Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What I miss from Cape Verde – and what I don’t

Time flies; it is now over 3 years since I moved from Cape Verde. As a final contribution to this blog, I thought I would provide a short and frank (albeit not exhaustive) list of things I miss from my stay in the country, as well as what I don’t miss. Some of the topics have been commented in more detail under previous postings.

Here are some things that I definitely miss:
- All Cape Verdean and expat friends
- The absolutely splendid weather (at least 9 months out of 12)
- Outdoor concerts with great Cape Verdean artists such as Lura
- Sunset drinks in Cidade Velha
- The splendid greenery in Santiago after the rainy season (around december-january)
- Mountain walks in and Ribeira Grande and Rui Vaz
- Cachupa refugada (but not the fresh cachupa, Cape Verde’s “national dish”)
- Tennis at the US embassy compound
- Unforgetable visits to Fogo, Boavista and Mindelo
- Magnificent mountain hikes in Santo Antao
- Chilling out at our home-made and unique wooden roof terrace, overlooking the sea
- The pizzas and the somewhat strange (but interesting) atmosphere at restaurant “Kapa”
- Swimming in Tarrafal
- The lively grocery market on the Plateau
- The view (but hardly the food) from restaurant “A Poeta”
- The beautiful Grey-headed Kingfisher, abundant in Praia

Here are some things that I definitely DON’T miss:
- Small and very aggressive Praia mosquitoes
- The unbearably hot, humid and rainy period (approx. September-November)
- The isolation (small islands, so far far away from each other – and from mainland)
- Customer service (or rather the lack of it) in general
- The waiting lines - to banks and to CV Telecom, in particular
- Cape Verdean food in general (except Cachupa Refugado and the delicious freshly grilled tuna)
- CV Telecom (not that Belgacom is any better…)
- Expensive and generally low quality groceries
- Repeated electricity cuts
- The need for night guards
- The dust (everywhere, all the time!)
- The constant water scarcity
- Booking, paying and flying with TACV (Cabo Verde Airlines) and TAP (the portuguese flight company) – always a major hassle
- Prejudices towards stay-at-home daddies (although of course not unique for Cape Verde)
- The “grogue” (Cape Verde’s most popular alcoholic drink, at least among men; locally produced from sugar cane)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Praia from behind the wheel

Ever heard of a Capital City with practically no traffic congestions, no traffic lights and no trouble finding parking space? A city where most roads are made of cobble stones? A city where most cars are well-kept and meticulously clean? No? The city is called Praia, Capital of Cape Verde. However, some of these unique characteristics are about to change.

Praia is a small city – a friend I met visiting from India actually compared Praia with the size of a university compound outside Calcutta where she studied. Limited size can have its drawbacks when it comes to cities – but one of the big advantages is definitely that traffic can be kept under control. Unlike in other Capitals cities in the world, serious traffic jams are extremely rare here, and it is generally no hassle to drive around. No congestions, no car-jackings, no car-thefts.

One of the few annoyances you are likely to experience is hordes of would-be car-cleaners, eager to wipe your vehicle free from dust and “protect” it while parked in return for a modest donation (regardless whether your car is clean or not, and that it is not clear at all why it would need protection in the first place).

Apart from that, the only thing to be really concerned about is probably safety – as in all parts of the world when it comes to car traffic. But even on this aspect, my guess is that Praia is better off than many other cities. While it would be an exaggeration to say that people in general drive well here (the large number of car dents and scratches speak for themselves), at least there is a tendency to drive slowly, thereby minimizing the risk for more serious accidents. This is in stark contrast to for example Kenya, where drivers tend to be completely reckless, leaving it “up to God” who will make it to the end stop and who won’t.

Compared to the miserable state of car fleets I have seen in some other major African cities, such as Dakar, Dar Es Salam or Nairobi, where even new cars and taxis are worn out quickly due to poor maintenance and reckless driving, Praia’s cars are strikingly modern, expensive, well-maintained and clean. Toyota is the most popular car brand here, and when taking a tour in Praia it is likely that the first vehicle you will encounter is a large Prado or Hilux, a beige Corolla taxi, or a Hiace minibus (popularly called “Yass”), cramped with people.

