On the roofs, on the vulcanos, on the ocean: Cabo Verde’s tourism at a crucial turning point.




Hearing about Cabo Verde is kind of unusual, and you probably even never heard about it, knowing that it is a small country, as its most famous national Cesaria Evora used to describe it, in french, in her 1995 hit: “Petit Pays”.

Speaking about its population as much as its area, this is indeed a small country, bringing 540 000 inhabitants together over 4 000 square kilometers, i.e. the third population and area of Africa.
Furthermore, this country can be proud of a remarkable democratic success. Indeed, it is described by the yearly The Economist’s Democracy Index as a “flawed democracy”, alongside France or Italy, taking the second rank amongst african countries. You probably already notice though, that you will mainly hear about african policies under the words of instability or authoritarianism when through mainstream media, and this is another chance of not hearing anything about Cabo Verde.



Rank Functioning of government Civil liberties Political Culture
Italy 21st 6,43 8,53 8,13
Cabo Verde 23rd 7,86 8,82 6,88
France 29th 7,50 8,53 5,63

Data: The Economist


Yet, Cabo Verde is nothing less than a charming archipelago made of 10 volcanic islands emerging of the Atlantic ocean 600 kilometers off the coast of Senegal. The State is a republic since it became independent from the colonial empire of Portugal in 1975. The official language is, as a consequence still the Portuguese, but the population mainly speaks Creole and is mostly Catholic.

The inhabitants of the southern leeward islands of Brava, Fogo, Santiago et Maio are subject to an arid climate with very few rainfalls. On the contrary, the people from the northern windward islands of Boa Vista, Sal, Sao Nicolau, Santa Luzia, Sao Vicente and Santo Antao are under the influence of the trade winds, which means a lot more precipitations and a lusher vegetation on the windward sides.

These islands stayed uninhabited until the 15th century, when it was then famous for being a refuge for pirates and corsairs, like Francis Drake among others.

As if it was related to its first encounter with humans, the archipelago is facing now a main issue concerning tourism. Nowadays indeed, Cabo Verde mainly subsist thanks to its touristic attractiveness. Beach and sea related tourism for example is the main source of income for the southern islands, where belongs the capital city: Praïa, which precisely means beach, in Portuguese. This way, the national policies bet their development on this sector, following the example of its ex-fellow Portuguese colony Macao, by making business with China through profitable contracts of casino constructions.


Tourism comes for Cabo Verde as a major economic driver, as long as this country did not know yet any industrialisation and that the only resources to be exploited are agricultural, in a very modest way, only on the windward sides of the windward northern islands. Yet, the culture of cane, banana, coffee and manioc are not productive enough to be exported or capitalised and are more likely to be used to subsist only. Moreover, the weight of tourism in the national economy is already enlightened by the fact that so far, the archipelago receives every year as many tourists as its own inhabitants. There is no need to explain more why tourism represent a great opportunity for the people of Cabo Verde to get economic spin-offs, especially when there is almost no other sector to make money.

But, Cabo Verde is at crossroad in the orientations it has to take by focusing its economy on tourism. Indeed, two different type of tourism is taking place on the archipelago and each one of them will not bring the same kind of dynamic for the territory.


On the other hand of seaside and gambling tourism, this country knows another form of tourism determined among other by relief constraints. Focused on practices respectful of the environment and local population’s way of life, it takes place in the northern islands, especially on the island of Santo Antao, the favorite of the trek and other eco-touristic activities. Ecotourism is indeed another way of doing tourism, way more responsible and sustainable ecologically and sociologically speaking. The effects of it are expected to be very few on the environment but also involve economically the local population. This form of tourism is actually booming for an ever increasing part of western tourist. This way, Santo Antao welcomes a lot of hiker every year, and its inhabitants make benefits of it by transforming their house, usually just their roof, into one-night hotels. A real godsend on a territory where the only other manifest activity is subsistence agriculture, taking the time of almost every men of every villages of the island.




This way, it is interesting for Cabo Verde to contrast this two different side of tourism. In the light of this comparison, is it a sound judgement for a country that is very poor in its facilities, like in waste processing for example, to bet on mass tourism, huge consumer of energy and waste? Yet less economic benefits provider, ecotourism does not change the landscape in which it takes place. This is a significant advantage on classical tourism when the landscape is precisely the comparative advantage of the territory.
Yet the example of Macao lead Cabo Verde to believe in a miraculous economic take-off. But the economic argument and the idea of an adjustment thanks to development, have to be followed up by other arguments. Yet poor, but with an exemplary democratic system, an access to its own resources under its own control, the archipelago is already or will soon face climatic issues quite more serious than economic development, with water level rising or desertification for example. In a context like this one, is it wise for Cabo Verde to, once again in its history, welcome on its territory hungry for gold foreign pirates?

Tom Forest

1 World bank, 2016

The Democracy Index 2017, The Economist

3 L’Afrique, nouvel “Enfer du jeu” chinois, Le Monde, 09.05.2017


5  The World Conservation Union

You can find the other pictures on our instagram account: @ladisillusione


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