close this bookThe Courier - N°158 - July - August 1996 Dossier Communication and the media - Country report Cape Verde
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Interview with President Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro

A wealth of culture and a realistic approach to diplomacy: Cape Verde's two major assets

- How the current government differ from the former administration which had Marxist leanings ?

- The two eras are distinct from each other in that, since 1990, the Cape Verde people have been able to choose a life of freedom and democracy. Before that, for the first fifteen years after independence, there was a single-party system. So it is also valid to speak of a break - a break with the way in which institutions used to function at a political level.

-The single-party era does not seem to have been as strict as in other countries and the current regime appears to be continuing along the same lines in some areas. Was the former administration not, to some extent, responsible for initiating the change which has taken place ?

- No, that's something else entirely. I often say that we had a civilised single party, and I assume that is what you are referring to. However, it is not possible to speak of continuity when formerly we had a single party and now we have moved on to a system where there is freedom of expression and new parties can be set up.

Admittedly, the single party did initiate a change when it created the conditions necessary for the advent of democracy. It removed the infamous Article 4 from the constitution, which seates that the PAICV was the guiding force of society and the state. In fact, it was the PAICV which drew up the country's first electoral laws whereby we were elected. When I say 'we', I mean the party which is in power and also myself, President of the Republic. The single party thus opened the way to democracy here: that much is undeniable.

-Am I also right in thinking that many of those who are in power today received their training in that single party ?

- You are quite correct. When a change such as this comes about, one has to appreciate, and I do not wish to be elitist here, that it is the higher echelons of a party which lead the move towards change. Such people were there, working in the administration.

-Since politics gives direction to economic affairs, has there been a total turnaround in this sector, with a clear decision to opt for liberalisation and privatisation ?

- Before 1990, we had a staterun economy. After that, the country's economy was opened up with a number of privatisations, fewer import restrictions, and so on. The word 'break' is also applicable in this area in that we now have a market economy.

-Do you feel that the economy has really shaken off state control given that the govemment still manages important sectors, such as the price of raw materials ?

That is necessary a market economy does not mean that the state is entirely absent. I am in favour of a market economy, but with state monitoring. As far as possible, the state has to correct the injustices which are necessarily generated by competition. This is not, as some would have it, ultraliberalism. The government is still entitled to monitor the economy, but the change has been greatest in terms of attitude, in terms of the way things are done.

-Do you, like many leaders of developing countries, believe that the requirements set by international institutions as regards structure/ adjustment are too great ?

- We are not subject to compulsory adjustment - it is on a voluntary basis here. However, I do feel that adjustment, as implemented in Africa, sometimes has regrettable aspects. On occasion, it is asking a little too much to impose the same requirements on countries whose actual situations are very different. What is applicable to Nigeria is not necessarily suitable for São Tome.

-The 1992 constitution switched Cape Verde over from a presidential system to a parliamentary system. As President of the Republic, do you fee/ trapped by this constitution ?

- Cape Verde's constitution was never a presidential one. The system under which I was elected is effectively 'semi-presidential'. Admittedly, the constitution which was approved by Parliament in 1992 reduced the powers of the

President, particularly as regards the right to dissolve Parliament - which was unrestricted in the 1980 text. The revision was made to permit democratisation and ensure the proper functioning of the institutions, and it was therefore fairly wide-ranging. Now, in order to dissolve Parliament, the President has to have the support of the Council of the Republic, which means that his hands are tied to some extent. Previously, the President could also dismiss the government, without too many restrictions. I would say that the President's prerogatives have undergone a substantial reduction in comparison with those exceptional powers. As for the rest, things are as they were. In a semi-presidential regime as that envisaged by the 1980 constitution, the President has no executive role.

· You seem to have chosen to play the role of 'wise man' Some observers think you give the Prime Minister too much leeway.

- They are wrong. The Prime Minister's post is conferred on him by the constitution. He is Head of Government and it is he who governs. I cannot govern in his place. What is true is that there is a great deal of ignorance - people do not restrict themselves to their own fields and attempt to teach lessons in subjects they are unfamiliar with. Germany has a parliamentary regime like we do - what is the position of the President of the Republic in Germany? If you were to ask a Cape Verde intellectual for the name of the President of Germany, he would be unable to answer you. The parliamentary regime does not give the President of the Republic any powers to run the country. I do not know what the Prime Minister can have taken away from me because I have no power for him to take over. However, I would say that, here, the President of the Republic does have a fairly high profile, in spite of his reduced powers, because all the country's citizens know him. In terms of foreign policy, he plays a significant role in that he represents the country abroad. I attend international conferences like the Rio Summit, go to meetings of the OAU and sign international undertakings on behalf of my country.

