Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald
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[ISL] The Reluctant Europeanization of Cape Verde

In the past generation, any number of regional propagandists have been enthusiastically discovering new geographical/historical/cultural regions stretching across national and geographical frontiers. The effort to forge new transnational regions seems to me to be part of a concerted effort to undermine the nation-state, at least enough to prevent neighbours from seeing each other as foreign. This works; or, at least, it should work. Take Macaronesia, a relatively shallow region of the North Atlantic Ocean west of the African coast that also includes the Portuguese Azores and Madeira, the Spanish Canaries and the independent archipelago and country of Cape Verde. Atlantean romantics insist that these four archipelagoes are the mountaintops of drowned Atlantis. Serious geologists and biologists know that these islands are of relatively recent volcanic origin and are home to unique ecologies. Regardless, the four Macaronesian archipelagos were discovered in the 14th and 15th centuries by Iberian seafarers.

In many ways, these islands served as prototypes for the colonial societies developed by Europeans following Columbus' discovery of the Americas in 1492. Felipe Fernández-Armesto's 1982 The Canary Islands after the Conquest is an excellent English-language study of Spain's efforts in the Canaries. Of the four archipelagoes, Cape Verde quickly turned out to be the most variant, since its tropical climate made it unsuitable for the replication of the temperate-zone Iberian societies developed elsewhere. Instead, Cape Verde's islands became the first to adopt slave-based sugar plantation models of society and economy, elaborating on the model pioneered in Iberia by both Christians and Muslims and drawing upon an inexhaustible supply of slaves from the nearby African continent.

Cape Verde suffered, neglected by Portugal when that country discovered Brazil and pioneered long-distance trade with Asia. The Cape Verdeans suffered even more, with multiple devastating famines killing huge numbers of Cape Verdeans from the mid-18th century on. Even after the abolition of slavery in 1876, Cape Verde continued to suffer, with racism preventing the relatively well-educated and highly assimilated Cape Verdeans from playing any role in apart from that of a mobile proletariat. In the island of Príncipe, part of the independent insular nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, for instance, descendants of Cape Verdean immigrants make up more than half of the population of Príncipe. Elsewhere in Portugal's vast and ill-governed African empire, educated Cape Verdeans played an important role as an educated working class supplementing the Portuguese, their role being most important in Portuguese Guinea, united with the adjacent Cape Verde islands by political and religious institutuions.

It is, unsurprisingly, a Cape Verdean, the intellectual Amilcar Cabral, who played a leading role in the anti-colonial wars that wracked Portuguese Africa from the 1960s on. Founding the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (English: The African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde), or PAIGC. This party led an effective guerrilla war against the Portuguese, controlling most of the country before Portugal's 1974 Carnation revolution led to Portugal's withdrawal. In the wake of this independence, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau became independent, united by the common rule of the PAIGC and by their rejection of Portugal and Europe. Anti-colonialist and to some degree anti-Western, both countries saw their future lying in a common African orientation.

They decoupled. Guinea-Bissau, densely populated and terribly poor, was always the more difficult of the two countries to manage, with a 1980 coup decisively separating the two countries. Cabral's pan-Africanism remains popular in Cape Verde; pan-African politics, however, couldn't sustain Cape Verde. Cabral himself wrote (Word format) that ordinary people were not fighting against Portugal for abstract ideas but "to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward [and] to guarantee the future of their children." In the 1980s, when West Africa was showing itself of being incapable of replacing Portugal and Europe as a metropole, Cape Verde had to back off from its utopian goals. Material factors predominated.

Right now, Cape Verde is doing reasonably well. The country remains democratic; the society remains pluralistic; the economy, most importantly, continues to experience strong growth thanks to growing foreign investment in tourism and infrastructure, and will shortly gain recognition from the IMF as a middle-income economy. Foreign investment is hardly alone, since remittances from the Cape Verdean diaspora play a crucial role in Cape Verdeans' domestic economies, as Norwegian social scientist Jørgen Carling notes in his 2001 thesis "Aspiration and ability in international migration: Cape Verdean experiences of mobility and immobility" (PDF format).

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Cape Verdean migrants crossed the Atlantic to the United States, along with Southern Europeans. The frequent famines provided a strong motive, and whaling ships from New England provided the means of emigration. In the 1920s the introduction of immigration quotas in the United States led to a redirection of Cape Verdean migration flows to Portugal, West Africa and South America. During the colonial period, there was also an extensive migration of indentured labourers to São Tomé and Príncipe, a Portuguese island colony in the Gulf of Guinea (Carreira 1983, Ishemo 1995).