I am actually quite puzzled over the great number of flashy 4WD:s to be seen here, knowing that the average Cape Verdean will probably never be affluent enough to own a car, let alone a new one. Also considering the high importation taxes and transportation costs, making a car about 30-50% more expensive than in Europe. Who can afford to buy such cars? When asking around, people shrug their shoulders, some of them alluding to drug money and money laundering, others to lucrative tourist investments (fortunately, customs corruption is not mentioned).

Whatever the explanation, there is no doubt that the number of cars on the streets of Praia are growing rapidly, and therefore the unique absence of traffic chaos might soon be but a memory. When I arrived here two years ago, I almost never experienced traffic jams, and I rarely had troubles in finding parking lots. Nowadays, there is more often than not a waiting time at most major cross-roads, as cars line up from all directions, and finding a parking space is sometimes more difficult than it used to be, especially on the Plateau which is rather cramped with people during daytime.

As it happens, I was actually fined for careless parking in the Plateau, while doing some grocery shopping at the main market place. At first, I was of course quite unenthusiastic about receiving the ticket. I had not really expected to get a parking fine in Cape Verde, as I thought that the police would have other priorities, and people generally tend to park their cars rather wildly here. But then I chose to apply a more positive approach on the matter. Not to say that I was jubilant about paying the fine (5.000 escudos, a considerable amount by most standards), but I saw it as a positive sign that the traffic police is active, since it might encourage drivers to drive safer and follow the law. For instance, the police will (hopefully) not only issue parking tickets but also abate drunk-driving, which is a big concern here, especially weekends (I personally try to avoid driving Fri/Saturday nights and Sat/Sunday mornings to minimize the risk of being rammed by a drunkard).

But more cars on the streets of Praia is not the only indication that traffic is increasing. Another sign is the growing number of tutoring cars. Nowadays, it is almost impossible drive around in Praia without being stuck for a while behind a slowly moving vehicle with the sign “Instrucao” or “Exame” on the roof. The interest among Cape Verdeans in obtaining a drivers’ license seem to be booming.

Besides from the absence of traffic jams and very old and worn down cars, the relative ease with which you will find a parking lot, and the number of tutoring cars and aggressive car-cleaners, there are also a few other ways in which Praia distinguishes itself from behind the wheel.

One is the complete absence of red lights. I have only seen two sets of traffic-lights in the whole of Praia – and none of them works! I admit that, for the moment, traffic lights are really not needed, but given recent developments this is probably about to change. My guess is that the authorities soon need to reconnect the few lights that are in place, and maybe install a couple more.

Another typical feature in Praia is the cobbled roads. This requires high maintenance, and groups of road-laborers (surprisingly, some of them female) are frequently spotted along the road-side, working hard to level pot-holes and restore loose blocks of stone. The cobble-roads of Praia will soon be but a memory however, as the whole city is about to be paved in a major modernization project. The Plateau has already been done, and Prainha and Achada St Antonio are bound to be next. Personally, I have mixed feelings about this – I actually find cobbled roads kind of charming, but I also realize that they are not optimal for keeping the car in good shape.

Overall, driving around in Praia is a pleasant and laid-back experience. Apart from some aggressive car-cleaners, there is perhaps only one major disadvantage: if you are late for an important meeting, you can’t blame the traffic – for that, you probably have to wait a few more years.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

About atheism, dogmatism, tolerance and spirituality

This is a follow-up to my previous blog on being an atheist in Catholic Cape Verde, to address some of the comments I have heard.

Some have suggested that atheists can be just as dogmatic as religious believers. I profoundly disagree. Here's why.

First of all, one must learn to see the difference between passion and dogmatism. An atheist may be passionate - but cannot, as I see it, be dogmatic.

To me, it is really a lot about tolerance and openness - the opposite being dogmatism. The only thing I really can't tolerate, is intolerance. One could also say that I am not dogmatically against anything - except dogmatism itself (in all it's forms - religion, nationalism, racism...). It may sound just like a twist of words, or even contradictive. But if you think twice about it, it should hopefully make some sense.

