Cape Verde

May 15, 2012, 12:54 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

Source: NASA

Cape Verde is a nation of volcanic islands 600 km off the western shore of Africa (Mauritania and Senegal) in the Atlantic Ocean. It has a population of a haf-a-million people; a quarter of whom live in the capitol Praia.

Cape Verde is an archipelago of ten islands and five islets. The islands are divided among the Barlavento ("windward") islands (Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolau, Sal, and Boa Vista) and the Sotavento ("leeward") islands (Maio, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava). Size varies dramatically between islands, of which Santiago (São Tiago - 991 square kilometers (km2) ) is the largest and Raso (7 km2) among the smallest.

Once covered by dry forests and scrub habitat, the landscape has since undergone extensive conversion to what is now an almost purely human-influenced agrarian environment. Native vegetation is now severely fragmented, and is largely confined to mountain peaks, steep slopes, and other inaccessible areas. These remnants are important, however, since they contain some of the few dry forest areas in Africa and its islands, and support a number of endemic species.

Cape Verde's major environmental issues include:

  • soil erosion;
  • deforestation due to demand for wood used as fuel;
  • water shortages;
  • desertification;
  • environmental damage has threatened several species of birds and reptiles;
  • illegal beach sand extraction; and,
  • overfishing.

It is susceptible to prolonged droughts; seasonal harmattan wind produces obscuring dust; and volcanic and seismic activity.

The uninhabited islands were discovered and colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th century.

Cape Verde subsequently became a trading center for African slaves and later an important coaling and resupply stop for whaling and transatlantic shipping.

Following independence in 1975, and a tentative interest in unification with Guinea-Bissau, a one-party system was established and maintained until multi-party elections were held in 1990.

Cape Verde continues to exhibit one of Africa's most stable democratic governments.

Repeated droughts during the second half of the 20th century caused significant hardship and prompted heavy emigration. As a result, Cape Verde's expatriate population is greater than its domestic one.

Most Cape Verdeans have both African and Portuguese antecedents.

Cape Verde has a strategic location 500 km from west coast of Africa near major north-south sea routes. It has an important communications station; and is an important sea and air refueling site.


The Cape Verde Islands are located in the mid-Atlantic Ocean some 450 kilometers (about 300 mi.) off the west coast of Africa. The archipelago includes 10 islands and 5 islets, divided into the windward (Barlavento) and leeward (Sotavento) groups. The main islands in the Barlavento group are Santo Antao, Sao Vicente, Santa Luzia, Sao Nicolau, Sal, and Boa Vista; those of the Sotavento group include Maio, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava. All islands but Santa Luzia are inhabited.

Three islands--Sal, Boa Vista, and Maio--generally are level and very dry. Mountains higher than 1,280 meters (4,200 ft.) are found on Santiago, Fogo, Santo Antao, and Sao Nicolau.

Sand carried by high winds has created spectacular rock formations on all islands, especially the windward ones. Sheer, jagged cliffs rise from the sea on several of the mountainous islands. Natural vegetation is sparse in the uplands and coast, but interior valleys support denser growth.

Rainfall is irregular, and the archipelago suffers periodic droughts and consequent food shortages. The average precipitation per year in Praia is 24 centimeters (9.5 in.). During the winter, storms blowing from the Sahara sometimes cloud the sky, but sunny days are the norm year round.

Location: Western Africa, group of islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Senegal

Geographic Coordinates: 16 00 N, 24 00 W

Area: 4,033 km2 (4,033 km2 land and 0 km2 water)

arable land: 11.41%
permanent crops: 0.74%
other: 87.85% (2005)

Land Boundaries: 0 km

Coastline: 965 km

Maritime Claims:

measured from claimed archipelagic baselines
territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Natural Hazards: prolonged droughts; seasonal harmattan wind produces obscuring dust; volcanically and seismically active

Terrain: Steep, rugged, rocky, volcanic.

