Cape Verde, a model for democracy in Africa ?

2016 is the year of presidential elections for numerous African countries, where 16 ballots have taken place or are expected to be held in the next few months. Among them is the Cape Verde legislative elections that took place on March 20. The country tends to be discrete in medias and public opinion. However, it deserves one’s attention, as its political governance system is far from the common perception Western countries may have of African regimes.

Cape Verde, officially “Cabo Verde” since October 24 2013, seems to differ from most African countries, as democracy is effectively running the political governance – although the picture of an African continent largely ruled by despotism tends to be debatable[1]. Last March 20, legislative elections in Cape Verde led to a political change that will probably be confirmed with the results of the presidential election, planned on September-October 2016. Thus, the Movement for Democracy (MpD) won 54% of the votes, confirming the defeat of the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) that has ruled the country since 2011 and obtained only around 39% this time[2]. MpD’s President, Ulisses Correia e Silva, succeeds to Prime Minister José Maria Neves to rule the country the next five years. This last election is the third political change the country has known since its independence in 1975. In view of the tendency of some African leaders to govern during decades, how to explain the genuine democracy of this small country, regularly placed continent-wide at the top of the indicators related to development and good governance?

It is worth noticing some features: in Cape Verde is there a strong national sentiment, transcending communitarian belongings. Added to a mixed population, another specificity of the country lies in its significant diaspora: it is estimated that 500.000 nationals, a number equivalent to the inhabitants in the archipelago, live outside the country. These expatriates feel concerned with the development and the governance of their native land. They actively contribute to the life of the country by voting, transferring money and contributing to various development projects[3]. Women’s role is also of prime importance: most of the sovereign ministerial positions are hold by women, since the government put in place in September 2014 bestowed them nine in sixteen positions. Besides, one third of the candidates of the last legislative elections were women[4]. Through the rejuvenation of the main political parties’ members, its proportional representation system and the smooth running of its elections, the Cape Verde remains one of the best examples with regard to the respect for democracy and the rule of law.

Cape Verde is nonetheless facing some difficulties: an economical crisis, energy problems, failures in sea and air transports and a lack of transparency in some tourism investments[5]. These have contributed to the success the MpD recently met. The future prime minister has committed himself to “make significant efforts because we need a country with a higher economical growth, to address unemployment issues and to reduce poverty[6].

No system is perfect; it also applies to Cape Verde. Yet, thanks to the obvious lawfulness during elections and its fully respected parliamentarism, it undeniably is an example that should be followed by the regimes in which people’s aspirations towards the respect for their rights and freedoms too often face leaders’ intransigence. This “good governance” model is certainly noticed by Western governments, which remain prone to provide financial support to developing countries that respect democratic principles. Hence, Washington has welcomed the last elections held in the archipelago, stating on March 24 that “the elections and the peaceful transfer of power they brought about reaffirm Cabo Verde’s position as a model of democracy in Africa[7]. For sure, the policy that has gone on for decades in Praia demonstrates a positive steadiness, especially in comparison with the numerous African regions subject to popular protest.

[1] Afrik.com, Laissons vivre la démocratie au Congo comme partout en Afrique !, 18/03/2016

[2] Diploweb.com, Cap-Vert, les élections législatives, un nouveau rendez-vous avec la démocratie, 31/03/2016

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jeune Afrique, Cap-Vert: une démocratie exemplaire, 18/03/2016

[6] Le Monde, L’opposition remporte les législatives au Cap-Vert, 21/03/2016

[7] U.S. Department of State, Cabo Verde’s Parliamentary Elections, 24/03/2016

Déborah Guidez

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