Cape Verde officially the Republic of Cabo Verde, is an island country spanning an archipelago of 10 volcanic islands in the central Atlantic Ocean.
It forms part of the Macaronesia ecoregion, along with the Azores, Canary Islands, Madeira, and the Savage Isles. Located 570 kilometres west of the Cape Verde Peninsula off the coast of Northwest Africa, the islands cover a combined area of 4,033 square kilometres.
The Cape Verde archipelago was uninhabited until the 15th century, when Portuguese explorers discovered and colonized the islands, establishing the first European settlement in the tropics. Ideally located for the Atlantic slave trade.
The islands grew prosperous throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, attracting merchants, privateers, and pirates.
The end of transatlantic slavery in the 19th century led to economic decline and emigration. Cape Verde gradually recovered as an important commercial center and stopover for shipping routes.
Incorporated as an overseas department of Portugal in 1951, the islands continued to campaign for independence, which was achieved in 1975.
Since the early 1990s, Cape Verde has been a stable representative democracy, and remains one of the most developed and democratic countries in Africa.
Lacking natural resources, its developing economy is mostly service-oriented, with a growing focus on tourism and foreign investment.
Its population of around 550,000 is mostly of mixed European, Moorish, Arab and African heritage, and predominantly Roman Catholic, reflecting the legacy of Portuguese rule. A sizeable diaspora community exists across the world, slightly outnumbering inhabitants on the islands.
Historically, the name “Cape Verde” has been used in English for the archipelago and, since independence in 1975, for the country.
In 2013, the Cape Verdean government determined that the Portuguese designation Cabo Verde would henceforth be used for official purposes, such as at the United Nations, even in English contexts. Cape Verde is a member of the African Union.
Cape Verde’s climate is milder than that of the African mainland because the surrounding sea moderates temperatures on the islands and cold Atlantic currents produce an arid atmosphere around the archipelago.
Conversely, the islands do not receive the upwellings (cold streams) that affect the West African coast, so the air temperature is cooler than in Senegal, but the sea is warmer, because the orographic relief of some islands, such as Santiago with steep mountains, cover it with rich woods and luxuriant vegetation where the humid air condenses and soak the plants, rocks, soil, logs, moss, etc.
On the higher islands and somewhat wetter islands, exclusively in mountainous areas, like Santo Antão island, the climate is suitable for the development of dry monsoon forest, and laurel forest as this vegetation.
Average daily high temperatures range from 26 °C (79 °F) in February to 31 °C (87.8 °F) in September. Cape Verde is part of the Sahelian arid belt, with nothing like the rainfall levels of nearby West Africa.
It rains irregularly between August and October, with frequent brief heavy downpours. A desert is usually defined as terrain that receives less than 250 mm (9.8 in) of annual rainfall. Sal’s total of (145 mm (5.7 in)) confirms this classification. Most of the year’s rain falls in September.
Sal, Boa Vista, and Maio have a flat landscape and arid climate, whilst the other islands are generally rockier and have more vegetation. Because of the infrequent occurrence of rainfall, the landscape is arid.
The archipelago can be divided into four broad ecological zones — arid, semiarid, subhumid and humid, according to altitude and average annual rainfall ranging from 200 millimeters in the arid areas of the coast to more than 1,000 millimeters in the humid mountain. Most rainfall precipitation is due to the condensation of the ocean mist.
In some islands, like Santiago, the wetter climate of the interior and the eastern coast contrasts with the dryer one in the south/southwest coast. Praia, on the southeast coast, is the largest city of the island and the largest city and capital of the country.
Because of their proximity to the Sahara, most of the Cape Verde islands are dry, but on islands with high mountains and farther away from the coast, by orography, the humidity is much higher, providing a rainforest habitat, although much affected by the human presence. Northeastern slopes of high mountains often receive a lot of rain while southwest slopes do not. These areas are identified with cool and moist.
Western Hemisphere-bound hurricanes often have their early beginnings near the Cape Verde Islands. These are referred to as Cape Verde-type hurricanes. These hurricanes can become very intense as they cross warm Atlantic waters away from Cape Verde.