The archipelago is volcanic in origin, and is situated in the southwestern portion of the Senegalese continental shelf on oceanic crust that is between 140 and 120 million years old. The landscape is rugged on the younger islands (Fogo, Santo Antão, Santiago, and São Nicolau), with peaks reaching over 2,000 m (highest mountain is Mount Fogo, 2,829 m), but relatively flat on the older islands (Maio, Sal, and Boa Vista). The degree of topographical variation is mainly related to the age of the islands and the presence of volcanoes. The major rocks are basalt and limestone, and there are deposits of salt and kaolin.

Low-level winds rushing over the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of northwestern Africa created cloud vortex streets, as seen in this true-color Terra MODIS image from January 5, 2005. The vortex streets tend to create patterns of swirls and curves in a roughly symmetrical pattern, though as can be seen here, the lower vortex street is much more disorganized - to the point that the typical features are almost unrecognizeable. Cloud vortices are also known as von Karman vortices. Source: NASA
The Serra Malagueta mountain range in the northern part of the island of Santiago, Cape Verde. Source: Ingo Wölbern/Wikimedia Commons.
Sao Vicente Island, Cape Verde. The beach of Praia Grande and Monte Verde in the background. Source: Henryk Kotowski/Wikimedia Commons
Peak of Mount Fogo, December 2007. Source: David Trainer/Wikimedia Commons.
Aerial view of Praia, the capital city of Cape Verde. Source: David Trainer/Wikimedia Commons.
The sand desert Viana on the island of Boa Vista, Cape Verde, is surrounded by rock desert. Source: Ingo Wölbern/Wikimedia Commons.
View of downtown Mindelo, Baía do Porto Grande and Monte Cara. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Elevation Extremes:

lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mt. Fogo 2,829 m (a volcano on Fogo Island)

Climate: Temperate; warm, dry summer; precipitation meager and very erratic.

Cape Verde has a tropical climate with two seasons; a dry season from December to July and a warm and wet season between August and November. The higher islands, containing active volcanoes, receive significantly more rainfall than the lower, flatter islands due to the rain shadow effect. Temperatures range between 20 and 35°C, and average between 25 and 29°C. The volcanic soils are quite fertile, but the islands are too arid for agriculture in most places. Periodically the islands suffer from prolonged droughts and serious water shortages.

Ecology and Biodiversity

Cape Verde's islands are included within the Cape Verde Islands dry forests ecoregion.

On the lower and drier islands the vegetation before human colonization probably consisted of savanna or steppe vegetation, with the flattest inland portion supporting semi-desert plants. At higher altitudes, a form of arid shrubland was also present.

On the higher and somewhat wetter islands, the climate is suitable for the development of dry monsoon forest, as this vegetation is believed to have been present in the past. However, most vegetation has now been converted to agriculture and forest fragments are now restricted to areas where cultivation is not possible, such as mountain peaks and steep slopes.

The islands support fragmented areas of tropical dry forest/shrubland, considerable endemic flora and fauna, populations of rare breeding seabirds, and plants only found on islands off the west coast of Africa.

Four species of land bird are endemic to these islands, and there are a number of endemic subspecies of birds. The islands are also important for rare breeding seabirds. Fifteen species of lizards occur on Cape Verde, of which 12 are endemic. These include a giant skink on Raso Island and a giant gecko found on both Raso and Branco.  Some 92 species of plants (14 percent) are endemic to these islands, although little information is apparently available on the current status and distribution of such species. The only native mammals include 5 small bats.

In the 500 years since humans first colonized the islands, the loss of natural habitats has been severe. These losses have been caused by the conversion of natural habitat to agriculture, the use of environmentally-poor farming practices causing soil erosion, the introduction of alien plants, the presence of a large number and high density of goats and other introduced animals, and drought. Remaining areas of natural habitat are confined to steep rocky areas and ravines in the mountainous islands and to patches in the flatter islands. None of these areas are protected.