So, an atheist may be passionately convinced that there is no god, and he/she may passionately try to convince others. Even to a point when it might become annoying. At times, I get pretty agitated myself about this subject, and I am sure that one or two of my friends have found my efforts rather tiresome. BUT – and this is crucial – an atheist would never (unless he is mentally insane) use violence or even kill to convince others. He would use words and arguments and reason, not force or weapons or explosives tied to himself. Moreover, if you presented new real evidence, for, lets say gods existence, or a true religious miracle such as a virgin giving birth or so, an atheist would have to listen and consider, and eventually challenge his own conviction. With (relative) ease.

Dogmatic religious believers, on the other hand, whether Jews, Christians or Muslims, will not stop at anything to have their way. They will use oppression, force, violence, even death, even suicide for Christ’s sake (excuse the expression) to make others believe in their particular god. And why? Just because someone brainwashed them with a bunch of strange stories when they were kids, and because those same stories are scribbled down in an old book. Without a shred of real evidence. Moreover, dogmatic believers will never, ever, change their mind on their beliefs, regardless any evidence, regardless reason, regardless any argument. In fact, they even consider this rigidity a good thing – it’s called “true faith”.

And that's a HUGE difference.

Some have challenged this by pointing out that Hitler and Stalin were atheists. At a first glance, this might appear convincing. I don’t think it is convincing in any way. First of all, it is actually questionable if Hitler really was an atheist, some evidence actually suggest that he hade firm Catholic beliefs. But even if he was an atheist, it is actually irrelevant. Because the fact of the matter is that he did not do what he did to impose atheism! He did not try to force people to abandon their Christian beliefs. He did not kill people with the objective to convince them that there is no god. On the contrary! He actually USED the old religious conflict between Christians and Jews to help his political cause – which was to exterminate the Jewish people (for ever and ever doomed for “killing Jesus Christ”) for whatever OTHER twisted reasons he had. Without religion fueling the fire and the hatred, he would never have been so “successful” as he was in this regard.

Some also wonder if I don't miss spirituality in my life, assuming that religion and spirituality is the same thing. Well, in my mind, it's not.

I actually consider myself a spiritual atheist in some sense (which does not mean that I think that there is such a thing as an eternal “soul” or the like). There is a genius modern philosopher called Ken Wilber, who I have learned a lot from when it comes to spiritualism. His book “A brief history of everything” is nothing but mind-blowing. For those of you who are interested, check out his website:

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Being an atheist in catholic Cape Verde

Recently, a large sculpture was erected in Achada St Antonio in Praia, just by the ocean. The statue portrays the late Pope John Paul II, gazing out over the infinite sea with his arms gracefully lifted as if giving his blessings to anyone passing by. The area around the statue has been restored with stone paths and stairs, some greenery and a small children’s playground. It has become a popular family spot for the locals, especially in the evenings.

The choice to pay tribute to the Pope is not by chance, of course. According to statistics, a clear majority (some 90%) of Cape Verdeans are catholic Christians – no doubt a heritage from the colonial days the archipelago was under catholic Portuguese rule (in fact, when you think about it, isn’t it strange that Cape Verdeans did not want to oust the colonial religion along with the oppressors at the time of liberation?). There is also a protestant Christian community, as well as smaller communities of Baha’i and muslims.

My impression is that religion has a prominent, however not exceedingly dominating, role in the Cape Verdean society. People go regularly to church (every Sunday you will see large crowds of well-dressed people on their way to service), but most people I meet don’t say grace, they don’t pray to god openly, and they don’t seem to express religious disapproval of, for instance, abortion or the use of contraceptives. And unlike in the USA, it appears that a Cape Verdean politician can actually run for office with success even if he or she does not openly declare a Christian belief. All in all, my impression is that Cape Verde is fairly secular. Surprisingly so.

Nevertheless, I have yet to meet a fellow atheist in Cape Verde. When occasionally I feel obliged to reveal my (lack of) beliefs, and tell them that I am genuinely convinced that there is no such thing as a god (or any other supernatural entity for that matter), Cape Verdeans usually show great surprise, even disbelief. They seem to wonder how it is even possible not to believe in god. Still, I have never felt any outspoken intolerance or disrespect; my conviction seems to be accepted (if not understood) – maybe in the same way as they accept all my other strange foreign behaviors and traits such as treading around in mountain slopes, always insisting on using seatbelts in the car, appreciating raw herring in mustard sauce and being very strict not to drink-and-drive.

