Credit where credit is due, Cape Verde has pulled off a marketing masterclass. Google Cape Verde and the first item that pops up is the self-promoting Wikipedia page.
Nicely edited by the Cape Verde Tourism Authority, devoid of any natural resources and even basic industry, the page extolls the virtues of the archipelago’s white sandy beaches and a friendly investment destination.
All as one would expect from a country that most of us don’t even know exists but has an evocative name – Green Cape – which conjures up images of palm trees and coconuts.
Dig a little deeper and one begins to see where the marketing magic has stepped in. A recent search on my trusted Google shows the second item as a reference to the “cocaine highway”, drug gangs and turf wars in the backstreets of the capital Praia and the tourist island of Sal.
Now that’s not what one expects. But let’s be fair, Cape Verde is not alone in facing such issues, but being the westernmost point of Africa and thus the closest point to Brazil does make it a logical logistics hub for certain businesses.
Cape Verde has been on a marketing drive since independence from Portugal in 1975. As pointed out earlier, with no natural resources and no industrial base Cape Verde has been wooing the tourism Euro (and before that the Deutsche Mark and Franc) for the past three decades.
It has seduced many rich European investors, especially the Ruling Family of Luxembourg which is happy to be acknowledged as the largest investor in the archipelago, with a well-honed presentation about the investment virtues of “Africa’s model economy”
To be fair, Cape Verde is a parliamentary democracy which has witnessed peaceful transitions of power far more than many of its closet neighbours but what do you do when your neighbours are all “African”? What do you do when your intellect and wisdom was clearly meant for a grander stage than that of a mere African archipelago? What do you do to distract yourself from the day-to-day issues of Covid? This is the problem which has been gnawing away at Prime Minister Ulisses Correia.
Cape Verde’s tourism-dependent economy has been decimated by the collapse of air travel. So, the Prime Minister, with one eye on April’s parliamentary elections, has been looking for ways to look dynamic, forward-looking and “in touch” with his people.
What do you but look for ways to become a partner with the United States and promote yourself as a “bridge into Africa” or an “economic corridor linking Latin America to Europe” (and not just for cocaine).
Better still, you, another country to build a massive military base with complete autonomy on your sovereign territory and you agree to the expansion of its embassy complex to house all those experts who will work at the new base.
Then 12 June 2020 happened.
On that day Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab was undertaking a humanitarian Special Mission en route to Iran when his plane made a request for permission to land and refuel. Whilst Saab’s plane was on the ground, it was boarded by Cape Verde National Police who claimed to have an Interpol Red Notice for his arrest issued at the request of the United States.
Despite carrying (and showing) irrefutable proof of his status as a Special Envoy and the purpose of his mission, meaning that he had immunity and inviolability, Alex Saab was arrested and has been held illegally for nine months pending an extradition process to the United States.
In arresting Alex Saab, Cape Verde, under the leadership of Prime Minister Ulisses Correia, tore up the rule book which has governed the movement of diplomats and political agents for hundreds of years.
More recently Prime Minister Ulisses Correia has continued to show his by ignoring a binding ruling handed down against his government (and not in the interests of the United States) by the ECOWAS Court of Justice on 2 December 2020.
So, this is the depth to which Cape Verde has sunk under the leadership of Prime Minister Ulisses Correia. His decision to be a willing pawn of politically motivated judicial overreach is a conscious one.
No rule cannot be overlooked, no request is too much if it comes from the right players. What this means for those with investments in the country, what it means for those white sandy beaches and what all of this means for the culture and identity of the good ordinary people of Cape Verde remains to be seen. Cape Verde’s squeaky-clean image as a law-abiding idyllic paradise has been shattered.
If Prime Minister Ulisses Correia is prepared to go to such lengths to violate customary international law, turn the world diplomatic order upside down and destroy the hard work of his tourism authority’s PR, then would he stop to think twice before expropriating an investment? Cape Verde has signed only a handful of bilateral investment treaties (“BIT”) which are the bedrock of international investment flows especially into small developing micro-states.
On the other hand, as Alex Saab’s ECOWAS experience has shown, even when it is party to a binding agreement Cape Verde, under Prime Minister Ulisses Correia, has a very selective memory.