After Cape Verde had taken part in the transatlantic migration a generation earlier, Cape Verdeans joined the northbound flows of labour migrants to Western Europe in the 1960s. Portugal remained an important destination, primarily because Portuguese emigration to North-Western Europe created a demand for unskilled labour in Portugal. In the first half of the 1980s, almost two thirds of Cape Verdean emigrants were headed for Europe (SEDES 1989). After a century of emigration, ethnic Cape Verdeans in diaspora probably outnumber the 430,000 inhabitants on the islands (Table 2). The number of Cape Verdeans in the United States is very large due to the long history of immigration from Cape Verde, and the figure includes third and fourth generation migrants. Despite the difference in the overall figures, the number of Cape Verdean born migrants is probably smaller in the United States than in Portugal (Carling 1997) (6-7).


Despite significant obstacles set in their way, Cape Verdeans continue to migrate in large numbers to western Europe, forming particularly notable communities in France, the Netherlands, and Italy as well as in the Iberian peninsula, as well as to the United States. The old diaspora communities in Lusophone Africa have faded quickly, owing to the former Portuguese colonies' almost-existential economic crises. By turning to Europe, Carling suggests that the average Cape Verdean household is able to almost double its income. This massive influx of funds is one reason why, despite its poverty, Cape Verde consistently ranks highly on human-development indices like literacy and health care. Cape Verde's doing quite well off of its renewed European orientation.

The logical culmination of Cape Verde's new orientation would be its membership in the European Union. Had federation with metropolitan Portugal on the model of the Azores or Madeira been conceivable back in the 1970s, at present the Cape Verde islands like the rest of Macaronesia would have qualified for massive amounts of EU structural funds as underdeveloped regions, while foreign investment--and migration to "mainland" Europe--would have taken off. In our early 21st century, where Africa's future seems mixed at best, Cape Verde almost has no other choice. Interestingly, former Portuguese president Mário Soares proposed Cape Verde's accession in March.

Mr Soares and Mr Moreira, two of Portugal's main senator, in interviews with 'A Capital' strongly defended an EU membership for Cape Verde on the longer run "for political reasons, rather regarding identity than distance." Cape Verde, they said, was much closer to Europe than for example Turkey.

The two Portuguese senators said they hoped that Durão Barroso, the current President of the European Commission and also a Portuguese citizen, would give his support to this cause. Mr Soares and Mr Moreira assured they would remain "supports and spokesmen" of this project.

- Cape Verde is an excellent platform for relationship between Europe and Africa and also for the strengthening of the organisation of the CPLP [Portuguese speaking countries]," Mr Moreira, an old friend of Cape Verde said in the interview with 'A Capital'. Also Mr Soares - the first Portuguese politician to defend a European Union membership for Cape Verde - holds that there is nothing hindering such a project.

[. . .]

According to Mr Soares, Cape Verde has better conditions of becoming an effective member of the EU than Turkey. Turkey, he said, presented innumerable problems regarding democracy and human rights, besides being a Muslim country. Quite oppositely, the Christian nation Cape Verde today is seen as an example of democracy and a "last border" of Western society in this part of the globe.

- Cape Verde has one foot in Africa, or perhaps it has both, but the head in many ways is directed towards Europe, where also its roots seem to go in search of nutrition to develop, commented Lydian Balcony of 'A Capital'.

Next to that writes editor Osório Luis: "If Europe is going to open up to Turkey (...), and in that way open a window towards Asia, then Cape Verde will be an entrance door to the great African continent. Europe would then also start being a psychological space, where three continents meet; a multi-cultural territory, open to the world."

The government of Cape Verde, which had sent its Ambassador to the Lisbon gathering, at several stages has expressed its interest in a closer relation with the EU. In 2002, Cape Verdean Prime Minister José Maria Neves supported the idea of a "Special Status" within the EU, making it possible for the archipelago to obtain some structural funds in the same way as the neighbouring Spanish Canary Islands and the Portuguese Azores and Madeira Islands.


The Cape Verdean government has also expressed its interest in NATO membership.

Will Cape Verde end up inside the European Union? That remains to be seen. What is certain is that Cape Verde won't move any further from the EU than it already is if Cape Verdeans have anything to say about it.
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