In 1991, the United Nations decided to upgrade Cape Verde from a Least Developed Country (LCD) to the enviable designation of Middle Income Country (MIC) status. (Photo: Cape Verde).
Cape Verde is a former Portuguese colonized island nation, located off the coast of West Africa – smacked right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but closer to Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania.
The decision to upgrade Cape Verde’s status is the second time in the history of the United Nations.
The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) is a list of developing countries that, according to the United Nations, exhibit the lowest indicators of socio-economic development – the lowest Human Development Index ratings of all countries in the world.
The concept of LDCs originated in the late 1960s when the first group of LDCs was designated by the UN in its resolution 2768 (XXVI) of 18 November 1971. Sierra Leone has been a founding member of this ignominious LDC group ever since.
In my estimation, and this is just a guess, for the simple fact that I am not a psychic, a ‘juju man’, nor a palm reader or even a university educated psychologist, president Bio must be experiencing sleepless nights about how to get Sierra Leone upgraded from LCD to MIC status by the UN.
Indeed, I wish I could bet my bottom dollar (Leone), that the President actually dreams of making Sierra Leone a better place, based on his frequent utterances alone.
The many policies that he and his government have put in place as well as those in the offing, could stand as a living testimony to his commitment to the well-being of the country. He genuinely believes in Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans.
But first things first. The goods must be delivered. Local fees and taxes must be collected without corrupting influences. Then, as a matter of principle and ethical underpinnings, donor funds must be judiciously and transparently managed.
And finally, credible private and government alliances must be built regarding investment funds. Infrastructures must be built in the country with equitable distribution – to justify unbiased distribution of the aid the country receives and locally generated revenue it accumulates. No regional biases or otherwise.
Most developing countries strive to be accorded the MIC status, but for many African leaders this ambition is nothing other than self-accolade, an agenda, empty slogan.
But the people of Cabo Verde and their government have indeed merited such an international accolade. The country is, indeed, one of the most stable countries in Africa. It is harbouring on the brink of partnering with the European Union (EU), because of its tenable association with Portugal and its unfettered desire to upgrade the economic status of its people.
Sierra Leone does not have such a relationship with its old colonial master, Britain, regardless of its current wobbly partnership with the EU, which incidentally is at the end of their relationship.
Consequently, Cabo Verde has fervently pursued market-oriented economic policies, including open-arms welcome to foreign investors and a far-reaching privatization programme.
It established as its top development priority, the promotion of a free market economy in concert with the private sector – the development of tourism, light manufacturing industries, and fisheries; infrastructure such as transport, communications, and energy.
This economic strategy has had a significant impact on the creation of jobs around the country, particularly for the youths.
From 1994 to 2000 about $407 million in foreign investments was received by Cape Verde, of which 58% was invested in tourism, 17% in industry, 4% in infrastructure, and 21% in fisheries and services.
I’m absolutely convinced that Sierra Leone received far more than this amount in foreign aid in that same period. But Cabo Verde has ensured that this investment benefitted the island nation and its citizens.
Sierra Leone did not, including what it generated from its local mineral resources. And Sierra Leone is one of the most mineral endowed countries in Africa, but with the ‘resource curse’ that seems to have ravaged the country.
It is noteworthy that Cabo Verde has no mineral resources, which may be a blessing in disguise as no ‘resource curse’ will ever be experienced that has the tendency to cause civil war and unrest.
But what the country lacks in minerals has been compensated for in transparent, accountable as well as judicious use of donor funds in developing the country, in such areas as service industries, tourism, small-scale manufacturing, upgrading its fisheries industry and building infrastructure to facilitate the movement of goods and people.
Sierra Leone once had a railway that traversed the West and Eastern corridor. It effectively and efficiently transported foodstuff, commercial products and people conveniently from the provinces to the capital, with minimal interruption.
Since 2011, Cabo Verde has built wind farms that are capacitated to supply about 30% of the electricity of the country. It is one of the top countries for renewable energy.
Between 2000 and 2009, real GDP increased on average by over 7 percent a year, well above the average for Sub-Saharan countries, and faster than most small island economies in the region.
Strong economic performance was bolstered by one of the fastest growing tourism industries in the world, (something Sierra Leone will die for), as well as by substantial capital inflows that allowed Cabo Verde to build up its national currency reserves to the current 3.5 months of imports.
The attendant and welcome features of this dedication and commitment from the successive leadership of Cape Verde, have seen unemployment figures that have been falling precipitously. The country is on track to achieve most of the US Millennium Development Goals – including halving its 1990 poverty level.
Sierra Leone has twice failed to qualify for this much needed USA foreign aid investment.
Light manufacturing in Cape Verde accounts for a significant contribution to the country’s wealth creation. Fish and shellfish are plentiful, and small quantities are exported. Cabo Verde has cold storage and freezing facilities and fish processing plants.
Sierra Leone has vast stocks of fish and shellfish. China can testify to this.
In spite of having few natural resources and being semi-desert, Cabo Verde boasts of the highest living standards in the region, and has attracted thousands of immigrants of different nationalities.
You don’t see their nationals fleeing to Europe to escape unemployment and poverty.
It enjoys relatively high per capita income. Political and social stability, and freedom are the hallmark of this developing country.
Cape Verde’s population is among the healthiest in Africa. Since its independence, it has greatly improved its health indicators. Its total expenditure on health was 7.1% of GDP (2015), which accounts for the country’s status as one of the highest life span on the African continent.
So it stands to reason to expect Sierra Leone government officials to visit Cabo Verde on a learning tour; to learn a thing or two about how to develop an African country.
And I don’t think the good people of Sierra Leone will frown upon such a travel, as has been the case previously.