Europe with Soul — Cape Verde

Praia, the capital of the Cape Verde Islands, was one of those stops on our cruise that that I thought of as kind of a place holder between Africa and home.  I knew three things about the islands, they were a stop for Yankee whalers on the way around Cape Horn (given winds and currents it was often easier to cross the Atlantic twice in order to get to the Pacific from Nantucket), they used to belong to Portugal and they had the Kriol Jazz Festival, one of the top jazz festivals in the world.

After a day on the main island of Santiago I was asking myself “Is there a media development project here and can I run it?”  The only other place I’ve fallen in love with so quickly is Sitka.  The whole place charmed me, the mix of cultures, the easy going no hassle vibe, the clean streets, volcanic mountains reaching to the sea all appealed to me.  It didn’t hurt that it was in the mid-70s with a nice breeze.  It’s Africa with a touch of Europe.  It is a member of the African Union but there is some talk about whether it is eligible to join the OSCE.  As we sat in a café listening to bands rehearse for the evening Jazz Festival performance I thought, “This is Africa — but it’s also Europe with soul.”

We got off the ship late, after all the bus tours left, I didn’t want to get off in that crush.  We took a cab along the coast and over a mountain to the old capital Cidade Velha, and then back to the current capital, Praia where we wandered and sat in cafes to watch the world pass by.

The islands had no population until the Portuguese discovered them (and here I will not use quotes around discovered) in the mid-15th century.  The current population is made up of Portuguese, African, Berber and others who have wandered this direction. (Later on the web I found that Cape Verde’s gene pool was better than 50% European in the male line and better than 50% African on the female.)  It’s a delightful mix of cultures, and being an immigrant society it has escaped much of the tribalism affects the politics of other African nations.  And having no important natural resources (no oil or exploitable minerals) it escaped the trap of petroleum that leads countries to corruption and lopsided development.  Cape Verde is a stable multi-party democracy, in fact it is ranked 23 among the world’s nations in the Freedom House Freedom Index.   It is ranked #1 in Africa and number 48 in the world in the freedom of press index.  (It ranks it higher than the US, the UK and France.)  I guess they don’t need our help in media development or democratization.

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