Capital: Praia
Population: 509,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free


Cape Verde continued to serve as a model for political rights and civil liberties in Africa in 2010. The country signed the Dakar Initiative to fight trafficking by strengthening judicial systems, improving security forces, and increasing international cooperation. Also during the year, Cape Verdean authorities took full control of school feeding responsibilities from the World Food Programme.

After achieving independence from Portugal in 1975, Cape Verde was governed for 16 years as a Marxist, one-party state under the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, later renamed the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). In 1991, the country became the first former Portuguese colony in Africa to abandon Marxist political and economic systems, and the Movement for Democracy (MPD) won a landslide victory in the first democratic elections that year. In 1995, the MPD was returned to power with 59 percent of the vote.

President António Mascarenhas Monteiro's mandate ended in 2001, after he had served two terms. That February's presidential election was spectacularly close, with PAICV candidate Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires defeating Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga of the MPD by just 13 votes in the second round. Despite the thin margin, the results were widely accepted. The PAICV had also captured a majority in legislative elections the previous month.

The January 2006 legislative elections had a similar outcome, with the PAICV taking 41 of the 72 seats, the MPD placing second with 29, and the Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union(UCID), a smaller opposition party, securing the remaining two seats. Pires won a new five-year mandate in the February presidential election, garnering 51.2 percent of the vote. His closest rival, Veiga, claimed that the results were fraudulent, but they were endorsed by international election monitors.

In June 2007, the parliament unanimously passed new electoral code provisions aimed at strengthening the National Electoral Commission's transparency and independence. Voter registration for municipal elections held in May 2008 marked the debut of a biometric registry. The opposition MPD won a marginal victory, capturing 11 out of 22 municipalities, including the capital.

Large numbers of migrants from other African countries continue to stop in Cape Verde while trying to reach Europe. In 2008, Cape Verde and the European Union (EU) signed an agreement under which Cape Verdeans would have easier access to certain EU member states, in particular for seasonal work, while Cape Verde would undertake specific commitments to contain illegal migration to Europe. In addition to its role in the flow of migrants, Cape Verde is increasingly serving as a transit point for drug trafficking between Latin America and Europe. According to data cited by the Associated Press in 2008, Cape Verdean passport-holders accounted for 25 percent of all West African drug traffickers arrested in Europe. The United Nations, ECOWAS, the EU, and the United States have recognized this increase and have committed funds to aid in Cape Verde's policing activities. In 2010, Cape Verde – along with other West African nations and the EU-signed the Dakar Initiative to fight trafficking by strengthening judicial systems, improving security forces, and increasing international cooperation.

Cape Verde lacks natural resources and has little arable land, unemployment rates remain at roughly 20 percent, and there is growing income inequality. Nevertheless, the economy has benefited from high levels of remittances from citizens working overseas, a boom in service-oriented industries, and increasing tourism; however, the global economic downturn slightly diminished remittances and tourism in 2010. Cape Verde joined the World Trade Organization in 2008, capping nine years of negotiations. And in an indication of the country's good governance, the UN World Food Programme handed over control of its school feeding program to Cape Verdean officials in 2010. Authorities have focused on nutrition as part of their plan to achieve Millennium Development Goals for Cape Verde by 2015.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Cape Verde is an electoral democracy. The president and members of the 72-seat National Assembly are elected by universal suffrage for five-year terms. The prime minister is nominated by the National Assembly and appointed by the president. International observers considered the 2006 presidential and legislative elections to be free and fair.

The left-leaning PAICV has dominated Cape Verdean politics for most of the post-independence period. The main opposition party is the centrist MPD. The only other party holding seats in the National Assembly is the UCID.

Cape Verde received the fourth-highest ranking in the 2010 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, and it placed in the top ten in all of the index's categories, including the top ranking in the participation and human rights category. However, the U.S. State Department reported in 2009 that police corruption was increasing, and the Economist Intelligence Unit noted persistent corruption scandals in 2010. Cape Verde was ranked 45 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, making it the third-best performer in Sub-Saharan Africa.

While government authorization is needed to publish newspapers and other periodicals, freedom of the press is legally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. The independent press is small but vigorous, and there are several private and community-run radio stations. State-run media include a radio broadcaster and a television station. The government does not impede or monitor internet access.

According to the 2010 U.S. Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report, there were no societal or governmental incidents of religious intolerance, and the constitution requires the separation of church and state. However, the vast majority of Cape Verdeans belong to the Roman Catholic Church, which enjoys a somewhat privileged status. Academic freedom is respected.

Freedoms of assembly and association are legally guaranteed and observed in practice. Nongovernmental organizations operate freely. The constitution also protects the right to unionize, and workers may form and join unions without restriction. Roughly 25 percent of the workforce is unionized, but collective bargaining is reportedly rare.

Cape Verde's judiciary is independent. However, the capacity and efficiency of the courts are limited, and the U.S. State Department has reported that pretrial detentions of a year or more are common. While police beatings of detainees have been reported, increased reform and media coverage have seemingly mitigated such abuses. Juveniles are often incarcerated with adult populations. Prison conditions are poor and characterized by overcrowding.

Ethnic divisions are not a salient problem in Cape Verde, although tensions occasionally flare between the authorities and West African immigrants.

The government is a signatory to the African Protocol on the Rights of Women, which seeks to set international legal standards for women's rights, such as the criminalization of female genital mutilation and the prohibition of abuse of women in advertising and pornography. Cape Verde has also adopted a National Action Plan to fight gender violence through 2011. However, despite legal prohibitions, domestic violence and discrimination against women remain commonplace, and traditional protocols concerning gender roles continue to hinder gender equality. In 2010, the U.S. State Department reported that government responses to sexual violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation were inadequate.

* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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