The average hurricane season has about two Cape Verde-type hurricanes, which are usually the largest and most intense storms of the season because they often have plenty of warm open ocean over which to develop before encountering land.
The five largest Atlantic tropical cyclones on record have been Cape Verde-type hurricanes. Most of the longest-lived tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin are Cape Verde hurricanes.
The islands themselves have only been struck by hurricanes twice in recorded history (since 1851): once in 1892, and again in 2015 by Hurricane Fred, the easternmost hurricane ever to form in the Atlantic.
The Cape Verde archipelago is in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 570 kilometers off the western coast of the African continent, near Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritania, and is part of the Macaronesia ecoregion. It lies between latitudes 14° and 18°N, and longitudes 22° and 26°W.
The country is a horseshoe-shaped cluster of ten islands (nine inhabited) and eight islets, that constitute an area of 4033 km2.
The islands are spatially divided into two groups:
- The Barlavento Islands (windward islands):
- Santo Antão
- São Vicente
- Santa Luzia
- São Nicolau
- Boa Vista
- The Sotavento Islands (leeward):
- The Barlavento Islands (windward islands):
The largest island, both in size and population, is Santiago, which hosts the nation’s capital, Praia, the principal urban agglomeration in the archipelago.
Three of the Cape Verde islands, Sal, Boa Vista and Maio, are fairly flat, sandy, and dry; the others are generally rockier with more vegetation.
Physical geography and geology
Geologically, the islands, covering a combined area of slightly over 4,033 square kilometers, are principally composed of igneous rocks, with volcanic structures and pyroclastic debris comprising the majority of the archipelago’s total volume. The volcanic and plutonic rocks are distinctly basic; the archipelago is a soda-alkaline petrographic province, with a petrologic succession similar to that found in other Macaronesian islands.
Magnetic anomalies identified in the vicinity of the archipelago indicate that the structures forming the islands date back 125–150 million years: the islands themselves date from 8 million (in the west) to 20 million years (in the east). The oldest exposed rocks occurred on Maio and northern peninsula of Santiago and are 128–131 million-year-old pillow lavas. The first stage of volcanism in the islands began in the early Miocene and reached its peak at the end of this period, when the islands reached their maximum sizes. Historical volcanism (within human settlement) has been restricted to the island of Fogo.
The origin of the islands’ volcanism has been attributed to a hotspot, associated with the bathymetric swell that formed the Cape Verde Rise. The Rise is one of the largest protuberances in the world’s oceans, rising 2.2 kilometers in a semi-circular region of 1200 km2, associated with a rise of the geoid and elevated surface heat flow.
Most recently erupting in 2014, Pico do Fogo is the largest active volcano in the region. It has an 8 kilometers diameter caldera, whose rim is 1,600 meters altitude and an interior cone that rises to 2,829 meters above sea level. The caldera resulted from subsidence, following the partial evacuation (eruption) of the magma chamber, along a cylindrical column from within magma chamber (at a depth of 8 kilometers).
Extensive salt flats are found on Sal and Maio. On Santiago, Santo Antão, and São Nicolau, arid slopes give way in places to sugarcane fields or banana plantations spread along the base of towering mountains. Ocean cliffs have been formed by catastrophic debris landslides.
According to the president of Nauru, Cape Verde has been ranked the eighth most endangered nation due to flooding from climate change.
Cape Verde is divided into 22 municipalities (concelhos) and subdivided into 32 parishes (freguesias), based on the religious parishes that existed during the colonial period.
Largest cities or towns in Cape Verde:
- Praia – 127 832
- Mindelo – 70 468
- Santa Maria – 23 839
- Santa Catarina – 12 026
- Porto Novo – 9 430
- Pedra Badejo – 9 345
- São Filipe – 8 125
- Tarrafal – 6 177
- Boa Vista – 5 407
- Ribeira Grande – 4 625
Cape Verde’s isolation has resulted in the islands having a number of endemic species, particularly birds and reptiles, many of which are endangered by human development.
