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Home Discussion Papers Optimistic Africa No natural resources required: The role of good governance in achieving the MDG’s in Cape Verde
No natural resources required: The role of good governance in achieving the MDG’s in Cape Verde
Written by Claire Furphy Sunday, 17 October 2010 07:52

The Millennium Declaration of 2000 states that no effort must be spared to “free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty.”(2) Despite the onset of the food and fuel crises and the global economic recession, African countries are making steady progress toward achieving this lofty ideal as encapsulated by the Declaration’s 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, Africa still has the highest proportion of people living in extreme poverty in the developing world.(3)

As a small archipelago of ten volcanic islands, a population of 530,000 people, few natural resources, little available drinking water and frequent droughts, Cape Verde is an unlikely candidate to be in the vanguard of African development progress. Yet, despite the island nation’s geographical and climatic challenges, Cape Verde is considered to be one of the best performing countries in Africa in terms of political, economic and social development. The country’s poverty rates have fallen substantially over time, and it remains on track to meet most of the MDG's, particularly those related to poverty eradication, health, education and gender.(4)

The reason Cape Verde has thus far succeeded where most African countries, although blessed with a wealth of natural resources have failed, is good governance. A stable political climate, sound economic policies, transparency and efficient management of development aid have underpinned Cape Verde’s development agenda providing significant returns. This paper outlines the country’s MDG success and how good governance has contributed to its remarkable achievements.   

Cape Verde on track to achieve the MDGs 

Cape Verde has few natural resources, suffers from poor rainfall and limited fresh water. Over 90% of all food consumed in Cape Verde is imported as the arid Sahelian climate and little arable land has left only 4 of the 10 main islands (Santiago, Santo Antão, Fogo, and Brava) capable of supporting significant agricultural production.(5) However, against all odds, the country has witnessed steadily increasing living standards and is on the way to achieving most of the MDGs.(6)

The first MDG, which rests on the accomplishment of the remaining 7 goals, is to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger. The target of the goal is to halve, by 2015, the number of people worldwide living on less than US$ 1 a day. Cape Verde’s level of absolute poverty has fallen from 37% to 28% between 2001 and 2006,(7) and the proportion of people living below the minimum level of dietary consumption has been halved.(8)

Furthermore, Cape Verde’s 2008 and 2010 MDG reports indicate that the country is rapidly approaching the achievement of the second MDG of universal primary education. Primary school net enrolment from 2003 to 2008 is estimated at 85%.(9) This remarkable achievement was made possible primarily through a United Nations (UN) supported 31-year national school feeding programme, taken over by the Government of Cape Verde in August 2010.(10) The programme has been a key factor in allowing poor Cape Verdean families to send their children to primary school. 

Unequal opportunities for education bases on gender among others, is a major obstacle to achieving universal primary education. In poor families with limited resources, preference is usually given to boys to attend school. In addition to ensuring that all children will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling, Cape Verde has also achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education. Indeed, the attendance rate of girls is higher than that of boys.(11)

There is further good news for Cape Verde’s children. Child mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa remain alarmingly high despite an overall reduction worldwide.(12) Cape Verde, however, is on track to meet MDG four - reducing the mortality rate of children under five. The country has managed to decrease the under-five mortality rate from 57 deaths per 1000 live births in 1995 to 21 in 2010,(13) well below the sub-Saharan average of 94.(14)  Cape Verde’s success in reducing infant mortality is largely due to doubling the number of births attended by skilled health professionals, increased vaccinations of young children and improving programmes that address overall health and nutrition for pregnant women.(15)

Inequality in access to health care has been identified as one of the primary barriers to achieving the MGDs in Africa.(16) Cape Verde has engaged in greater use of awareness raising campaigns aimed at sensitising families to issues related to child health. In addition, Government moved aggressively to bring primary health services closer to its citizens, so that now 76% of Cape Verdean families live within 30 minutes of a health centre.

The gains Cape Verde has made toward the MDGs represent an African development success story made all the more impressive when the context in which it has been achieved is considered. The dearth of natural resources and geographical and climatic challenges that Cape Verde faces have meant that in order to achieve any significant advances in development the country has had to turn to its most valuable asset, that of good governance. 

Good governance paving the way for development

During the past two decades, governance has become a key issue in the international development debate and policy discourse.(17) Good governance on the continent is seen as essential for Africa’s development since such practice has been demonstrated to be positively correlated with the achievement of better growth rates, income, investment, human capital, economic liberalisation, and distributive income growth in society.(18)

The African continent has historically had a record of poor governance. Unlike many African nations for which the wave of democratisation of the 1990’s represented a false dawn, Cape Verde has made steady gains in maintaining the values of democracy and is now considered the best democracy in sub-Saharan Africa, ahead of its nearest rivals, South Africa, Mauritius and São Tomé Príncipe.(19) Corruption on Cape Verde, though not unknown, is very low. Transparency International rated it third in Africa, behind Botswana and Mauritius, in the Corruptions Perception Index of 2008.(20)

Since 1991, the Government has pursued market-oriented economic policies, including an open welcome to foreign investors. In the face of a lack of resources Cape Verde has made good governance its most marketable product, using it to secure investment, loans and improved security ratings. This strategy appears to be paying off as Cape Verde enjoys a high investment rate which rose to 48% of GDP in 2008.(21)

Cape Verde’s own investment in good governance has had great returns. The country’s growth strategy has focused on good governance and sound economic policy, including the effective use of Official Development Assistance (ODA).(22) These best practices have seen Cape Verde’s graduation from least developed country (LDC) to middle income country (MIC), thus becoming Africa’s first case of policy-induced graduation, as opposed to natural resources driven graduation. Cape Verde’s policy driven graduation serves as a shining example that good governance can support growth and development in the absence of natural resource based wealth. As a middle income country, Cape Verde now has greater access to various windows of funding from international organisations such as the African Development Bank (AfDB), which will further aid development in the nation.

