Outside of the Portuguese-speaking world, little is known of Cape Verde – an archipelago of 10 islands endowed with a mountainous range that overlooks a vista of sandy dunes and turquoise blue beaches.

Located off the coast of west Africa in the Atlantic Ocean, the country has historically positioned itself as a holiday destination for Portuguese visitors, as well other Lusophone countries including Brazil and Angola, yet Cristina Duarte, Cape Verde’s minister of finance, concedes that this narrow focus has consequently led the country to struggle in developing an international reputation as a truly global tourist destination.

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“There remain many untapped business opportunities in tourism and there are several completely untouched beautiful beaches,” Ms Duarte told fDi Magazine in an interview during the International Monetary Fund summit in October.

A new way of thinking

The Cape Verde government is working to publicise the country's 'hidden' attractions. Its push to market Cape Verde to English-speaking tourists, as well as other international visitors, is evident in its tourist board’s ‘CapeVerde.com’ campaign. Moreover, the government’s drive to ensure that the country has sufficient capacity to host an influx of tourists at peak seasons saw it investing heavily in building new hotels and restaurants, and the African Development Bank (AfDB) estimates that between 2000 and 2010 the country's hotels and restaurants industry grew almost six times faster than the national economy.

By 2010, this sector accounted for 16% of GDP and for its efforts, the AfDB says that Cape Verde’s tourism industry enabled it to successfully weather the protracted global economic crisis. In 2012, the country's GDP expanded by 4% and by the end of this year its growth is expected to increase to 4.8%, according to the AfDB.

Logistics hub

Yet far from relying on its tourism sector, Ms Duarte is keen to stress that the Cape Verde government is also working to market itself as a logistics hub for companies seeking to access markets in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the country's land mass spans just 4000 kilometres, Ms Duarte says that the expansive scale of the Atlantic Ocean that falls under the country’s jurisdiction means Cape Verde is strategically positioned to serve an increasing number of deep-sea container vessels that originate from Europe and the Americas, carrying goods to west and central Africa. 

“Cape Verde spans 800,000 square kilometres of sea, thus we have more sea than land mass,” says Ms Duarte. “So we believe that taking account of our strategic geographic position, Cape Verde can become one of the key transhipment routes in the Atlantic Ocean. There is growing container traffic coming in from Latin America and Europe with goods destined for Africa. We are positioned right in the middle of this, and this is a unique opportunity for us, so we have modernised and enlarged six maritime ports in Cape Verde.”

Forming part of the government’s strategy to develop six economic clusters of growth, the government’s move to expand and modernise its deep-sea ports has formed part of its 'sea cluster' development plan. Additional clusters that encompass the government’s development strategy have been aviation, ICT, business and financial services, renewable energy and creative economy clusters.

“Cape Verde’s infrastructure is being developed in order to create the necessary conditions for all of these clusters to develop,” says Ms Duarte. “We plan to finance the infrastructure and build up the clusters, and we will invite the private sector to develop their business in each of these clusters.”

ICT drive

For Ms Duarte, the government’s commitment to developing the physical infrastructure is already evident through its successful move to place extensive fibre-optic cables across all of the country’s islands. This move, which has formed part of its 'ICT cluster' of development, has enabled the country to position itself as an ICT hub for companies wishing to outsource business functions that are focused on west and central Africa to the islands, and it also part of the government’s push to foster ICT innovations within the island.

“We have invested heavily in ICT and we have connected all the islands with fibre-optic cables,” says Ms Duarte. “Cape Verde wants to become a national service centre provider, and we also believe that the ICT cluster is instrumental to accelerating the growth of other clusters. At the same time, this is a business opportunity for Cape Verde. The Economic Community of West African States’ [commissariat] may actually locate its ICT commission in Cape Verde.”

Yet despite its significant efforts, international agencies including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have maintained that not enough steps are being taken to invest in the country’s soft skills. Cape Verde continues to lack sufficiently skilled human labour to facilitate international firms’ business needs, and the UNDP ranks the country 132nd out of 187 in its human development index, as the average Cape Verdian adult has received just three-and-a-half years of schooling.

The country’s training system continues to lag global educational standards and English speakers are rare. Despite its shortcomings, Ms Duarte argues that the government’s capacity-building initiatives have placed Cape Verde in the cusp of change and in the near future, its investments will sufficiently materialise into tangible business benefits for prospective investors.

“Cape Verde is reaching a more mature level of development and we have even surpassed several of our millennium development goals,” she says. “We are undertaking very strong programmes to mobilise African private investment and to diversify our resources for FDI and I believe that we are in a different position than where we were 10 years ago.”