The remaining habitats and their notable flora and fauna are all under considerable threat from the activities of humans and the presence of introduced species. Threats include overgrazing by livestock, over fishing, improper land use that often results in extensive soil erosion, and the demand for wood that has resulted in deforestation and desertification.

The introduction of exotic animals such as rats, sheep, goats, green monkeys and cattle has had devastating affects on the native flora and fauna. Rats and other introduced mammals can ravage nesting areas of seabirds, and over time wipe out entire colonies. Livestock is responsible for denuding soil, which results in extensive erosion and water loss, as well as compaction that hinders native plant regeneration.

See also:

People and Society

The Cape Verde archipelago was uninhabited until the Portuguese discovered the islands in 1456. Enslaved Africans were brought to the islands to work on Portuguese plantations. They were joined by entrepreneurs and refugees fleeing religious persecution in Europe, leading to a rich cultural and ethnic mix. The influence of African culture is most pronounced on the island of Santiago, where nearly half of the population resides. Sparse rain and few natural resources historically have induced Cape Verdeans to emigrate. It is believed that of the more than 1 million individuals of Cape Verdean ancestry, fewer than half actually live on the islands. Some 500,000 people of Cape Verdean ancestry live in the United States, mainly in New England. Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, France, Senegal, and Sao Tome and Principe also have large Cape Verdean communities.

The official language is Portuguese, but Cape Verdeans also speak Cape Verdean Creole, which is based on archaic Portuguese and influenced by African and European languages. Cape Verde has a rich tradition of Cape Verdean Creole literature and music. Grammy Award-winning singer Cesaria Evora, the “barefoot diva” and the country’s beloved celebrity, died at age 70 on December 17, 2011.

Population: 523,568 (July 2012 est.)

Ethnic groups: Creole (mulatto) 71%, African 28%, European 1%

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 32.6% (male 84,545/female 83,718)
15-64 years: 61.9% (male 154,697/female 164,917)
65 years and over: 5.5% (male 10,648/female 17,575) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 1.428% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 21.21 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 6.28 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -0.66 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 71 years

male: 68.78 years
female: 73.27 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 2.44 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Portuguese, Crioulo (a blend of Portuguese and West African words)

Literacy: 76.6% (male: 85.8% -  female: 69.2% [2003 est.])

Urbanization: 61% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of change of 2.4% (2010-15 est.)


In 1462, Portuguese settlers arrived at Santiago and founded Ribeira Grande (now Cidade Velha), the first permanent European settlement city in the tropics. In the 16th century, the archipelago prospered from the transatlantic slave trade. Pirates occasionally attacked the Portuguese settlements. Sir Francis Drake sacked Ribeira Grande in 1585. After a French attack in 1712, the city declined in importance relative to Praia, which became the capital in 1770.

In the early 18th century, U.S. whaling ships appear to have begun recruiting crews from Brava and Fogo to hunt whales that were abundant in the waters surrounding Cape Verde. Ties between the American colonies and Cape Verde are documented as early as the 1740s, when American ships routinely anchored in Cape Verdean ports to trade for salt or buy slaves. The tradition of emigration to the United States began at that time and continues today.

With the decline in the slave trade, 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 harbor, Mindelo (on the island of Sao Vicente) became an important commercial center during the 19th century.

Portugal changed Cape Verde's status from a colony to an overseas province in 1951 in an attempt to blunt growing nationalism. Nevertheless, in 1956, Amilcar Cabral, a Cape Verdean, and a group of Cape Verdeans and Guinea-Bissauans organized (in Guinea-Bissau) the clandestine African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which 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. 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 June 30, 1975, Cape Verdeans elected a National Assembly, which received the instruments of independence from Portugal on July 5, 1975.

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 Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). 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 September 28, 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 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 Mascarenhas 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 Party for Labor and Solidarity (PTS) 1 each. In February 2001, the PAICV-supported presidential candidate, Pedro Pires, defeated former MPD leader Carlos Veiga. In 2006, the PAICV won legislative elections again, and Pires was re-elected as President.


