Too often it seems that any news coming from the African continent is bad. Famine, disease, tribal warfare, abject poverty, political and economic turmoil, warlords and dictators, – the list of challenges and problems is long and overwhelmingly discouraging. Much of the worst news of late is linked to the influence of radical Islamic sects like the Muslim Brotherhood and the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and Gaddafi in Libya. Radical Arab influence is prevalent throughout much of northern Africa and is at the root of much of the extended tragedies in Sudan.
A rare bit of good news was highlighted by Dr. Kelly Victory, A Line of Sight Contributing Editor, in her December 2011 article highlighting the success of President George W. Bush's efforts to fight HIV-AIDS throughout much of the continent. Bush's 2003 President's Emergency Plan for AIDs Relief (PEPFAR) and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis are credited as already having saved 30 million lives in Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Uganda according to Dr. Victory, making it perhaps the most successful foreign aid initiative in history.
Nonetheless, Africa's legacy of hopelessness and despair has become so commonplace and extended that it is often referred to as the "lost" or "forgotten" continent. I've long been perplexed at the lack of progress and desperation that has befallen the millions of Africans. So, the headline "Cape Verde: African good news story" immediately captured my attention.
I have to admit, I didn't immediately know where Cape Verde was in Africa, but then neither did Evan Davis, the reporter assigned to write the article for the BBC before he was sent there. Here's what I learned.
Cape Verde is an island nation of barely half a million people about 300 miles west of Dakar, Senegal off the coast of Sub-Saharan Africa. The combined land mass of the various islands is roughly the size of Rhode Island. Heavily influenced by Europe, the government is a stable democratic republic, complete with multiple political parties exchanging control of the government in regular elections, and respect for the rule-of-law including strong private property rights. The population is primarily Catholic and Protestant according to our state department.
Travel websites display images of a tropical paradise which is appealing enough, but there was much more to the good-news story than white sandy beaches and palm trees. This is a rare place in Africa where democracy actually flourishes. Davis points out that Cape Verde is one of a very small number of nations on the planet that have ever migrated out of the UN's "least developed nation" status to "middle income country" designation. On the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal, Cape Verde ranks #66 -- just ahead of France. Education opportunity is expanding rapidly, says Davis, noting that a generation ago there was a shortage of high schools to accommodate the population; but today's youth are attending universities.
In contrast to the impoverished, backward regions of much of Africa, the Cape Verde economy is expanding, most of the population has telephones, Wi-Fi service is prevalent in the main cities, and literacy is "nearly universal" according to Davis (the U.S. State Department says the literacy rate is actually 84%, which would sound pretty good in a lot of American inner-cities today). The economy is expanding at 5.6% per year and inflation is a very manageable 2.1%. Unemployment is 10.3%, which is high by our standards, but makes Cape Verde the envy of most African nations.
Davis points out that there is still much to be done with lingering evidence of poverty in Cape Verde. "Many people live in slums," he found. But, Davis was taken by how far the tiny nation has come in a very short while. "It is a country that had famines killing tens of thousands of people in the first half of the 20th century," he says. Now, the tiny nation's chief economic problem stems from a "property price bubble" created by a rush of primarily British and Irish vacation resort investments that have over supplied the market.
Impressed by the relative good-news in Cape Verde, Davis looked a little further and found that several other mainland African nations have some good economic news to share as well. He found that per capita income over the last decade has increased significantly in Ghana (104%), Mozambique (103%), Rwanda (119%), Sierra Leone (99%), Tanzania (95%), and Uganda (81%). Granted, when you start at a very low level, it is relatively easier to make significant gains, but these are promising signs on a continent too often bereft of any good news.
Good News often comes in small incremental amounts and the need continues to be great for the vast majority of the African people. It is encouraging to see the progress being made in Cape Verde, and we hope other nations and peoples might follow their example -- particularly their democratic system, strong legal foundation, educational and economic opportunities, and notable absence of radical Islamic influence. Cape Verde might be tiny, but like a candle at the end of a long tunnel, it might show the way out of the darkness.