As local newspaper, Asemana, reported:
Leonor Rodrigues, the owner of the Christine & Irmãos bed and breakfast, reveals that only two guests have stayed at their establishment in the past two months. Rodrigues calls the situation “worrisome.” “We’ve been open more than 20 years and we’ve never been through a drop in demand like this,” she claims.So what might explain this mysterious state of affairs where a town that obviously has much to offer short term visitors is suddenly seeing a dramatic reduction in economic activity while the overall economy grows?
It’s a great opportunity for a lesson in economics. I believe it is due to the increasingly distorted economic imbalances between the “haves” and “have-nots” in Cape Verde. I’m not referring to private individuals in this case, but to the actual key population centers on the various islands. As Sal and Boa Vista drive the national economy ever higher through tourism growth, it has a perverse destabilizing effect: the population centers that benefit most from the economic growth become relatively more attractive than those that do not. The irony is that while the overall national economy grows, the “have-nots”, like Mosteiros, get left further and further behind. The root cause is the lack of economic linkages and Mosteiros is a classic example.
Think about it this way - if you happen to be visiting São Filipe, Fogo and it happens to be easier to reach the island of Brava than it is to reach the town of Mosteiros for an extra day trip, and let’s for the sake of argument say that Brava has decent restaurants and decent hotels; where would you be more likely to go from São Filipe if given the choice between Brava and Mosteiros for a day or two? Most likely you would visit Brava.
I would contend that the drop in economic activity coincided with the introduction of fast ferry service between São Filipe and Brava. It may be just a mere coincidence. The point here is not that CVFF is the problem; quite the opposite. It will cause an increase in economic activity in both São Filipe and Brava, which was previously more isolated than Mosteiros. Yet it is not a zero-sum game. The overall economy can still grow because more economic activity tends to fuel greater entrepreneurship, more production, increased exports and more inflow of FDI. Thus, until there are greater and more efficient economic linkages between the key population centers, the economic benefits of the centers where activity is occurring, will like a magnet, pull more of the economic activity away from those population centers that are not effectively linked. The end result is that the economy grows but in a lopsided fashion with the more economically isolated communities experiencing declines while the economic centers experience growth.
The idea of the local business people in Mosteiros that they should develop their sea port is actually a brilliant economic answer. Their gut feel is absolutely correct. Why? Because a port will increase the economic linkages between Mosteiros and the other connecting ports providing the ports are served. What is happening in Mosteiros is a microcosm of the larger economic challenge in Cape Verde.
The experience in Mosteiros is already manifested in other areas. According to Arnout Nuijt, publisher of Atlantico Weekly, an online newsite that follows developments in Cape Verde and Angola:
"You see similar developments on Santo Antão, where the relatively new town of Porto Novo is spurting ahead because of the actual port expansion, the new airport and the future resort zoning being planned. While historic towns such as Ribeira Grande and Paul have been the economic and political centres of the island for centuries, the government decisions to build a port and airport in Porto Novo will surely shift the economic centre of gravity to that town."This issue highlights the need for national policy to include maritime connections across Cape Verde as a matter of national economic priority. It is actually a basic infrastructure issue, but apparently has not been recognized as such. And as much as CVFF has entered the maritime transport picture, it simply does not have the capacity to make all of the connections that are needed. In addition, the nature of ferry service connecting Mosteiros to anywhere else would be a function of the feasibility of such connections.
Since the variables involved are many, this problem can only be addressed at the national level. The reason it should be a national priority it that there is a critical need to balance out the economic benefits across key population centers. When a better balance of growth is obtained across key communities the effect can be quite powerful because economic growth begets more economic growth. So if the growth can be spread to more communities, the effect is not additive but multiplicative for Cape Verde's economy. The efficient flow of human capital, labor, goods and services between populations centers is the lifeblood of any economy.
There is recognition that the maritime transport is a significant issue, as seen by government support of the public-private partnership with CVFF. Clearly, private enterprise is needed and can benefit from government partnership. But the national government has to take a more active role in creating a ferry system, otherwise, the development will be haphazard and slow, and key population centers, like Mosteiros, with poor economic linkages will ultimately suffer a disastrous fate even in the face of overall national growth.
The government has effectively left this national issue in the hands of the municipalities or local governments. For example, CVFF was publicly supported primarily by the municipality of Brava, the smallest of all the islands! This clearly does not lend itself to a coherent national vision or solution for maritime transport.
There is certainly a role for the local governments when it comes to the issue of a national ferry system. Currently, a ferry service would have to rely on the existing large commercial ports. This creates obstacles to private enterprise including: coordination of movements and schedules with larger international shipping vessels for port space, and becoming intertwined in port procedures intended for international shipping; the procedures used by port managers to process international commercial traffic will only slow down and complicate a local ferry service with unnecessary bureaucracy, fees, and paperwork. The CVFF service is already having to deal with these nuisance issues.
Where local governments can have a major role is in building small, passenger-only port terminals that are separate from the large commercial ports. These do not have to be deep-water facilities and may require no heavy equipment for off-loading freight (which is typically driven on and off ferries in small vehicles like DYNA trucks and Hiace panel vans). All that would be needed is a ramp for the vehicles to enter and exit the small, fast ferries.
If I were the government of Cape Verde, I would immediately privatize TACV, the national airline, take all of the savings from such a transaction and invest in a national ferry service (which could also ultimately be privatized). It is now more important for the national economy that the government connect all the Cape Verde islands together via maritime routes than it is to connect Cape Verde to the outside world by air routes – a privatized TACV and the international airlines will surely continue to serve the international connections. Continue together indeed.