Cape Verde: staying afloat. Known at home and abroad as honest and efficient, nation's people survive with the help of many donors
Praia, Cape Verde
Cape Verde may be the only nation in Africa that is cutting its military budget by 30 percent this year. Across the continent to the east, border disputes, coups, and rebel insurgencies keep many governments allotting 20 to 50 percent of their national budgets to weapons and soldiers. The archipelago 280 miles off the coast of West Africa has good relations with its continental African neighbors and with both superpowers, and its official policy of tolerating political dissent keeps opposition moderate and peaceful. Thus, when the government was looking for ways to cut expenditures, the ax fell on the Army. ``We can't afford it,'' explained an aide to the President.Skip to next paragraph
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Moderate, civilian government is rare enough in West Africa, where many current heads of state are also the authors of successful military coups. What makes Cape Verde's tolerant politics even more unusual is that they are practiced in a single-party state.
In 1975, a single party took control of both Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde after the 14-year colonial war with Portugal. The Cape Verdeans left the party in 1980 and formed their own government party, the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). Mass nationalizations and vindictive politics that were common in other former Portuguese colonies did not materialize in Cape Verde.
Party leaders here opted instead for a policy of political moderation and a mixed economy.
Cape Verde has no known political prisoners, and the presence of the security police is rarely felt. Public criticism of the government is generally uninhibited. A group of Roman Catholic priests and activists publishes a monthly newspaper highly critical of the PAICV government. Although the paper has been challenged in court four times, there is little prospect of it being banned. And bookstore clerks say that it sells much more briskly than the country's stiff official newspaper.
Even the PAICV's most vocal critics, including members of a small opposition party based in Lisbon, are encouraged by signs of the regime's political abertura -- ``opening up.'' These signs include efforts to reinvigorate the party's image and involve nonparty members in the political process. And, last December, unpopular members were removed from the single list of candidates for office reviewed in public meetings before a ``yes-no'' legislative vote.
In addition, more than 25 percent of the members of the People's National Assembly do not belong to the PAICV. More private businessmen and fewer left-wing ideologues are represented on the Assembly's working committees, according to committee sources.
Quiet conciliatory gestures are increasingly common. Busts of popular figures deemed ``reactionary'' are being restored. Philanthropists and educators, rejected because of their association with the colonial government, are being rehabilitated. And a moderate land-reform program that led to riots by angry property owners on the island of Santo Antao in 1981 has been scaled back.
But even as it attempts to satisfy popular sentiment for broader political liberties, the Cape Verdean government's tentative experiment in ``single-party pluralism'' continues to encourage greater public expectations.
This is largely because Cape Verde's political culture is different from that found on the African continent. Traditionally, the islands' poverty has driven Cape Verdeans to areas of greater economic opportunity where they often absorb lively, factious democratic values. Upon returning, many of them want a multiparty democracy similar to what they experienced outside the islands. ``As long as this is [a] single-party [state],'' said a carpenter who lived two years in Lisbon, ``things won't go well.''
Symptoms of disaffection are not uncommon. There is no university in Cape Verde, and some graduating high school students complain that members of the official youth movement are favored for the most desirable higher education scholarships -- those for studying in Western countries.