In contrast to Cape Verde, my native country Sweden (albeit historically being a Christian country since the 11th century) is nowadays probably one of the most secular and non-religious countries in the world. A relatively high number (75%) of Swedes are formally members to the state church, but this is mostly due to the fact that, until 1996, all children became members automatically at birth. Currently, the Swedish church is losing about 1% of members every year, and less than 10% regularly attend church service. According to a poll made in 2005 by the Eurobarometer, only 23% of the Swedes believe that there is a god, and equally many (23%) do not believe in any god at all. Interestingly, a majority (54%) would rank somewhere in-between, believing that there is some sort of spirit or life force, but no god in the Christian sense.

My own path to atheism began early on. Even in secular Sweden, and brought up in a non-religious family, I was however somewhat indoctrinated by Sunday school and other influences, and I do recall praying to god from time to time when I went to bed (“Please dear God, let my math teacher be sick tomorrow so that I won’t have to take the test”). I also remember vividly a bus filled with some strange people, parked at the school yard for a whole week, using munchies, guitar music and convincing smiles to lure innocent children inside during breaks to “learn about the word of God”. In fact, I believe that I spent quite significant time in that bus, and it might be just pure luck that I escaped from that experience without being sucked in to some Christian sect (I still can’t believe that that bus was actually allowed to park in the school yard).

While by no means actively religious in my early years, I first came to seriously doubt the existence of god when preparing for my communion at 13 years of age. It came as somewhat of a surprise to me that nobody, including the priest himself, was nowhere near of adequately addressing even my most sensible and basic questions about Christianity, such as “who or what created god?”, “if god created everything, why did he create the Devil?”, “what will happen to all of those that never hear of the Christian god, will they burn in hell?”, “what sense does it make that Jesus suffered and died in the most horrible way to cleanse other people’s sins?” etc. As a consequence, I discontinued my bible studies halfway, to the surprise of my (secular) parents and to the dismay of my (Christian) grandparents. Even if it meant that I therefore didn’t get any precious communion gift (typically a moped), as did most of my classmates.

I have always been fascinated by life philosophy, religion and the possible existence of a god, and I still am. (If you are interested in my specific view of the “meaning of life”, have a look at my previous blog on this subject ). For a long time I used to call myself an agnostic, simply because I didn’t think that I knew enough to conclude for certain that god did not exist – regardless the fact that I actually found it exceedingly unlikely. As a student of natural science at secondary school and university, I chose biology as my main subject and became familiar with Darwin’s brilliant theory of evolution, which I found very captivating, even philosophically. (I now understand that there is a good reason that religious fanatics want to ban certain education; it is because these competing theories for the existence and development of life on earth are so much more convincing than what is found in the bible and other so called holy books.)

With all this new knowledge, my conviction that there are other and much more plausible theories to enlighten us on the classic existential “inexplicables”, such as the origin of life, what happens after death, the meaning of life etc, than some kind of simplistic “higher presence” (or however people want to describe god). Thanks to Richard Dawkins’ books “The Selfish Gene” and the “The Blind Watchmaker”, my certainty grew even stronger, and when I finally read his latest book “The god Delusion”, I realized with much clarity, and indeed inspiration, my true nature as an atheist, previously concealed under the inaccurate label of agnosticism.

In my opinion, “The God Delusion” is actually one of the most important philosophical contributions to mankind ever made on the subject of science, religion, evolution and rational thought. The argumentation put forward by Dawkins against god’s existence is so convincing, and at the same time so clear and simple, that it is hard to see how anyone, even the most rigid religious believer, could disagree with its main message (then again, dogmatic believers would of course never read it to start with). For me, the book is a real landmark when it comes to finding genuine comfort with the idea that god’s existence is decidedly implausible, as well as (generally speaking) malevolent for mankind.

As Dawkins rightly points out, we are all atheist in some sense – we have all come to denounce ancient gods like the Nordic “Thunder god” Thor, the Greek “Sea God” Poseidon, the Mayan “Winged God” Quatzequatel, and the Egyptian “Sun God” Ra. I personally hope that we one day we will see this trend completed: we would then have world rid of divine misconceptions.

