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Cape Verde: Transnational Archipelago

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Aug 18, 2009 (090818)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

As regular readers of AfricaFocus Bulletin know, this publication relies on selected "reposted" material. When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose Cape Verde as her last stop on her 7-country African tour, I was hoping to find some analysis on-line of the unique history and position of Cape Verde that I could share with readers. Surely someone would be commenting on-line on the long history of Cape Verdean immigration to the United States, or on the significance of Cape Verdean liberation leader Amilcar Cabral for Pan-African thought on both sides of the Atlantic. But apart from brief pro-forma tributes to the country's multi-party democracy and economic stability, I could find almost nothing in recent on-line reports to pass on to AfricaFocus readers. So I had to dig a bit deeper.

The headling in Cape Verde's bilingual A Semana on August 13, ( or, read "Clinton's visit to Cape Verde ignored by American media." And if coverage was sparse, historical perspective was even more strikingly absent. Search for mentions of "Hillary Clinton" and "Amilcar Cabral" on the web, for example. Apart from a few mentions of her landing at the Amilcar Cabral International Airport, the only reference one is likely to find is a Fox News attack on Obama administration green jobs czar Van Jones, because of his affiliation with an organization which once praised Amilcar Cabral in its newsletter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin, as well as the mainstream media, has been guilty of neglect of Cape Verde. And although one might attempt to excuse this with the adage "no news is good news," I thought it important to try to remedy this deficiency, even if inadequately.

[For the other countries on Secretary of State Clinton's trip, AfricaFocus Bulletin and its predecessor Africa Policy E-Journal have provided, from the year 2000 to date, 22 issues on Kenya, 26 on South Africa, 21 on Angola, 27 on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 37 on Nigeria, and 13 on Liberia. See for links.]

So you have this issue, with a potpourri of current content on the critical issue of remittances, references to books with current and historical background, links to a selection of the many Cape Verdean website portals, a few links to the extraordinary diversity of the music of Cape Verde and the Cape Verdean diaspora, and links to two new documents on the No Easy Victories website, featuring two Cape Verdean Americans who were honored in 2005 with Cape Verde's Ordem Amilcar Cabral. Thanks to Richard Lobban, long-time AfricaFocus subscriber and author of two standard reference works on Cape Verde, for suggestions of sources and issues to explore, only a fraction of which I was able to follow up,

This Bulletin and the additional links at, however, should at least give the interested reader a wide range of additional sources to pursue.

The title of this Bulletin comes from the recent book edited by Lu¡s Batalha and Jørrgen Carling, Transnational Archipelago, published in 2008. A significant portion of the book can be read on-line in


Note: AfricaFocus Bulletin will be taking a break from now until mid-September. Automatically updated news and other features will continue to be available at

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++


[Editor's note: The current population of Cape Verde is estimated at 429,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau international database - - estimates of the Cape Verdean diaspora, in the United States, Portugal, Netherlands, and other countries in Europe, the Americas, and Africa, vary widely, but the number is generally agreed to be given as approximately 500,000 larger than the total of those resident on the 10 islands of the archipelago. Remittances, as well as official development assistance, account for a significant proportion of national income and of the income of most Cape Verdean families, although statistical estimates differ widely. Cape Verdean emigrants and the Cape Verdean government have taken the lead in facilitating these transfers and limiting the cost of wire-transfer services, as noted in the article excerpted below about Citizens Bank in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Although such steps by no means resolve the issues of inequality within the extended Cape Verdean community, they may be of interest for other countries facing similar issues.

For a broader discussion of remittances, see]

Banking Unbanked Immigrants through Remittances

by George Samuels

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

George Samuels is a community affairs supervisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

[Excerpts: Full article in Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Communities and Banking, Fall, 2003]

Tanya Fernandes used to go to her local Western Union to take care of many of her financial services needs. She went there to cash checks, buy money orders, and send money home to her family in Cape Verde, Africa. She did not know that she had an option to pay less for these services until a family member told her about a Cape Verdean remittance program available at the Citizens Bank branch in the Upham's Corner section of Dorchester, Massachusetts. Investigating the program, Ms. Fernandes discovered a slew of other tools to conduct her financial affairs.

"This is great. I can send any amount of money to my family, and it costs only $10,"says Fernandes. "I'm so glad my uncle told me about this program. I have opened two accounts at the bank, and I am now saving money."