· The President is also the guarantor of the new democracy, which observers seem to regard as well-established. But there still seem to be some bad habits. For instance, I have heard criticism of MPD power and of the fact that state resources are made available to one party at election time.

- Look, this is criticism from the government's opponents - it is a normal state of affairs and happens everywhere. Any party, in any country, which has a parliamentary majority, can govern easily. This is possible, even when the majority is very small - and even in Europe. Look at Portugal when Cavaquo Silva was Prime Minister. There were people who said it was a PSD State. You will be familiar with France when Pompidou and even de Gaulle were in power, and Francis Mitterrand used to speak of a Gaullist state. As far as the election campaign is concerned, I am not aware of the government here having monopolised state resources and I don't believe this has happened.

· Another important factor involved in democracy is the press. Several journalists from the private media sector are awaiting a decision from you on a number of points - for example the lack of pubic support for the private press - in contrast to thestate-run press which has access to all that it needs.

- What decision are they waiting for ? Do they want me to decide in favour of resourcess being given to the private media ? I have already done that on a number of occasions. Recently, I had a meeting with the Prime Minister and I brought this matter up. He told me that it was something that was currently being considered. Sometimes, however, I get the impression that some of my critics want me to do the work of an opposition leader and to oppose the Government. That is not my job. I think that the President of the Republic, in a regime such as ours, ought to be a unifying force and not someone who foments political tension and instability. That is something I have always tried to avoid, but I do have sufficient courage to tell the government and the Prime Minister exactly what I think and I have actually dared to criticise them publicly several times. I am sole judge of the criticism I make, and I decide if it is appropriate and also when the time is right. Sometimes, people would have me criticise the government according to a timetable.

· A number of journalists in the private sector are currently being prosecuted and these actions nearly all originate from sources close to the government Surely if they were actually acting unprofessionally, we would see legal actions from parts of society, such as business, and not just from the political class.

- The reason for this is very simple. It is the political class that they vilify. I myself have been insulted on a number of occasions and, despite having put up with it for five years, I have not instigated any lawsuits. There was one case which was taken seriously by the Attorney General's office and there were other cases when the Prime Minister was called a thief. I would ask you, is this a normal state of affairs ? Does freedom of the press mean that it can call a Minister or the Mayor of Praia a thief? Is that what is meant by democracy ? You have to be aware of the background to these court cases - and there are a good many of them, some dating from 1991. They are not designed to 'get at' any particular newspaper. The reason many of these cases have been brought is because serious insults of the kind we are talking about are a crime. That is true of even the most advanced democracies.

· In economic terms, Cape Verde does not appear too badly off. But some economic indicators do give rise to concern, notably the big gap between the export and import figures. How do you see your country's future when it no longer relies so much on international aid ? Do you believe in the dream of many of your fellow countrymen, that Cape Verde will be Africa's 'little dragon'?

- Unlike some people, I have never spoken of becoming a dragon. I don't like this expression. I do believe that, despite our enormous problems - Cape Verde has few resources and we have been in the grip of drought for many years - it does have a number of assets. We are capable of making progress and I believe that there are a number of promising areas which have already been identified: for example, fisheries, tourism and even 'foreign' investment. We have to be optimistic about Cape Verde's future. We are in a difficult situation, everyone knows that, but we are a hard-working and courageous people and our prospects are good. The country will be able to forge ahead.

-On the diplomatic front, Cape Verde appears something of an expert at maintaining good relations with different regimes: for instance, with both Israel and the Arab countries, with China, and with South Africa before and after apartheid. How do you manage this ?

- There is no magic formula. Since independence, Cape Verde has tried to adopt a realistic and pragmatic foreign policy. We are a small country with no great influence on the international scene and we have to be on good terms with everyone. That is the principle on which we base our foreign policy.

· Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau used to be fairly close - do you foresee any future rapprochement, perhaps in some form of federation ?

- It is difficult to say. I feel that there is already a degree of rapprochement in progress, particularly in economic terms. Recently, we signed a civil aviation cooperation agreement, and there are opportunities for similar achievements in the fisheries and shipping sectors as well. Relations between the Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau governments are excellent but, to my mind, the idea of our forming a federation is out of date. It would not be in our interests nor in those of Guinea Bissau. We do, however, intend to develop a closer economic relationship and our political relations are very good indeed. I would wager that our partners in Guinea Bissau would give you a similar analysis of the situation.

-In cultural terms, can it be said that your country has succeeded in becoming a multi-ethnic state ?

- The important thing is that the Cape Verde people should have their own identity; that there should be a specific Cape Verde culture. What I would say is that all the citizens of Cape Verde are proud of their culture and citizenship. This constitutes a great source of strength for a country such as ours which has major challenges to overcome. Our culture is also an asset in our country's development.