Imagine that – a world based on rational argument, reason and evidence, instead of being guided by a groundless “faith” deriving from some books written by old men some thousand years ago, arbitrarily interpreted to fit our modern society (just as one small example, there is a fierce debate among religious scholars in Denmark on whether the church should denounce the idea of “hell”, which some consider has been completely “made up” in the middle ages). What would such a world look like? Well, to start with there would be no religious terrorism or suicide bombers, no depressing experience of “holy sins”, no religious child indoctrination, no women completely covered by black cloth, no doctors killed because they perform abortion, no disapproval of well established scientific knowledge (such as evolution, or the age of earth) that does not “fit” with the holy books, no banning of life-saving appliances such as contraceptives. And so forth – the list would go on and on and on.

While science can’t explain everything (yet, that is), it surely can explain a lot more, and by far more convincingly, than any religion can ever do. And, more importantly, science will never in itself make people fanatic enough to kill or harm another just because of their beliefs, as religion truly does (the actual use of scientific progress to promote violence, by for instance religious fanatics as well as others who wish to do harm, is a different matter). There is a reason that it is virtually impossible to picture a devoted scientist becoming a crusader, a militant Islamist or a suicide bomber.

On a final note, I recently had the most interesting discussion with a Cape Verdean woman on this subject. She, as many others, had a very hard time to actually come to terms with the fact that I really don’t believe in god, and she told me that she could show me plenty of evidence of god’s existence, referring e.g. to men who were pregnant, resurrected dead people, black magic and whatnot. I responded that I would be very willing to reconsider my atheistic conviction, if she could give me any kind of clear-cut scientific proof of the existence of any god. I then asked her if she would do the same; her response was that nothing I would say or do would ever make her change her mind about god’s existence. I think, in essence, that this little episode describes very well the difference between rational and superstitious beliefs – between reason and faith.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A vision for sustainable tourism in Cape Verde

Cape Verde is known for long white beaches, some great music, and surfing. Few are aware of the fact that Cape Verde also hosts a unique wildlife and spectacular nature scenery. Tourism could both benefit from and contribute to the protection of this important resource, but the current trend is geared towards a highly resource intensive mass-tourism based on quantity instead of quality. My hope is that future tourism in Cape Verde will adapt to the realities of this small archipelago, offering a diversified and exclusive form of tourism, based on low environmental impact and interesting experiences, such as turtle-watching, mountain-hiking and diving, attracting fewer but wealthier tourists.

When Cape Verde was discovered by the Portuguese more than 500 years ago, they found an uninhabited and green archipelago, with an abundance of trees, grasslands and water streams. The discoverers reported a rich variety of flora and fauna, in particular birds and reptiles. Since then, human impact has completely changed the face of the islands. Many natural habitats for both plants and animals have been lost by conversion to agriculture land, cutting down indigenous forests, poor farming practices, and drought. In addition, introduction of alien plants and animals such as rats, sheep, goats, monkeys and cattle has had devastating effects on the native flora and fauna, at times wiping out entire colonies.

Nevertheless, Cape Verde still hosts a globally unique and interesting biodiversity. For more details on this, see my previous blog Cape Verde’s unique biodiversity: an overview.

The ecology of Cape Verde is very delicate, and is still under severe pressure from a variety of human activities. One of the fastest growing activities on the islands is tourism, currently contributing to about 12% of the country’s total GDP (in 2001, it was only 3,5%). According to the National Statistics Institute, the number of tourists increased from 58.000 in 1998 to 280.000 in 2006, and the number of hotel rooms in the country is expected to go up from 1460 in 1997 to 15500 in 2012. Foreign private investment, most of which is directed towards the tourism sector, has quadrupled in only two years, from USD 50 million in 2005, to a daunting USD 200 million in 2007.

Tourism is clearly a strong engine for economic growth in Cape Verde, attracting foreign private investments and creating employment (even if a significant amount of profits is no doubt leaving the country, and many hotels have a policy of hiring staff from abroad rather than locally). This is in some aspects a positive development, contributing to increased wealth and reduced poverty.

