Legends are defined by what they live long after they are gone...it's the ability to see ahead of us in a way that very few other people can understand. Cabo Verde being a small country is fortunate to be
blessed with so many legends who were willing to give of themselves for the betterment of her children.
In a continent where challenges such as peace consolidation, security and long-term economic growth still remain a major task, the traditional values passed on by our legends have prepared and developed leaders, solid governance and a startling success despite being a country with no natural resources.
In this article, we will highlight five of the many legends who have played a tremendous role in the upward mobility of the past 30 years since the independence of Cabo Verde.
We start with Dr. Amilcar Cabral, the founding father of our nation, who was assassinated just before the independence in 1973. A visionary he was, his powerful words were often seen as threats to the oppressors and his accomplishments alleviated our struggle towards freedom. He fought for the national liberation under the most trying conditions for the sole purpose of freeing his people from foreign domination. In a discussion with Salah Matteos, who knew Dr. Cabral very well, he explains that his friend liberated the minds of many and brought unity and understanding to the masses. Amilcar Cabral was considered most charismatic and best read of all the African nationalists or revolutionaries of his generation. According to his brother Luis Cabral during an interview, from the day Amilcar Cabral was born, the itinerary of his life was traced; he was destined to be a leader, destined to a legend.
In 1956, H.E. Aristides Pereira was one of the members along with Amilcar Cabral, that clandestinely organized African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). The PAIGC moved its headquarters to Conakry, Guinea, in 1960 and started an armed rebellion against the Portuguese in 1961. Despite the presence of Portuguese troops, which grew to more than 35,000, the PAIGC steadily expanded its influence until, by 1968, it controlled most of the country.
Former President Aristides Pereira served as chief of telecommunications in Guinea-Bissau for the Portuguese government but from the late 1940s until Cape Verde's independence, Pereira was heavily involved in the anti-colonial movement, organizing strikes and rising through the hierarchy of his party to Secretary General.
Under the leadership of Amilcar Cabral and Aristides Pereira, PAIGC established civilian rule in the territory under its control and held elections for a National Assembly. While the two leaders were having dinner and conversing with their partners, Amilcar Cabral was assassinated in Conakry in January 1973, and party members confided to Aristides Pereira for guidance and leadership. The PAIGC National Assembly met at Boe in the southeastern region and declared the independence of Guinea-Bissau on September 24, 1973. Following Portugal's April 1974 revolution, it granted independence to Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974 and to Cape Verde on July 5th, 1975. H.E. Aristides Pereira became the first president of Cape Verde islands and served until 1990. He was among the first leaders in Africa who stepped down peacefully when he lost a fair and open election in 1991.
The President of the Republic of Cape Verde, HE Pedro R. Pires, was born in 1934 on the Island of Fogo. In 1956 he left to Portugal to attend Lisbon University of Sciences. However, before concluding his degree, he was called to serve in the Portuguese Air Force as an officer. President Pires' youth is marked by hard memories of the famine that desolated the Islands of Cape Verde in 1943 and 1947. These contributed to reinforce his patriotism and the notion of an urgent need to eliminate the colonial domination in Cape Verde. In June 1961, together with a group of African youth, he decided to clandestinely leave Portugal to join the African Party for Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).
From 1962 to 1965 he worked in Senegal and in France mobilizing Capeverdean patriots for the armed struggle, and at the same time keeping the link with the secret PAIGC cells in Cape Verde.
From 1965 to 1968, he led the first cell of Capeverdean combatants who received military training with the goal of developing an armed struggle in Cape Verde. At the end of this military training this group was sent to the bushes of Guinea-Bissau where President Pires rose to the ranks of Commander of a Military Region in Guinea-Bissau. With the proclamation of Independence of Guinea-Bissau in 1973, he was nominated as Assistant Minister for the Defense of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.
In October 1974, President Pires returned to Cape Verde to lead the Capeverdean branch of PAIGC. Under his leadership, the Party made great advances towards the independence. In December 1974, as the head of the PAIGC delegation, H.E. Pedro Pires negotiated and signed with the Portuguese Government the political transition, which led to national independence of Cape Verde on July 5th, 1975 and designated on July 6, 1975 as the first Prime Minister of the independent nation of Cape Verde. He governed as Head of State for 15 years. In September 2000, he announced his candidature to the Presidency of the Republic of Cape Verde and was elected President on February 25, 2001. He is the third President of the Republic of Cape Verde.