The Cape Verde constitution--adopted in 1980 and revised in 1992, 1995, and 1999, 2009, and 2010--forms the basis of government. The president is head of state and is elected by popular vote for a 5-year term. The prime minister is head of government and proposes other ministers and secretaries of state. The prime minister is nominated by the National Assembly and appointed by the president. Members of the National Assembly are elected by popular vote for 5-year terms.

Cape Verde enjoys a stable democratic system. The MPD captured a governing majority in the National Assembly in the country's first multi-party general elections in 1991, and the PAICV regained power in the 2001 legislative elections.

Cape Verde held parliamentary elections in February 2011, which the Independent National Electoral Commission (NEC) judged free and fair. Three parties now hold seats in the National Assembly--PAICV 39, MPD 31, and the Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union (UCID) 2. A first round of presidential elections was held on August 7, 2011. The top two contenders, Jorge Carlos Fonseca of MPD and Manuel Inocencio Sousa of PAICV, received 37.4% and 32.8% of the vote, respectively. Fonseca won 54% of the vote in the August 21 runoff election and took office as President on September 9, 2011.

In November 2011, former President Pires won the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s 2011 prize in good governance for “transforming Cape Verde into a model of democracy, stability, and increased prosperity.”

Government Type: Republic

Capital: Praia - 125,000 (2009)

Administrative Divisions: 17 municipalities (concelhos, singular - concelho); Boa Vista, Brava, Maio, Mosteiros, Paul, Praia, Porto Novo, Ribeira Grande, Sal, Santa Catarina, Santa Cruz, Sao Domingos, Sao Filipe, Sao Miguel, Sao Nicolau, Sao Vicente, Tarrafal

Independence Date: 5 July 1975 (from Portugal)

Legal System: based on the legal system of Portugal. Cape verde has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; and is a non-party state to the International Criminal Court (ICCt). The judicial system is comprised of a Supreme Court of Justice--whose members are appointed by the president, the National Assembly, and the Board of the Judiciary--and regional courts. Separate courts hear civil, constitutional, and criminal cases. Appeal is to the Supreme Court.

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

International Environmental Agreements

Cape Verde is party to international agreements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands.


Total Renewable Water Resources: 0.3 cu km (1990)

Freshwater Withdrawal: Total: 0.02 cu km/yr (7% domestic, 2% industrial, 91% agricultural).

Per capita Freshwater Withdrawal: : 39 cu m/yr (2000)

Access to improved sources of drinking water: 84% of population

Access to improved sanitation facilities: 54% of population


Although about 40% of the population lives in rural areas, the share of food production in GDP is low. About 82% of food must be imported.

Agricultural Products: bananas, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, coffee, peanuts; fish

Irrigated Land: 30 sq km (2003)


Natural Resources: salt, basalt rock, limestone, kaolin, fish, clay, gypsum.


Cape Verde has become a global leader in renewable energy. The government has launched an ambitious plan to reduce the country's dependence on imported fossil fuels through increased energy production from renewable resources. Through private-sector investment and government-supported projects, Cape Verde intends to generate at least 50% of electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020. Wind farms built on four of the islands now provide 10%-20% of the country’s electricity. A 32-acre solar farm outside Praia is Africa’s largest such facility, producing five megawatts of power.

  Production Consumption Exports Imports Reserves
Electricity 256.5 million kWh
(2008 est.)
238.6 million kWh
(2008 est.)
0 kWh
0 kWh
Oil 0 bbl/day
2,000 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
0 bbl/day
2,336 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
0 bbl
(1 January 2011 est.)
Natural Gas 0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m (2005 est.) 0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(1 January 2011 est.)
Source: CIA Factbook


Cape Verde has few natural resources and suffers from poor rainfall and limited fresh water. Only 4 of the 10 main islands (Santiago, Santo Antao, Fogo, and Brava) normally support significant agricultural production, and over 90% of all food consumed in Cape Verde is imported. Mineral resources include salt, pozzolana (a volcanic rock used in cement production), and limestone.