Nevertheless, I have a strong feeling that tourism development in Cape Verde is largely unsustainable, both from an economic and environmental point of view. Why? Simply put, I think it is too big, too much, too fast, too unrestrained.

To my great surprise, I have learned that there is no government national plan or strategy for tourism development in place - no firm political direction is given to this important process. Instead, a laisez faire approach is applied, giving the investment agency Cabo Verde Investimentos free hands to sell land to whomever is keen to buy, on an ad hoc and top-down basis. The mass tourism already experienced in Sal seem to serve as a general model for development on the other islands. Boa Vista is next; several new large hotel complexes (for instance Riu Karamboa, opening by the end of 2008) are being built or planned. Huge investment plans already in place for Sao Vicente and Santiago, and Maio is expected to follow suite.

But is it really sensible to promote mass-tourism in a small and vulnerable archipelago like Cape Verde? Mass tourism requires enormous quantities of energy (produced by diesel generators), water (from desalination plants with very high energy consumption), luxury foods and products (all imported), and large quantities of waste generation (with very limited space for disposal). I am certain that mass tourism on a larger scale would be detrimental to Cape Verde in the long term – environmentally and economically, and maybe also socially. It is simply not viable in an isolated country with a total area of only 4000 km2 (one sixth of the size of Sardinia) with a total annual rainfall of 225 mm. The environment is too fragile to host large hotel complexes with their vast energy and water demands and waste generation. Social tension, spurring criminality and violence, is inevitable, given the excessive luxury inside the fenced hotels and extreme poverty looming outside.

Equally important, there is an obvious risk that mass tourism projects eventually undermine the very reason that make tourists come to Cape Verde in the first place. People don’t come here for a new version of the Canary Islands; they want something different, something exclusive, something exotic. Cape Verde could potentially provide that extraordinary experience, but more all-inclusive hotels and sandy beaches will not do the trick – this can be found in so many other places in the world, often offering better value for the money.

Cape Verde has just begun its tourism development, and it has a fantastic opportunity to diversify its tourism development so as to sustain long term economic growth, minimize social tension and protect its fragile environment. It could offer a variety of high class specialized tourism, reaching out to those tourists who have a particular interest and are ready to pay more for exclusiveness. Those of us fortunate enough to have walked alongside the breath-taking abysses of the mountains of Santo Antao, experienced an outdoor concert with Lura, scrambled the exquisite sand-dunes of Deserto De Viana in Boa Vista, seen baby sea turtles shoving themselves up through the sand and scurrying towards the sea, or hiked the impressive Fogo krater, will surely know what I am talking about.

Here is my vision for tourism in Cape Verde: while Sal is already lost to mass tourism, other islands should be designated as exclusive Eco-tourism or Culture Islands, each of them specializing in their own unique advantages. The sandy islands of Boa Vista and Maio could seek to attract honey-mooners, the mountainous islands of Santo Antão and Fogo would specialize in adventure, hiking and mountain-climbing, Santiago could charm tourists interested in colonial history, and Sao Vicente would be tailored to be appealing to music-lovers, poets and dancers.

Investments in all of these islands should be directed towards low intensive tourism, attracting a smaller number of environmentally conscious and wealthier tourist, all seeking to avoid all-inclusive hotel complexes and overcrowded pool areas, and willing to pay more to experience genuine culture, nature adventure, peaceful mountain hikes, and romantic getaways. Investors should be required to minimize resource and water use, invest in renewable energy, and put in place their own systems for waste regeneration and disposal.

In this way, tourism would benefit both the economy and environment, and it would continue to attract wealthy tourists also 20 years from now.

Cape Verde government’s website on environmental information (
A Semana (
Information from the
from the General Directorate for Tourism and the National Institute on Statistics

Related topic:Opposites Attract?”

Cape Verde’s unique biodiversity: an overview

Cape Verde is an archipelago nation of volcanic origin formed by nine inhabited islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 450 km West of West Africa. Partly due to the archipelago’s isolation, the biodiversity of Cape Verde is globally unique with many endemic species, some of which are endangered. Cape Verde offers several internationally important bird and reptile populations (including five sea-turtle species), many species of large pelagic fish, as well as dolphins and whales. There are also several important coral communities in the country, many of which are under stress.

