times in the archipelago between 1580 and 1950, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of people, the two worst of which occurred between 1941-43 and 1947-48 thus decimating more than 45,000 lives. At the time of the incident, Portugal did not send any aid. The local economy was based mainly on the slave trade, which suffered a more pronounced decline in the late 19th century, leading the country to move to a different and more modern economic activity, based on agriculture and fishing.

Between 1800 and 1900, many Cape Verdeans emigrated to the United States, attracted by the American dream and the practice of some American whalers in recruiting sailors from the islands of Fogo and Brava. At the end of the 18th century, the islands became an important point in the Atlantic for the supply of coal, water and animals, thus requesting an increasing expansion of maritime transport. However, during the first half of the 20th century, the drought continued and Portugal remained indifferent.

Thousands of people died of hunger. Although at that time Cape Verdeans were mistreated by their rulers, some were privileged with education (unlike other Portuguese colonies in Africa) when the first high school was established. At the time of the declaration of independence, about 30% of the population was literate, compared to 5% of other Portuguese colonies. From 1960, Guinea-Bissau had started the longest war of liberation in Africa that Cape Verdeans also took part in, against the Portuguese dictator, Salazar.

Cape Verde became independent in 1975 and despite never having lived a single day of the war in the archipelago, it participated a lot in the process of decolonization of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. In 1980, despite the mild climate and the doubling of plantations, the drought still persisted. This led the country to seek international aid for food supplies.

Finally, in 1991, there were the first multiparty elections and the MPD (Movement for Democracy) party won with 70% of the votes, under the leadership of Carlos Veiga as prime minister and António Monteiro, president of the Republic. Both were re-elected the following year with the new Constitution. In the early 1990s, there were some divisions within the party (because of slow economic growth due to drought), until 1995, when the party was re-elected in the country.

A new president and a new prime minister were elected in 2001, returning the African Party for the independence of Cape Verde (PAICV, opposition party) to power. In 2002, for the first time, the government asked the United Nations for food aid due to the new drought. About 160,000 people were saved from hunger by the world food program in 2003. Some countries and organizations such as Portugal, France, the Netherlands, the World Bank and ECOWAS contributed strongly to finance some of the policy projects of the then-new Prime Minister José Maria Neves.

The strong investment in tourism, with the construction of necessary infrastructures (for example, international airports, ports and highways), expansion of construction plans and agricultural land, as well as an adjusted economic policy in fishing and tourism started to bring growth and well-being in Cape Verde, which had recently been discovered by tour operators around the world and reinforced by substantial private investments.

The future of the country is in the hands of young Cape Verdeans and of good politics: if the first has not been influenced too much by globalization, the second will be able to mediate between development and sustainability, Cape Verde is destined to become one of the most desired destinations of the world.