Ms. Fernandes is not alone. The establishment of remittance programs by mainstream financial institutions (MFIs) is becoming an important way of banking the unbanked immigrant population in the United States. ...

While a bank can remit money to practically any other bank in the world through wire transfer, few promote this service as a selling point to attract new customers. On the other hand, commercial service providers, like Western Union, widely advertise their remittance services. These alternative providers typically charge high fees and generally do not offer asset-building tools, such as interest-bearing deposit accounts. Many immigrants are unfamiliar with the U.S. banking system and rely solely on these alternative providers for their financial needs. As a result, they often pay more for services and miss the opportunity to build a solid financial foundation.

Now, MFIs are starting to offer tailored remittance programs to target these immigrant populations, and they are doing so for good reason. First, these unbanked persons represent an untapped customer base for many MFIs. Second, the volume of remittances from the United States to other countries is sizable - close to $35 billion in 2002 - and it is expected to increase considerably in the coming years. Dilip Ratha, a researcher at the World Bank, notes, "With such large sums of money being remitted, and projections showing that the level will increase, policy leaders and banks are becoming very interested."

Many MFIs, recognizing a business opportunity in this burgeoning market, are strategically offering competitive prices to remitters. Attracted by these low-priced services, many immigrant populations are entering the mainstream financial world and are being exposed to an array of financial services and products.

Remittance Programs Differ

While it is not clear how many MFIs are offering targeted remittance services, several established programs exist, including ones at Citizens Bank, Wells Fargo, and a network of credit unions. Most, but not all, programs require customers to open a bank account in order to remit funds. Some also require the recipient to open a bank account at the partnering foreign financial institution. Many remittance programs target one immigrant group, as they are typically a partnership between a financial institution here and one in the remitter's home country.

"Having a solid partnership with a corresponding institution and knowing your community are key to keeping costs in line,"says Raymond De Silva, senior vice president and regional manager at Citizens Bank and one of the leaders in developing his bank's remittance program. "Normally, it would cost about $30 to send money without a formal partnership. But with banks working together, we were able to lower the cost for our customers to $10. As more players get involved, costs may go down even further."

The Citizens Bank remittance program that Ms. Fernandes uses is a partnership with two banks in Cape Verde : Banco Commercial Atlantico and Caixa Economica. The program allows customers to remit funds to Cape Verde from anywhere Citizens has a branch location. Citizens' central wire department executes the transfers to the Cape Verdean banks; remitted funds are available to recipients in Cape Verde within 24 hours.

The program is popular among the region's Cape Verdean population because it costs only $10 to transfer any amount of money–a substantial saving over alternatives. For example, sending $2,000 to Cape Verde from the Western Union office in Dorchester costs $114, or 1040 percent more than the Citizens' program. Additional charges can occur at the point of exchange. According to the company's currency exchange policy, "Any difference between the rate given to consumers and the rate received by Western Union will be kept by Western Union."When all costs are taken into account, the savings from using the Citizens program have enticed many Cape Verdean remitters to become bank customers.

Citizens decided to implement this targeted remittance service after several customers went to the Upham's Corner branch manager and asked him to consider doing it. With 53 percent of the branch's customers and over 20 percent of the neighborhood being of Cape Verdean descent, the bank saw it as an opportunity to increase business. As Victor Monteiro, a native Cape Verdean and manager of the branch, explains, "It made perfect business sense. Our customers wanted it, and we knew this was a bigger opportunity because of the large Cape Verdean presence in Dorchester."


A Vision to Provide Banking Services to a Community

In 1982, when Victor Monteiro first went with his mother to the bank in the Upham's Corner section of Dorchester, Massachusetts, they did not have a pleasant experience. As Monteiro recalls, "We had to wait almost two hours to get service because no one spoke our language."Both natives of Cape Verde, Africa, Victor and his mother speak Portuguese and Crioulo, a blend of Portuguese and West African words. Eventually, the bank found someone at its Codman Square branch who could translate, but by the time he got to Upham's Corner to help, Monteiro had already made up his mind. That day, as he and his mother were leaving the bank, he told her,"One day, I will be the manager of this branch, and we won't ever have to wait for service again."