During the last decade, the Cape Verde Government has shown strong commitment and made encouraging efforts to strengthen the legislative and institutional setup to protect the environment, including nature and biodiversity conservation. In 2004, a second National Environmental Action Plan (PANA II) was adopted. The plan has a comprehensive and ambitious approach, and includes an important component of environmental decentralization to the country’s municipalities. Moreover, Cape Verde has signed and ratified a number of key environmental conventions, e.g. relating to climate change, desertification, biodiversity, trade of endangered species and wetlands.

However, there is still a lack of information, technical expertise and financial resources, especially at the local level and within civil society, regarding environmental management and nature conservation. Therefore, there is a strong need to increase awareness and build capacity for sustainable resource management and environmental protection at all levels, in particular as regards protecting marine and coastal biodiversity.

Cape Verde has a unique and vulnerable global biodiversity, partly due to its isolated location in the Atlantic Ocean, with many rare endemic species of plants, birds, insects, as well as marine species, some of which are endangered. In the 500 years since humans first colonized the islands, the loss of natural habitats has been severe, caused by the conversion of natural habitat to agriculture, a complete loss of indigenous forests, poor farming practices, introduction of alien plants and animals, and drought. The introduction of rats, sheep, goats, monkeys and cattle has had devastating effects on the native flora and fauna, sometimes wiping out entire colonies.

Today, the remaining habitats and their flora and fauna are continuously under pressure from human activities and introduced species, resulting in overgrazing, over-fishing, improper land use, and the destruction of the few remaining woodlands. Environmental degradation is also escalating due to poor land use planning combined with rapid economic development (in particular tourism and urban sprawl), poverty and poor environmental management. Sand mining, sewage, pesticide run off, and over-exploitation of several marine species, birds and reptiles (including their eggs) for consumption and local medicines all threaten the delicate ecology of Cape Verde.

Below follows short status reports for some of the main species groups.

Birds: Cape Verde has several internationally important bird populations, some of which are endemic and/or endangered. Some of the most interesting birds include the Cape Verde Shearwater (Calonectris edwardsii), the Raso Lark (Alauda razae), the Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea bournei), the Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens), the Cape Verde Petrel (Pterodroma feae), the Cape Verde swamp-warbler (Acrocephalus brevipennis), the Red-billed Tropicbird, (Phaethon aethereus) and the Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus). Breeding seabirds have been greatly reduced in numbers due to habitat loss and predation from humans or introduced animals such as cats and rats.

Reptiles: Five different species of Sea Turtles can be found in Cape Verde, and the islands are believed to be the second largest breeding site for Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in the North Atlantic. Out of 15 different lizards in Cape Verde, 12 are endemic. The Giant Gecko (Tarentola gigas) can, for example, only be found on the Raso and Branco islets close to Sao Vicente. The same was true for the now extinct Giant Skink (Macroscincus coctei).

Mammals: The Cape Verde waters is a key breeding and mating habitat for Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), and various species of dolphins are abundant. The only other native mammals are five small bat species. A species of monkey has been introduced.

Fish and corals: Large pelagic fish, including sharks and tuna, are abundant, and coral communities can be found in almost all Cape Verde islands. According to the magazine Science, it is one of the top ten hotspots for corals in the world. Knowledge about most of the coral communities is limited, however.

Plants: Some 92 species of plants are endemic to these islands, of which at least one is endangered – an understory tree known as Marmulan (Sideroxylon mermulana). The endangered Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena draco) can also be found in the Archipelago. It is estimated that more than 50% of the Capeverdean flora has been introduced.


Cape Verde government’s website on environmental information (
World Wide Fund for Nature

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Double labor standards?

I am facing something of a dilemma.

When I and my family came back to Cape Verde recently from a long break in our home country Sweden, one of the first thing we did was, naturally, to get acquainted with our new house guards. While I find it a bit disappointing that we need guards at all, it is something I have learned to live with. Crime is on the rise, especially in and around Praia and in the tourist areas, and we have little choice but to adapt. It is sad, but the days when Cape Verde was know as a country virtually without crime seem to be gone.

For various reasons, we decided to change guard company while we were away, and I thought it be a good idea to talk to the crew in order to get to know each other a little and to gain mutual respect. I was both surprised and disappointed of what I learned during our conversations.

