Former Cape Verdean President Sees Africa Standing Up
Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro, who served two five-year terms as Cape Verde's first president elected under a multiparty system, tells a UCLA audience that Africa is no lost cause, but a continent striving towards peace and democracy. He discusses Cape Verde's relations with China and other emerging powers.
We have a very good relationship with China, despite our ideological differences.
Cape Verde's first president elected under multiparty democracy, Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro (1991–2001), spoke at UCLA on Oct. 4, 2007, about African nations' development and changing external relations. He emphasized signs of promise, including a sharp decrease in the number of armed conflicts taking place on the continent since 2002 and overall economic growth rates of nearly five percent since 2001. The event was sponsored by the UCLA African Studies Center.
However, Mascarenhas Monteiro expressed concern about Africa's generation-long decline in life expectancy, a general lack of rights for women, and poor prospects for too many youths.
"Development cannot be considered merely a question of numbers, measured only by the economic lens," he told an audience of about 60. "It must have as a main objective social justice, good governance, and respect for human rights."
Mascarenhas Monteiro said that the number of armed conflicts in Africa was down to six from a peak of 60 in 2002. He cited conflicts in Somalia and the Darfur region of Sudan as the two most severe current crises. On Darfur, he said that President Omar al-Bashir should follow through with pledges to accept a combined UN-African force.
"We are waiting. We are waiting," he said.
Before the speech, the former president accepted a certificate from the office of U.S. Rep. Howard Berman recognizing his work in promoting democracy and a Vasa Mihich sculpture presented by ASC Director Andrew Apter. Apter praised Mascarenhas Monteiro for his role in establishing a functioning democracy in Cape Verde, or one in which electoral "losers are willing to lose."
The archipelago nation of Cape Verde, located 450 miles west of Senegal, has a population of more than 400,000 and a larger diaspora in the United States alone. The islands won independence from Portugal in 1975 and established a multiparty democracy 16 years later, electing Mascarenhas Monteiro to two five-year terms in 1991 and 1996. Under the parliamentary system, the president is head of state, and a prime minister heads the government.
Mascarenhas Monteiro discussed relations with China, Brazil, India, and South Africa, all of which have established strong economic ties with his country in recent years. Early on, China supported the islands' independence campaign along with other liberation movements. China began taking advantage of investment opportunities on the continent in the 1980s and built parliamentary and presidential offices and housing for the young republic, and more recently a dam, said Mascarenhas Monteiro. The archipelago has chronic shortages of fresh water.
"We have a very good relationship with China, despite our ideological differences," he said. "China is run by a single party."
The former president also praised a key Bush administration foreign aid program, the Millennium Challenge Accounts. Cape Verde was among the first countries to benefit.