Santiago is the largest and the most populated island of the Cape Verdean archipelago. Half of Cape Verde’s 500,000 inhabitants live on this island. These images represent what I saw, inside and outside, on the island.
Cape Verde is on the way to achieving most of the UN Millennium Development Goals. The country has an energy that is palpable and a tentative optimism, despite the on-going hardships that many still endure. Cape Verde has a democratically elected government and its inhabitants enjoy political and social stability and freedom. It has the highest living standards of any country in West Africa, 87% literacy levels, and an average life expectancy of 75 years, which is in the top three of all African countries. There are more Cape Verdeans living abroad than in Cape Verde and they send back much-needed foreign currency.
However Cape Verde is an arid country that has very few natural resources and few employment opportunities. Most of the population lives on less than two dollars a day. Falling mortality rates and stable fertility rates, and declining opportunities for emigration are increasing the pressure on the poor domestic resources. Traditional safety nets, based on extended family structures and social solidarity, are breaking down, especially in Praia and other large urban centers, mainly because of high population growth, declining incomes and modern ways of life. Prostitution is legal, but unregulated, a dangerous combination. It’s common for Cape Verdeans to turn to prostitution as a means of survival. Sex tourism is now big business in Cape Verde. Drug-related crime and gang violence are increasingly common, especially in the capital, Praia. The vast majority of people in Cape Verde live in homes that they have built themselves. These unregulated constructions are poorly built and frequently unstable. Most have no running water and no means of disposing of sewage or waste. Residents frequently steal electricity because they can’t afford to pay for it.
Cape Verde’s greatest resource is it’s vibrant people, but seemingly most of the inhabitants of the archipelago still struggle to make ends meet and their future seems to hang precariously in the balance.