First of all, there is no “crew” as such. Actually, there are only two guys, covering a 24 hour guard duty. My first reaction was that this would not be possible, that I must have misunderstood something. That would mean that the have no day off at all; they would have to work 7 days a week, 12 hours per day. But it was no misunderstanding.

Secondly, they told me that they were not entitled to any vacation.

Third, I was told that the company dos not provide any “seguros” – the national health insurance in Cape Verde. This means that they would have to pay the full costs for treatment and medication in case of illness.

For this job, they receive a salary of only 18000 Cape Verde escudos a month (about 240 USD).

To me, this could almost be called paid slavery – something I thought was banned or at least regulated by law in Cape Verde.

As a matter of fact, it is. At least in principle. I have learned that there is indeed a law on labor standards, which covers issues such as minimum wage, maximum number of hours per week and month, vacation and health care. According to this law, I am informed, the guards should normally be entitled to at least one day off per week, and they should have the right to vacation and Seguros.

It appears, however, that the law on labor standards covers only those with Cape Verdean nationality. As the two guards that work for the company that we hire are (legal) immigrants from Guinea Bissau, it seems that they are exempt from this law.

(The situation reminds me remotely of another case from Sweden: A few years ago a Swedish company contracted Lithuanian builders for a construction site in Sweden, and refused to accept the Swedish workers union’s so called collective agreement, stipulating work hours, wages etc for Swedish workers. As a result, the Swedish union, in order to protect the rights that they had gained in Sweden throughout the years, accused the company for “social dumping” and blocked the whole construction site. The construction project was eventually abandoned, even if, in this case, the company actually followed agreed EU rules. Recently, the EU Court of Justice reviewed the case and ruled that the action taken by the Swedish union was against EU regulation.)

If what I have learned is correct, it is hard for me to understand why the Cape Verdean Government would exempt foreign workers from their labor standards. It appears to be both unethical and economically unwise. Is it really a good idea to attract emigrants to jobs in this way, when Cape Verde is struggling with a 24% unemployment rate? I should think not, but maybe I am not aware of the full picture.

So what is my dilemma anyway? I have 24 hour guard duty, so why am I not happy?

Well, on the one hand I don’t think that the guard company’s employment policy is acceptable. It is inhumane to force workers to 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week, without any vacation and without supporting any form of heath care, and I believe that it is highly inappropriate that the company does not to meet Cape Verdean labor standards (even if they, as it appears, are not obliged to by law). I don’t want to be part of that!

My gut feeling is therefore to terminate the contract with the current guard company and hire another one which – as a minimum – follows Cape Verdean labor standards.

On the other hand, I don’t want to put the two guards on the street, making their life even more difficult than it currently is. Like many other migrant workers round the world, they have been forced to leave their home country and their family and friends to try to make a better living in another country. It is quite possible that they will loose their job if we discontinue our contract with the guard company. Maybe they prefer to accept the harsh terms offered by the company, knowing that the option – to be unemployed and/or having to go back to Guinea Bissau – is much worse.

I also have to acknowledge that I am myself a culprit in this whole story, even if I was unaware of the guard’s poor working conditions until recently. One of the reasons that we chose to opt for another guard company in the first place was, naturally, that it was cheaper. Obviously it was cheaper for a reason – and the guards are paying, through inadequate labor rights.

After reflecting further, I realize that it cannot be justified to take advantage of this situation, and (provided that the information I have is correct; I hope not) consequently the contract should be discontinued. Even if it means that it might create difficulties for the two guards in case they will not be relocated to different guard duty within the company. Also – and this is important – I need to let everybody involved know why the guard service is terminated. Hopefully we could thereby contribute to improving immigrant worker’s rights in Cape Verde.

The issue at hand is in some ways similar to the debate on child labor. Most people would agree, I think, that we need to boycott child labor products and services, even if it would mean that some children are put on the street under even worse conditions. The long term negative effects of encouraging an unjust system are worse than short term consequences.

Issues like labor rights and child labor are not easy to deal with. In both cases, however, I believe that the best thing to do is to stop supporting an unfair system, and let as many as possible know about the injustice. Regarding our guard service, I will take action to that end.