Eighteen years later, Monteiro's dream came true. He is now the branch manager at the Upham's Corner Citizens Bank branch, and he is keeping that promise to his mother. Ninety percent of his staff speak the language of his customers, and he is working hard to meet the banking needs of his community."Coming from the neighborhood, I already had a good sense of what some of the needs of the community were,"says Monteiro."Nothing is more pleasing to me than to see people come into the bank and express their happiness about the services they receive."

Upham's Corner is a vibrant commercial district where many in the Dorchester community go to shop and use other services. According to 2000 Census data, this neighborhood alone is home to about 2,900 Cape Verdeans, while the greater Dorchester area accounts for almost 9 percent of all Cape Verdeans that live in the United States.[In 2000, according to Census Bureau and Boston Redevelopment Corporation estimates, there with 77,000 Americans with Cape Verdean ancestry, 65,000 of them in New England.]

Starting a remittance program at the bank has been a key element in providing services to this population. Before the program was introduced in 2000, many of Citizens' Cape Verdean customers relied on wire transfer service providers to send money to Cape Verde. Eventually, recalls Monteiro,"A few customers asked why we couldn't provide the service. I thought to myself,why not?"

Monteiro brought the idea to his colleagues, and they were receptive. They formed a group that worked with Citizens' international office to develop a relationship with a couple of financial institutions in Cape Verde. The end result was a remittance program that costs his customers only $10 per transaction to send any amount of money to Cape Verde. Today, through word of mouth, many Cape Verdeans in the area have found out about the remittance program.

"I hear so many stories about how people back home need the money and how it costs so much to send it,"says Monteiro."Now, I tell them to come on by and check out our service. People are always pleased that they don't have to pay an arm and a leg to send money to family members in need."


Web Sites

Cabo Verde Online

Cape Verdean community news and multimedia

Cape Verdean culture, literature, music, and history

A Semana (weekly newspaper, Portuguese and English)

Virtual Cape Verde

Books, Music, & More

(1) Books

For links to display of a selection of books, music, & one film available for purchase on DVD, visit

With the exception of travel books, frequently updated since Cape Verde is an attractive destination both for the Cape Verdean diaspora and others, quite a few of the books on Cape Verde seem to be either out-of-print or quite expensive. Still, used copies do appear for sale on line, and some, such as two collections of Amilcar Cabral's writing, have been brought back in print by Monthly Review Press.

The latest edition of the Bradt travel guide was published this year (

Richard Lobban has recently updated the Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cape Verde, now available in the 4th edition (2007; His summary Cape Verde ( was published in 1998

On current issues, see Luís Batalha and Jørgen Carling, eds., Transnational Archipelago ( As noted above, much of this can be read through

For those who can read Portuguese, a collection of essays by Amilcar Cabral is available at In English Unity and Struggle ( and Return to the Source ( are both available from Monthly Review Press. Patrick Chabal's study Amilcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People's War ( has been brought back in print by Africa World Press.

(2) Music

The music of Cape Verde is best known through the superstar Cesaria Évoria. Her reputation on the world music scene is well deserved, but there is much more. For an overview see the review by Afropop's Marlon Bishop at and the links at and

For a selection of musicians see

Among those Cape Verdean artists available for purchase of CDs, MP3 downloads, and listening to samples:

Cesaria Évoria, Café Atlántico

Mayra Andrade, Storia, Storia

Bana, Gira Sol

Suzanna Lubrano, Festa Mascarado

Lura, M'Bem di Fora

Gil Semedo, Cabopop

Tcheka, Lonji

(3) & More

"Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican?": A Cape Verdean American Story is the first of a three part documentary series on the Cape Verdean community in Fox Point, by Cape Verdean scholar and film maker Claire Andrade-Watkins. Part II will begin in the late 1960s, early 1970s, and take us through the tumultuous years of the Black Power movement, challenges to Cape Verdean identity, Cape Verdean war for independence and the tensions it created in the Cape Verdean American community. The last in the series will reflect on the meaning of "home" without the physical location of Fox Point and the connections to the larger CV global community. See for background, and for purchase of this and two other short films. A DVD of "Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican?" is also available at

No one has yet written the history of the support given to the liberation struggle in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde by solidarity groups in the Cape Verdean community in the United States. But it is recognized within the community and by the Cape Verdean government, which in 2005 awarded the Ordem Amilcar Cabral to Salah Matteos and Ray Almeida during a visit by President Pedro Pires to New Bedford, Massachusetts. For two documents reflecting a small slice of that history, see and

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

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