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Definition: Cape Verde from Philip's Encyclopedia

Republic in the E Atlantic Ocean, the most westerly point of Africa. It is made up of 15 islands divided into two groups (Windward and Leeward). The capital is Praia on São Tiago. Cape Verde was colonized by the Portuguese in 1462, and served as a base for the slave trade. The islands gained independence in 1975. Industries: agriculture, fishing and salt. Area: 4033sq km (1557sq mi). Pop. (2002 est.) 412,000.

Summary Article: Cape Verde
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(vûd), Port. Cabo Verde, officially Republic of Cape Verde, republic (2015 est. pop. 533,000), c.1,560 sq mi (4,040 sq km), W Africa, in the Atlantic Ocean about 300 mi (480 km) W of Dakar, Senegal. It is an archipelago made up of 10 islands and 5 islets. Praia, located on the island of São Tiago, is the capital and largest city. In addition to the capital, other towns include Mindêlo on São Vicente, Ribeira Grande on Santo Antão, Sal-Rei on Boa Vista, and Espargos on Sal.

Land and People

Cape Verde's islands fall into two main groups—the Barlavento, or Windward, in the north, which include Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolau, Boa Vista, and Sal, and the Sotavento, or Leeward, in the south, which include São Tiago (c.600 sq mi/1,550 sq km, the largest island), Fogo, Maio, and Brava. The islands are mountainous and of volcanic origin; the only active volcano is at the archipelago's highest point, Pico do Fogo (c.9,300 ft/2,830 m), which is located on Fogo. Regularly active until the 18th cent., the volcano's most recent eruptions were in 1951, 1995, and 2014. The area is sometimes subject to severe droughts and the fierce harmattan wind. About 70% of the population is of mixed African and European descent, and almost 30% are of African descent; there are also a few Portuguese. Most persons are Roman Catholic, and the religion is often mixed with indigenous beliefs. Portuguese and Crioulo, a blend of Portuguese and West African languages, are widely spoken.


Farming is severely limited by the limited and often erratic rainfall and extensive soil erosion; more than 80% of the country's food must be imported. Cape Verde has considerable underground reserves of water, but extraction has proved extremely costly. The main crops are bananas, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, coffee, and peanuts. Goats, hogs, cattle, and sheep are raised. Tuna and lobster are the main catches of a small but potentially rich fishing industry. Salt is extracted and there are unexploited gypsum deposits. The islands' industries include food processing, the manufacture of shoes and clothing, salt mining, ship repair, and tourism, which is increasingly important to the economy.

The islands carry on a small foreign trade, mostly with Portugal, Spain, and other European Union countries; the annual cost of imports is usually much higher than export earnings. The main imports are foodstuffs, industrial products, transportation equipment, and fuels; the leading exports are fuel, shoes, garments, fish, and hides. Cape Verde's expatriate population is greater than its domestic one, and remittances from emigrants living in the United States, Portugal, and Africa constitute an important supplement to the islands' economy.


Cape Verde is governed under the constitution of 1992 as amended. The president, who is head of state, is popularly elected for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The government is headed by a prime minister, who is nominated by the legislature and appointed by the president. The unicameral legislature consists of the 72-seat National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for five-year terms. Administratively, Cape Verde is divided into 17 municipalities.


Cape Verde was discovered in 1456 by Luigi da Cadamosto, a navigator in the service of Portugal. Four years later, Diogo Gomes, a Portuguese explorer, visited the uninhabited islands, and colonists from Portugal began to settle there in 1462. People from W Africa were soon brought in as slaves, and by the 16th cent. the islands had become a shipping center for the slave trade. Later a Portuguese penal colony was established, and some of the convicts remained after completing their terms. Slavery was abolished on the islands in 1876. Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) was administered as part of the Cape Verde Islands until 1879. In 1951 the status of the islands was changed from colony to overseas province.

Although the nationalist movement appeared less fervent in Cape Verde than in Portugal's other African holdings, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) was founded in 1956 and many Cape Verdeans fought for independence in Guinea-Bissau. After the fall (Apr., 1974) of the Caetano regime in Portugal, widespread unrest forced the government to negotiate with the PAIGC, and independence for Guinea-Bissau (Sept., 1974) and Cape Verde (July, 1975) soon followed. Although the PAIGC was the sole legal party in both nations, a movement to unite the two was hindered by Cape Verde's nationalism and geographic remoteness. Plans for unity came to an abrupt end in 1980 after Guinea-Bissau's government (which was mostly Cape Verdean) was overthrown in a coup.

In 1981 the PAIGC was renamed the PAICV (African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde), a new constitution was adopted, and Aristides Maria Pereira (Cape Verde's first president) was reelected. In 1983 Cape Verde normalized relations with Guinea-Bissau; in 1986 Pereira was reelected. Multiparty elections were held in 1991; the centrist Movement for Democracy party (MPD) took a majority of seats in the national assembly, and Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro, an independent, defeated Pereira for the presidency. The MPD retained its majority in the 1995 assembly elections, and Mascarenhas Monteiro was reelected unopposed in 1996.

In the late 1990s the government continued economic reforms aimed at developing the private sector and attracting foreign investment. The nation, however, has been plagued by drought, resulting in staggering economic problems and large-scale emigration as well as the need to import most of its food. In 2001 the PAICV regained control of national assembly, and PAICV candidate Pedro Pires narrowly won the presidency. The PAICV retained control of the national assembly after the Jan., 2006, elections, and Pires was reelected the following month. In the Feb., 2011, elections, the PAICV again won a majority of the assembly seats, but the presidency was won by MPD candidate Jorge Carlos de Almeida Fonseca in August. The MPD won majority of the seats in the assembly in the Mar., 2016, elections, and in the October presidential election President Fonseca was reelected.

  • See Duncan, T. B. , Atlantic Islands: Madeira, the Azores, and the Cape Verdes in Seventeenth-Century Commerce and Navigation (1972);.
  • Shaw, C. , Cape Verde Islands (1990).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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