To say that the impact of COVID-19 in the Cape Verde Islands, officially Cabo Verde, is gigantic is an understatement. Unlike any other epidemic or disease, the novel coronavirus threatens lives, the economy and social life in Cabo Verde. The islands are located 375 miles off the coast of Senegal, which has made the latter a prime destination for its people in the last 200 years. Cabo Verde achieved its independence in 1975, having been a Portuguese colony. This explains its lack of economic self-sufficiency which persists to the present day. Like many other former colonies, it relied on the economic sectors of Portugal, its former colonizer, for food, medical infrastructure, manufacturing, imports and more. Given all these socio-economic and political realities, COVID-19 was devastating.
Impact on Lives
COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on lives throughout these Islands. More than 15,000 confirmed cases and more than 150 deaths have occurred due to COVID-19. Paradoxically, Cabo Verde had witnessed a rapid development of its healthcare system after 1975. With six hospitals and 80% of its population within 30 minutes of a healthcare facility, most richer African countries are lagging behind Cabo Verde in service delivery.
Due to the viral shockwave on Cabo Verde, the nation finds itself at a level four regarding COVID-19. Furthermore, the entire Cape Verdan is suffering from its economic dependence on tourism and reliance on numerous experts from other countries in all its sectors. This made it difficult for this island nation to firmly close its doors as stronger economies had done. Since September 2, 2020, the government has now imposed “State of Calamity” which forces restrictions on all businesses, gathering in public places including time restrictions.
Impact on Tourism
The tourism sector accounts for nearly half of its GDP. Cabo Verde adopted a market economy that attracts much foreign investment, with tourism being mostly privatized. This means that if business on the islands is not profitable, investors will leave. Even though many knew the risks, no one could have predicted a pandemic wiping an entire sector literally overnight. The virus restrictions immediately affected the tourism industry. Prior to COVID-19, Cape Verde was a beautiful country to visit.
Not only did tourism bring in revenues, but it also created jobs in the formal and informal sectors. In addition, it provided exposure to foreign investors and trade. Therefore, the contrast with today’s situation is stark; hotels are empty and local employees have returned to their respective homes on other islands empty-handed. Many who were the breadwinners must now rely on their struggling communities to survive. One former hotel employee revealed her predicament stating that “I worked in the Iberostar hotel for almost four years, but now I am jobless. I’ll be getting unemployment benefits for five more months, but after that, I won’t know how to feed my kids.” Sadly, the pandemic has affected thousands. Bars, restaurants, small vendors and taxis are now all idle.
Other Economic Sectors
For decades, the country had put all its assets in the tourism and real estate basket and clearly overlooked manufacturing, fishing, trade and modern technologies. Manufacturing only produces limited production in textiles, tuna fish canning, frozen seafood processing, ceramics, mining and timber. As a result of its poor ecology, agriculture was for local consumption and small-scale farming. With the impact of COVID-19 on Cabo Verde, fishing, communication technologies, e-commerce and renewable energies require investments.
What is Next?
It is amazing that in an archipelago of 10 islands fishing is not a leading industry. However, that could change in the immediate future if the country wants to thrive rather than just survive. One should note that Cabo Verde’s GDP had grown by 5% just a year ago. It was a rising star in the developing world. Its people are hardworking and resourceful, but better economic planning has become imperative. Diversification should become the modus operandi of government agencies, policymakers and should be on the minds of Cabo Verdians who saw their businesses or jobs fall apart so quickly.
More than 1 million Cabo Verdians living abroad. As emigrants, they are also assets to their families, specifically by sending remittances to their relatives. With these new gaping holes in the economy and the livelihood of so many, the government will hopefully build more bridges between these sons and daughters abroad who can bring back investments, technologies and their creativity to their motherland.
Finally, it is noteworthy that since 2016, the Cape Verde Islands’ National Association of Cabo Verdean Municipalities Healthy Cities Initiative has been working diligently towards increasing its health protocols and standards with the institutional and technical support of WHO. According to the WHO website: “[Cabo Verde] was the first country in the African region to embrace the WHO Healthy City approach.” The Healthy Cities Network became a model for 240 million living in Communities of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP) since 2018. Owing to this officially recognized structure, China has granted substantial funds in 2019. With such commitment locally and abroad, Cabo Verde has been increasingly prepared to respond to the impact of COVID-19.
– Elhadj Oumar Tall
Photo: Wikipedia Commons