Simply securing international funding is, however, not enough to guarantee development. Good governance is also required to ensure that the State’s resources are effectively utilised to provide the education and health care without which the potential benefit of funding cannot be realised. Public administration can only be effective if there is human capacity to deliver policies. As the Prime Minister, José Maria Neves, pointed out in his address to the High Level meeting on the MDGs, “we must invest in our people so that they can be strategic resources for the development of our country.”(23) In addition to the positive effects the country’s education policies will have on the well being of Cape Verdeans, governance will also benefit development if education can be made to match the economy. In order to develop its human capital, Government has continued its overall push to strengthen education at all levels in Cape Verde. Enhanced vocational training will be tailored to market demands, and the expansion of university education will permit many more Cape Verdeans to continue their education at home rather than abroad.(24)

However, education is still only the start. In the absence of good governance, civil society cannot successfully contribute to development as laws cannot be justly applied and human security cannot be upheld. Under these conditions, private business, the engine of economic growth, cannot operate. The World Bank currently rates Cape Verde as 146th out of 183 countries on the ease of doing business,(25) but the stable political climate and low levels of corruption can only improve this figure over time.

It is clear then that good governance has played a vital role in the Cape Verde’s MDG achievement to date.  These successes show that the natural resources with which so many of Africa’s countries have been blessed are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for development on the continent. As former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, stated “good governance is the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development.”(26)   

Concluding remarks

Defying the odds stacked against it by nature, geography, and history, Cape Verde has proven itself to be an exception to the curses of poor governance and economic under-performance that have plagued post-independence Africa.

It is true that much still remains to be done. Unemployment is high and about 10% of the population are severely malnourished.(27) A further 25% of people do not have regular access to safe drinking water.(28) Still, Cape Verde has made staggering progress in development and the achievement of the MDGs and must be applauded for its successes. The arid, resource- and water-scarce archipelago should serve as an inspiring example to other low-income countries in their endeavours to achieve growth and development. As the AfDB Group President, Donald Kaberuka points out, “rich natural resources endowment does of course help, but here is evidence that no matter how bad the initial conditions, with good governance, solid institutions, and a peaceful political and social climate, take off is possible.”(29)


(1) Contact Claire Furphy through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Eyes on Africa Unit ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).
(2) African Union (AU),African Union Commission (AUC), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), African Development Bank (AfDB) & United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2010. Assessing progress in Africa toward the Millennium Development Goals: MDG report 2010.  http://www.afdb.org.
(3) Ibid.
(4) UNDP website: http://content.undp.org.
(5) U.S. Department of State website: http://www.state.gov.
(6) UNDP website: http://content.undp.org.                                                                
(7) African Development Bank website: http://www.afdb.org.
(8) UNDP website: http://content.undp.org.
(9) UNICEF website: http://www.unicef.org.
(10) UNDP website: http://content.undp.org.
(11) Ibid.
(12) Chineme Wilson, ‘African Maternal and Child Mortality Rate Remains High Despite Improvements Elsewhere’, Voice of America, 27 April 2010, http://www1.voanews.com.
(13) UNDP website: http://content.undp.org/.
(14) Ibid.
(15) Ibid.
(16) African Union (AU),African Union Commission (AUC), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), African Development Bank (AfDB) & United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2010. Assessing progress in Africa toward the Millennium Development Goals: MDG report 2010.  http://www.afdb.org.
(17) Hope, K.R., 2003. The UNECA and good governance in Africa. In: UNECA (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa), Harvard International Development Conference 2003Governance and Development in a Dynamic Global Environment. Boston. United States of America, 4-5 April 2003. United Nations: New York.
(18) Ibid.
(19) Baker, B., Cape Verde: Marketing good governance. African Spectrum, 44(2), pp. 135- 147, 2009.
(20) Ibid.(21) ‘AfDB President applauds Cape Verde’s graduation to middle income country and MDG achievements despite hostile initial conditions’, African Development Bank, 30 April 2010, http://www.afdb.org.
(22) Ibid.
(23) Sofia Tillo, ‘Good governance and good food: the Cape Verde success story’, MediaGlobal, 28 September 2010, http://www.mediaglobal.com.
(24) Ibid.
(25) World Bank Group, 2010. Doing business 2010: Cape Verde. World Bank: Washington D.C. http://www.doingbusiness.org.
(26) Ibrahim, M., 2007. The secretary General’s agenda: Sustainable development in Africa requires good governance.  UN Chronicle, 44(1), pp. 24-25.
(27) Baker, B., Cape Verde: Marketing good governance. African Spectrum, 44(2), pp. 135- 147, 2009.
(28) Ibid.
(29) ‘AfDB President applauds Cape Verde’s graduation to middle income country and MDG achievements despite hostile initial conditions’, African Development Bank, 30 April 2010, http://www.afdb.org.


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