Interview by Hegel Goutier

Interview with Aristides Lima, leader of the Opposition

'The government owes its victory to abuse of the electoral system'

· As main leader of the Opposition, what are your views on the fact that the governing party has recently been reelected ?

- I believe the country's economy is in crisis. Growth rates are not very high, just like in the 1980s, for example, and there is a high level of structural imbalance. Unemployment has increased: in 1990, unemployment stood at approximately 25% and now it is 30%. There used to be 25 000 people who worked in what we call the high intensity labour sector and who had a job for about 10 months of the year. They were recently laid off early. Such jobs were part of a social programme which, amongst other things, enabled us to build roads. The prices of staple products, such as sugar, maize and rice, which were stable, have just gone up, and the price of cement, which was also controlled to promote economic growth, is no longer subject to the same control and I can foresee this giving rise to many problems in areas outside the towns and cities. In Praia, a 50-kg bag of cement used to cost 440 escudos and, although that price will stay more or less the same, on islands like Fogo, it will go up to about 660 escudos. This will generate problems for economic growth and a number of major projects in the tourism sector, for example, will suffer. The balance between exports and imports has also been adversely affected in that the level of coverage of imports by exports has fallen, despite announcements to the contrary made by the government.

· From 1993 to 1995, exports tripled in volume, if the government is to be believed. What are your thoughts on that ?

- The problem is that, in this country, some exports rely on the import of considerable amounts of raw materials. For example, in São Vicente, there is a shoe-manufacturing plant which gets its supplies of raw materials from abroad. The same applies to fishing and a number of fisheries products, such as anchovies, which are still canned in São Vicente but which have to be imported from Chile or elsewhere. This causes great problems when it comes to managing the country's foreign currency reserves, which have fallen markedly. In 1990, reserves provided over 6 months' coverage for imports, but now we have to operate in terms of weeks or even days.

· Nevertheless, the government could say that it is not responsible for the economic picture you have just painted because the world economic situation is hitting all small countries harder.

- No, the government is responsible, because it has been unable to implement the appropriate liberalization policy. For example, this should have been applied gradually to the trade sector, but the government rushed in and has now had to backtrack on goods which needed import authorization. What happened was that it lifted this authorization requirement but has now had to bring it in once again. And another thing, the policy of liberalization has not been accompanied by very high levels of foreign investment and, in addition, the country's skilled workers feel marginalised, all of which goes to make the situation worse. As for structural adjustment, the government has always supported the idea of 'less State equals a better State', but, in practice, we have seen spending on the State's everyday activities go up and up. Civil service staff levels have now risen to about 12 000, compared with the former 10 000. However, increased spending is also a result of a not always equitable wages policy - the difference between the highest and lowest salaries is huge and, in some public bodies, one worker might be earning 15 times as much as another.

· According to the Minister for Economic Coordination, the currency is under pressure as a result of the Opposition's irresponsible scare tactics of announcing a future devaluation, leading to the stock-piling of currency and goods, a kind of artificial speculation.

- That's a very good way of offloading one's responsibilities - the Opposition did no more than criticise the government's policy and point to the facts of the situation. It was members of the government themselves who acknowledged the low levels of currency reserves and the State bank which suspended transfers abroad. The Minister would have people believe that the Opposition lacks any credibility so how could this same Opposition have any influence on peoples' behaviour? The problem is actually extremely basic: economic operators, society and foreigners are not really au fait with the country's real economic situation because the government does not issue information, which is one of our basic criticisms. Parliamentary representatives and political parties no longer receive the figures they need and the latter are sometimes forced to consult foreign sources or to rely on their personal links with people who are close to sources of information. I myself criticised the Prime Minister for adopting this attitude of regarding information as subversive. I asked the Prime Minister for a copy of the study on Cape Verde's economy by a Portuguese professor, which had been paid for with tax payers' money. I never received it. For our part, we hope that Cape Verde's partners will be able to recognise the true situation and persuade the government to act in a more equitable manner.

· Nonetheless the people cannot be too disappointed, because they reelected the government for another term.