Endemic birds include Alexander’s swift (Apus alexandri), Bourne’s heron (Ardea purpurea bournei), the Raso lark (Alauda razae), the Cape Verde warbler (Acrocephalus brevipennis), and the Iago sparrow (Passer iagoensis).
The islands are also an important breeding area for seabirds including the Cape Verde shearwater. Reptiles include the Cape Verde giant gecko (Tarentola gigas).
The official Census recorded that Cape Verde had a population of 512,096 in 2013. A large proportion (236,000) of Cape Verdeans live on the main island, Santiago.
The Cape Verde archipelago was uninhabited when the Portuguese discovered it in 1456. The modern population of Cape Verde descends from the mixture of European settlers and African slaves who were brought to the islands to work on Portuguese plantations. Most Cape Verdeans are therefore mulattos, also called mestiços in Portuguese. Another term is creole, meaning those of mixed native-born African and native-born European descent.
European input included Spaniards and Italian seamen who were granted land by the Portuguese Empire, followed by Portuguese settlers and exiles, as well as Portuguese Muslims (ethnic Moors) and Portuguese Jews (ethnic Sephardim). Both of these religious groups were victims of the Inquisition.
Other immigrants came from places such as the Netherlands, France, Britain, the Arab countries (especially Lebanon and Morocco), China (especially from Macau), India, Indonesia, South America, and North America (including people of Portuguese and African descent) and were absorbed into the mestiço population.
People in Santiago
Cape Verde’s population in the 21st century is mostly creole; the capital city Praia accounts for a quarter of the country’s population. Over 65% of the population in the archipelago live in urban centers, and the literacy rate is 89% according to the 2017 National Statistics Bureau data. Many Cape Verdeans have since emigrated, mainly to the United States and Europe.
A genetic study revealed that the ancestry of the population in Cape Verde is predominantly European in the male line and West African in the female line; counted together the percentage is 56% African and 44% European. The high degree of genetic and ethnic mixture of individuals is a result of centuries of migration.
Cape Verde’s official language is Portuguese. It is the language of instruction and government. It is also used in newspapers, television, and radio.
Cape Verdean Creole is used colloquially and is the mother tongue of virtually all Cape Verdeans. The national constitution calls for the measures to give it parity with Portuguese.
Cape Verdean Creole or Kriolu is a dialect continuum of a Portuguese-based creole. There is a substantial body of literature in Creole, especially in the Santiago Creole and the São Vicente Creole. Creole has been gaining prestige since the nation’s independence from Portugal.
The differences between the forms of the language within the islands have been a major obstacle in the way of standardization of the language. Some people have advocated the development of two standards: a North (Barlavento) standard, centered on the São Vicente Creole, and a South (Sotavento) standard, centered on the Santiago Creole. Manuel Veiga, PhD, a linguist and Minister of Culture of Cape Verde, is the premier proponent of Kriolu’s officialization and standardization.
The country is named after the nearby Cap-Vert peninsula, on the Senegalese coast. In 1444, a few years before they discovered the islands, Portuguese explorers named that landmark Cabo Verde (“green cape”).
On 24 October 2013, the country’s delegation announced at the United Nations that the official name should no longer be translated into other languages. Instead of “Cape Verde”, the designation “Republic of Cabo Verde” is to be used.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the Cape Verde Islands were uninhabited. They were discovered by Genoese and Portuguese navigators around 1456. According to Portuguese official records, the first discoveries were made by Genoa-born António de Noli, who was afterwards appointed governor of Cape Verde by Portuguese King Afonso V. Other navigators mentioned as contributing to discoveries in the Cape Verde archipelago are Diogo Gomes (who was with António de Noli and claimed to have been the first to land on and name Santiago island), Diogo Dias, Diogo Afonso and the Italian (Venice-born) Alvise Cadamosto.
In 1462, Portuguese settlers arrived at Santiago and founded a settlement they called Ribeira Grande (now called Cidade Velha (“Old City”), to avoid being confused with the town of Ribeira Grande on the Santo Antão island). Ribeira Grande was the first permanent European settlement in the tropics.
