Democ­racy in an African ar­chi­pel­ago

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL - BY HENRY SREBRNIK GUEST OPIN­ION Henry Srebrnik is a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

Cape Verde, the small archipelagic coun­try 500 kilo­me­tres off the west coast of Sene­gal, may be the best coun­try in Africa for civil lib­er­ties and po­lit­i­cal rights.

Com­pris­ing 10 is­lands and five islets, with a pop­u­la­tion of 505,000, the unique geog­ra­phy and his­tory of this for­mer Por­tuguese colony have played a key role in fa­cil­i­tat­ing good gover­nance, and an open and non-vi­o­lent so­ci­ety.

Civil and po­lit­i­cal rights are en­shrined in the con­sti­tu­tion and widely re­spected in prac­tice. The coun­try has a free press and de­cent lev­els of health care, with a life ex­pectancy of 72 years for men and 80 for women. The lit­er­acy rate stands at close to 90 per cent.

Por­tuguese func­tions as a state lan­guage but Cape Verdean Kri­olo is spo­ken by vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one. The pop­u­la­tion is, as one writer put it, nei­ther African nor Por­tuguese but an ad­mix­ture of both. The coun­try re­tains close ties with Por­tu­gal and its cur­rency is linked to the euro. Some have even sug­gested join­ing the Euro­pean Union.

Cape Verde was claimed by Por­tuguese sailors in the 15th cen­tury. Un­in­hab­ited un­til then, it be­came a plan­ta­tion econ­omy and a cen­tre for the slave trade. En­slaved Africans and Por­tuguese con­victs were brought to the is­lands to work as agri­cul­tural field hands.

Cape Verde be­came an im­por­tant com­mer­cial hub be­tween the Amer­i­cas, Africa and Europe. Other groups, in­clud­ing Arabs, Dutch, French, and Jews, set­tled and were ab­sorbed into the mixed pop­u­la­tion.

In 1956, the African Party for the In­de­pen­dence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), was founded by the na­tion­al­ist leader Amil­car Cabral. Fol­low­ing a pro­tracted na­tional war of lib­er­a­tion, the two Por­tuguese colonies at­tained in­de­pen­dence as one state in 1975.

But the mar­riage of Por­tu­gal’s ed­u­cated Cape Verde pop­u­la­tion with the un­der­de­vel­oped main­land of what be­came Guinea-Bis­sau was never go­ing to last, and they went their sep­a­rate ways after a bloody coup in the lat­ter in 1980. Guinea-Bis­sau is vir­tu­ally a failed state to­day.

On Cape Verde, the rul­ing party, which was re­named the PAICV, re­mained the sole le­gal po­lit­i­cal party from 1980 un­til 1990, when the con­sti­tu­tion was amended to le­galise op­po­si­tion par­ties. Though a one-party state com­mit­ted to ide­o­log­i­cal so­cial­ism un­til then, the rul­ing party had set up an ef­fec­tive and largely non-cor­rupt and prag­matic ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­ture.

With the com­ing of mul­ti­party pol­i­tics, the Move­ment for Democ­racy (MpD) was formed. It won the 1991 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, with An­to­nio Mas­caren­has Monteiro de­feat­ing Aris­tides Pereira, who had been in power since in­de­pen­dence. It also de­feated the PAICV in that year’s par­lia­men­tary bal­lot­ing.

This was fol­lowed by vic­to­ries in the Na­tional Assem­bly elec­tions of I995 and the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion of 1996, with Monteiro re-elected.

In 2001, how­ever, weak­ened by in­ter­nal strug­gles, the MpD lost to a re­ju­ve­nated PAICV, with Pe­dro Pires de­feat­ing Car­los Veiga for the pres­i­dency. The 2006 elec­tion re­peated that re­sult be­tween the same two men. The MpD re­gained con­trol of the ex­ec­u­tive branch in 2011, with Jorge Car­los Fon­seca beat­ing Manuel Ino­cen­cio Sousa. Fon­seca was re-elected in 2016, with 74.08 per cent of the vote, when the PAICV failed to present a can­di­date. He eas­ily beat two in­de­pen­dents, Joaquim Monteiro and Al­bertino Graca.

Though the PAICV had re­mained the largest party in par­lia­ment in 2011, it lost con­trol of the leg­isla­tive branch to the MpD as well in 2016.

Given the cre­olized na­ture of the pop­u­la­tion, dis­agree­ments be­tween the par­ties re­volve around prag­matic eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal is­sues, since there are no dis­tinct eth­nic­i­ties on the is­lands.

In terms of in­sti­tu­tional sup­port, anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests that the Ro­man Catholic Church in Cape Verde, to which most peo­ple be­long, prefers the MpD, while unions back the PAICV.

The es­sen­tially un­trou­bled trans­fer of power in elec­tions over the last 27 years in­di­cates that the na­tion has, by and large, con­fi­dence in its elec­toral in­sti­tu­tions.

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