- That could be explained in many ways - the government controls information and therefore holds the reins of power. It controls television, radio, part of the print media, and the private-press sector is fairly weak, so it has been able to manipulate information and give people the idea that the country is on the right track. The government did do things to change peoples' lives, but it exaggerated its achievements using the State social communication means available to it. In fact, it did not achieve the major objectives it set itself: firstly its fight against unemployment - a failure. Balancing foreign economic relations - another failure. Balancing the domestic economic situation: differences between our various islands have become more acute. In matters of health, Cape Verde made major advances when our party was in power and, although, to all intents and purposes, the health sector is just as good when compared with other African countries, it has, in fact, deteriorated. Diseases which had been eradicated from the country are returning, like malaria, for example, cholera, etc. Health services are concentrated in the capital city, Praia, and there is no decentralisation, which has negative effects on even links between carers and patients. Humanism shows the effects of a situation such as this, and it applies not only to health: there is an unfair distribution of State financial resources between the central government and local government. The State has been unable to reform local finances and has politicised transfers of funds to those districts which are closest to it. The government has also profited from the structural problems encountered in the working of our democracy. One of these structural problems is Parliament's weakness: it sits only three times a year and the representatives do not work full-time - they are sometimes employed by the administration which they are supposed to monitor. Democracy has a price and although savings can be made in other spheres, when one is seeking good governance, one of the conditions for which is a strong, functional and effective Parliament, this is not possible. The weakness of the private-press sector is yet another problem.

-And are you continuing to work in the administration ?

- I am a 'full-time' parliamentary representative. There are now about 10 out of 79 representatives who work on a full-time basis. They are members of Parliament's office, chairmen of committees and parliamentary leaders.

-The government says that it inherited a serious state of affairs when it took over power from the PAICV.

- It is simply not true that the good life began with this government's accession to power. Here's a little history lesson: think back to colonial times. Admittedly, there were negative aspects to our time in power but you must remember that the PAICV did, in fact, leave in place the subjective. physical basis for the new policy direction. When we achieved independence, Cape Verde had no ports or airports, apart from small-scale port facilities at São Vicente. We built the port at Praia, the port at Sal, the port at São Nicolau and a number of airports. The telecommunications system was also set up by the PAICV government and we implemented the initial educational reforms. In the 1980s, the GDP growth rate was 7%and the per capita income was one of the highest in Africa, more than $820.

· The party in power describes the PAICV as marxist and non-democratic claiming that it was they, not the PAICV, who introduced democracy.

- That is nothing more than rhetoric, because all of the current governing party's members were in the PAICV - they were radicals, more marxist than anyone. Everyone knows that here, in Cape Verde, we had a pragmatic party, not a marxist party, although marxism was a source of ideas for many people. The idea was not to build socialism here. In those days, we had an open, not a centralised economy and all trade was private. We always had a market economy and to describe us as non-democratic is idle rhetoric. The PAICV's ideology has always been one of national liberation based on political and economic independence, with power vested in the people. This was a normal state of affairs during a national liberation struggle and, although it would be true to say that we were influenced by a certain single-party model which had gained widespread acceptance in Africa, the single party here could not be compared with any other. Both the PAIGC and later the PAICV attempted to force people into taking part in citizens' assemblies in order to put forward suggestions to the candidates. The current Prime Minister, Mr Veiga, for example, was put forward by a militants' assembly - he was on the PAICV's lists and they used to sit one beside the other on the benches in Parliament. The regime was, I suppose, slightly paternalistic but it was the people themselves who were really responsible for national liberation, it was they who had an idea of justice, patriotism, of being African, which explains the total commitment of Cape Verde's people to our party in the struggle for independence and also the good results we achieved when in power.

· Why, then, were you not re-elected ?

- The party had been in power for a long time, with the same president, the same prime minister, the same president of the national assembly and virtually all the same ministers. People were hungry for change because the ruling elite had been in place for so long. The international scene, also, did not favour the old single-party system. Another element, too, was the Church, which fought us over the question of abortion. Perhaps I should point out that, from the very beginning, a section of the Catholic church was not in favour of independence, but younger members of the clergy, with more sympathetic feelings towards the population, supported us and, thus, we changed peoples' attitudes. The Church in Africa is a phenomenon worthy of greater analysis, particularly in Cape Verde, where, I feel, the current government was able to take advantage of the Cape Verde peoples) essentially religious nature to criticise us and present us as an anticlerical party. In fact, the situation is quite different: most PAICV leaders and militants are Roman Catholics and some church" were damaged by opponents in an attempt to discredit the party. Another example of abuse of the electoral system, apart from taking advantage of the peoples' religious nature, is the country's poverty. During election campaigns, the government make it easier for people to obtain food, and it also creates more jobs, en masse, but these disappear again after the elections - precisely as is happening at the moment.

· As it is governed at the moment, Cape Verde is regarded by other countries as a 'star pupil'. Surely this is another success for the government ?

- Cape Verde has always been regarded as a star pupil because, here, our society is fairly homogeneous and there are no major social or ethnic imbalances. However, in my opinion, the future depends on changes at a structural level and such changes cannot take place unless we have a functioning parliament and a strong private press. I cannot deny that the government has had some successes, but I also believe that the people will have an opportunity to judge how it keeps its promises. interview by Hegei Gouger

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