In the 16th century, the archipelago prospered from the Atlantic slave trade. Pirates occasionally attacked the Portuguese settlements. Francis Drake, an English privateer, twice sacked the (then) capital Ribeira Grande in 1585 when it was a part of the Iberian Union. After a French attack in 1712, the town declined in importance relative to nearby Praia, which became the capital in 1770.
Decline in the slave trade in the 19th century resulted in an economic crisis. Cape Verde’s early prosperity slowly vanished. However, the islands’ position astride mid-Atlantic shipping lanes made Cape Verde an ideal location for re-supplying ships. Because of its excellent harbour, the city of Mindelo, located on the island of São Vicente, became an important commercial centre during the 19th century. Diplomat Edmund Roberts visited Cape Verde in 1832. Cape Verde was the first stop of Charles Darwin’s voyage with HMS Beagle in 1832.
With few natural resources and inadequate sustainable investment from the Portuguese, the citizens grew increasingly discontented with the colonial masters, who nevertheless refused to provide the local authorities with more autonomy. In 1951, Portugal changed Cape Verde’s status from a colony to an overseas province in an attempt to blunt growing nationalism.
In 1956, Amílcar Cabral and a group of fellow Cape Verdeans and Guineans organised (in Portuguese Guinea) the clandestine African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). It demanded improvement in economic, social and political conditions in Cape Verde and Portuguese Guinea and formed the basis of the two nations’ independence movement. Moving its headquarters to Conakry, Guinea in 1960, the PAIGC began an armed rebellion against Portugal in 1961. Acts of sabotage eventually grew into a war in Portuguese Guinea that pitted 10,000 Soviet Bloc-supported PAIGC soldiers against 35,000 Portuguese and African troops.
By 1972, the PAIGC controlled much of Portuguese Guinea despite the presence of the Portuguese troops, but the organization did not attempt to disrupt Portuguese control in Cape Verde. Portuguese Guinea declared independence in 1973 and was granted de jure independence in 1974. A budding independence movement — originally led by Amílcar Cabral, assassinated in 1973 — passed on to his half-brother Luís Cabral and culminated in independence for the archipelago in 1975.
Following the April 1974 revolution in Portugal, the PAIGC became an active political movement in Cape Verde. In December 1974, the PAIGC and Portugal signed an agreement providing for a transitional government composed of Portuguese and Cape Verdeans. On 30 June 1975, Cape Verdeans elected a National Assembly which received the instruments of independence from Portugal on 5 July 1975. In the late 1970s and 1980s, most African countries prohibited South African Airways from overflights but Cape Verde allowed them and became a centre of activity for the airline’s flights to Europe and the United States.
Immediately following the November 1980 coup in Guinea-Bissau, relations between Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau became strained. Cape Verde abandoned its hope for unity with Guinea-Bissau and formed the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). Problems have since been resolved and relations between the countries are good. The PAICV and its predecessor established a one-party system and ruled Cape Verde from independence until 1990.
Responding to growing pressure for pluralistic democracy, the PAICV called an emergency congress in February 1990 to discuss proposed constitutional changes to end one-party rule. Opposition groups came together to form the Movement for Democracy (MPD) in Praia in April 1990. Together, they campaigned for the right to contest the presidential election scheduled for December 1990.
The one-party state was abolished 28 September 1990, and the first multi-party elections were held in January 1991. The MPD won a majority of the seats in the National Assembly, and MPD presidential candidate António Mascarenhas Monteiro defeated the PAICV’s candidate with 73.5% of the votes. Legislative elections in December 1995 increased the MPD majority in the National Assembly. The party won 50 of the National Assembly’s 72 seats.
A February 1996 presidential election returned President Monteiro to office. Legislative elections in January 2001 returned power to the PAICV, with the PAICV holding 40 of the National Assembly seats, MPD 30, and Party for Democratic Convergence (PCD) and Labour and Solidarity Party (PTS) 1 each. In February 2001, the PAICV-supported presidential candidate Pedro Pires defeated former MPD leader Carlos Veiga by only 13 votes.