The economy of Cape Verde is service-oriented, with commerce, transport, and public services accounting for more than 70% of GDP. Although nearly 70% of the population lives in rural areas, agriculture and fishing contribute only about 9% of GDP. Light manufacturing accounts for most of the remainder. An amount estimated at about 20% of GDP is contributed to the domestic economy through remittances from expatriate Cape Verdeans.

The uninhabited island group Ilhéus Secos or Ilhéus do Rombo with parts of the city of Nova Sintra on Brava, Cape Verde. Source: Ingo Wölbern/Wikimedia Commons.

Although about 40% of the population lives in rural areas, the share of food production in GDP is low. About 82% of food must be imported.

Since 1991, the government has pursued market-oriented economic policies, including an open welcome to foreign investors and a far-reaching privatization program. It established as top development priorities the promotion of market economy and of the private sector; the development of tourism, light manufacturing industries, and fisheries; and the development of transport, communications, and energy facilities. From 1994 to 2000 there was a total of about $407 million in foreign investments made or planned, of which 58% were in tourism, 17% in industry, 4% in infrastructure, and 21% in fisheries and services.

Fish and shellfish are plentiful, and small quantities are exported. Cape Verde has cold storage and freezing facilities and fish processing plants in Mindelo, Praia, and on Sal. The fishing potential, mostly lobster and tuna, is not fully exploited.

Cape Verde's strategic location at the crossroads of mid-Atlantic air and sea lanes has been enhanced by significant improvements at Mindelo's harbor (Porto Grande) and Praia’s harbor, and at Sal's and Praia's international airports. New international airports were opened in Boa Vista (December 2007) and Sao Vicente (December 2009). Mindelo has hosted ship repair facilities since 1983. The major ports are Mindelo and Praia, but all other islands have smaller port facilities. In addition to the international airport on Sal, airports have been built on all of the inhabited islands, although the airports on Brava and Santo Antao are now closed. All other airports enjoy scheduled air service. The archipelago has 3,050 kilometers (1,830 mi.) of roads, of which 1,010 kilometers (606 mi.) are paved, most using cobblestone.

Cape Verde annually runs a high trade deficit financed by foreign aid and remittances from its large pool of emigrants; remittances supplement GDP by more than 20%. Future prospects depend heavily on the maintenance of aid flows, the encouragement of tourism, remittances, outsourcing labor to neighboring African countries, and the momentum of the government's development program.

Despite the lack of resources, sound economic management has produced steadily improving incomes.

Continued economic reforms are aimed at developing the private sector and attracting foreign investment to diversify the economy and mitigate high unemployment.

Future prospects depend heavily on the maintenance of aid flows, the encouragement of tourism, remittances, and the momentum of the government's development program.

Cape Verde became a member of the WTO in July 2008.

On November 22, 2010, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a 15-month Policy Support Instrument (PSI) to consolidate macroeconomic stability, maintain fiscal discipline, and achieve sustained growth for Cape Verde. The PSI is designed for countries that may not need IMF financial assistance, but still seek IMF advice, monitoring, and endorsement of their policy frameworks based on country-owned poverty reduction strategies adopted in a participatory process involving civil society and development partners.

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $2.04 billion (2011 est.)

GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $1.9 billion (2011 est.)

GDP-per capita (PPP): $4,000 (2011 est.)

GDP-composition by sector:

agriculture: 8.5%
industry: 16%
services: 75.5% (2011 est.)

Population Below Poverty Line: 30% (2000)

Industries: food and beverages, fish processing, shoes and garments, salt mining, ship repair

Exports: fuel, shoes, garments, fish, hides

Imports: foodstuffs, industrial products, transport equipment, fuels

Currency: Cape Verdean escudo (CVE)

Ports and Terminals: Porto Grande







Administration, N., Agency, C., Fund, W., & Department, U. (2012). Cape Verde. Retrieved from


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