Dr. Carlos Veiga, was born in Mindelo, S. Vicente in 1949. He graduated from High School in Praia and continued his education in Lisbon, Portugal. He obtained his Doctoral Degree in Law in 1971 from the Classical University of Lisbon.
From 1972 to 1974 Mr. Veiga worked in Angola as Registrar in the Civil Registry of the City of Bie'.
He returned to Cape Verde in 1975 to become a District Attorney and later Director of Internal Affairs, a position he held until 1978. In 1980, Dr. Veiga was appointed Attorney General.
In 1982, differences with the Party in power led him to leave the Government for private practice. In 1985 Dr. Carlos Veiga was elected Member of the Cape Verdean Popular National Assembly where he served on the Committee on Constitution and Legal Matters. In 1988 Dr. Veiga was re-elected to a second term to the Popular National Assembly and became a strong voice against the one Party system and challenged the dictatorship regime to open up for free and democratic elections. His position for democratic reforms were well known and respected by the people and in 1990 led to the creation of an opposition Party in Cape Verde, the MpD (Movement for Democracy).
During MpD's first National Convention, in October of 1990, Carlos Veiga was elected President of MpD and on January 13, 1991, led MpD to a major victory. Dr. Carlos Veiga was elected Prime Minister and formed the first democratically elected government of Cape Verde in January 1991 with an economic policy that set the country on a pace to "off the chart success in the 90s" and often referred to as the decade of prosperity in each and every aspect of Cape Verde, including human development, education, health, telecommunications, tourism, etc.
H.E. Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro was born in Santiago in 1944. He acquired his Law Degree from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium where he worked as as member of the Faculty from 1974 until 1977. Upon his return to Cape Verde, he founded the Cape Verdean Bar Association.
Mascarenhas served as Secretary-General of the National Assembly from 1977 to 1980 and as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1980 to 1990. He also participated in many international Cape Verdean Delegations, including the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Conference to draft the African Charter on Human Rights, the Addis Ababa Conference to review the OAU Charter, Human Rights Conferences in Nairobi (Kenya) Strasbourg (France) and Bologna (Italy), and the International Law Symposiums held in Coimbra (Portugal) and Utrecht (Netherlands).
In 1991, a time when the country could easily fall into a civil war with the transfer of one party regime to an open and democratic system, Cape Verde could not have asked for a more compassionate and caring individual to serve as Chief of State. He became the first democratically elected President of the Republic of Cape Verde and was reelected in 1996. During his term in office, Mascarenhas continued his participation in the international sphere to share the successes of Cape Verde . He was Chairman of the Third Conference on Regional System of Human Rights Protection in Africa and Europe and participated in the OAU Goodwill mission to Angola following the country's first free elections in 1992. In 1993, he was Chairman of the Colloquium on Constitutional Transition in Africa, held at the Catholic University of Louvain, and from 1994 to 1997 he served as President of the Inter-State Committee for Struggle Against Drought in Sahel (CILSS). In his role as Deputy President of the OAU Ad-Hoc Committee for Southern Africa, he attended the signing of the Lusaka Protocol on Peace in Angola in 1994.
Since leaving office in 2001, Mascarenhas has remained very involved in diplomatic affairs and participated as Chairman of the Contact Group of OAU sent to Madagascar in March, 2002 to mediate the conflict that broke out following the Presidential elections of 2001. He also participated in the January 2003 NEPAD and Security Forum organized by the Global Coalition for Africa held in Accra, Ghana.
Each of the five names mentioned above played a key role at the most important moment of our history when motherland craved for a strong leader. Four of the five legends are still alive and it's a rare opportunity for most of us to thank them in person. I hope that while you are still in the mood of celebration for the 30th anniversary of the independence that you take the time to thank these legends for the sacrifice and for the struggle they had to endure. It's their vision and leadership that has afforded us the freedom today, and why our country enjoys one of the greatest level of prosperity in the continent of Africa.