Catalyzing Creativity in Cape Verde

September 2013

By Catherine Jewell, Communications Division, WIPO

Cape Verde, an archipelago of 10 islands, lies in the Atlantic Ocean some 350 miles west of the coast of Africa. Since 2001, the country has been undergoing a remarkable process of social and economic transformation. In 2007, it became only the second country, after Botswana, to shed its least developed country status, moving up to the rank of middle-income country. It is also one of the rare African countries to have achieved all the Millennium Development Goals. In this article, we explore how Cape Verde is leveraging its rich cultural resources to consolidate and build on its achievements and carve a pathway to a more prosperous future.

Cape Verde’s Minister of Culture, Mr. Mario Lucio Sousa, a musician in his own right, sings for delegates at a WIPO event in July. (Photos: EIF Cape Verde NIU)

At the crossroads of three continents – Africa, the Americas and Europe - Cape Verde has been a trading hub since its discovery by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Today, in its drive to diversify and expand its economy and compete in global markets, the country is establishing itself as a high added-value services hub for tourism, the creative industries, transport, information and communications technologies (ICTs), renewable energy and agriculture.

Towards expansion of Cape Verde’s creative economy

As a small island state with few natural resources to speak of, Cape Verde is strongly committed to building a knowledge society. Leveraging the country’s plentiful creative resources to expand the creative economy is a cornerstone of Cape Verde’s economic development strategy. “The future of our country lies in our capacity to create, our capacity to innovate and that is why we are doing all we can to ensure that this happens. The creative economy must be a tool for social inclusion and global integration,” said Prime Minister José Maria Neves at an event hosted by WIPO on the sidelines of the 4th Annual Review of Aid for Trade hosted by the World Trade Organization in July 2013.

Leveraging a rich cultural heritage

For many, the first hint of Cape Verde’s rich cultural heritage became apparent with the soulful tones of the late popular singer Cesária Évora. The internationally acclaimed “barefoot diva,” did much to put Cape Verde’s vibrant musical tradition on the world map. In a country said to have the greatest number of musicians per square kilometer, Cape Verde’s Minister of Culture, Mr. Mario Lucio Sousa, said “life means music and music means life.”

In line with the growing global recognition of their importance in generating jobs, driving economic growth and promoting cultural engagement, culture and creativity are at the heart of Cape Verde’s economic and social transformation. “We are working hard to see how culture can be involved in the development of the country, how it can add value to tourism, how it can help reduce poverty, and how it can help Cape Verde become more competitive,” said Mr. Sousa.

“In the last 10 years Cape Verde has invested a lot in creating infrastructure – harbors, airports, roads, schools, hospitals – we can call this a hardware decade, but to realize the potential of hardware you need to invest in software, so over the next few years we will have completed a decade of software,” explained Mr. Sousa. “We are investing in the creative economy because we are living in an era where the intangible has a special value. We can add value to everything we produce and can ask a higher price for our products because each product encompasses our experience of life, our culture, and that is what people pay for,” he explained.

Culture and creativity are at the heart of Cape Verde’s economic and social transformation. In the drive to catalyze the country’s creative dynamic, the government has adopted various measures to support small communities in an endeavor to generate employment and boost livelihoods.

In an endeavor to stimulate a creative dynamic within communities across the archipelago, the government is rolling out a range of initiatives and incentive packages to help individual creators and small entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.

Supporting creators by improving access to finance

A priority has been the creation of a culture bank - a micro-credit facility - to facilitate access to finance for creators and small entrepreneurs across the islands. The initiative, launched in 2012, seeks to support the development of local businesses and foster a spirit of entrepreneurship among artists. “This is a kind of guaranty fund that allows the small entrepreneur to go directly to the bank and submit a project which is evaluated according to its intangible value,” he said. “Small businesses can give momentum to the national economy, so we are giving resources directly to the people that produce. We go wherever they have something new to produce,” Mr. Sousa said.

The government is also exploring how the creative economy can support the sustainability of the country’s tourist industry which generates over 20 percent of the country’s GDP. The Minister noted that everything created in Cape Verde differentiates the country, has value and can help make it more competitive in the global market.

Training is another priority. “We are working with teachers of music, theatre and dance and also with entrepreneurs,” Mr. Sousa said. “This is essential to our success in creating new business clusters, expanding our product base and boosting growth.”

Catalyzing the creativity of islanders through networks

In the drive to spur the creative dynamic of Cape Verdeans, the government is building up a series of networks across the islands. “We are establishing networks of museums, venues and festivals in Cape Verde to create a big cultural program that will ensure that every day culture is stimulating the economy,” Mr. Sousa explained.

“We are investing in the creative economy because we are living in an era where the intangible has a special value.”

Through these networks, “we work with small communities giving them the resources and the possibility to generate their own incomes from culture,” the Minister said. The national network of handicrafts, for example, is designed to encourage the production of cultural products, generate employment and new sources of income. “Cape Verdeans are very creative people and can create wonderful objects with great value,” the Minister said.

The Minister recounted the recent success of organizing the Atlantic Music Expo (AME). The three-day event demonstrated that “culture can trigger the value chain in Cape Verde”. It brought together a wide range of music industry professionals from 40 countries, providing an excellent opportunity for local musicians, entrepreneurs and distributors to meet with their overseas counterparts and benefit from their experience. It also boosted demand for local products and support services creating opportunities across multiple sectors.

Serving the IP needs of all communities

Mr. Sousa noted the important role intellectual property has to play in protecting the interests of creators and in converting creativity into saleable assets, but emphasized the importance of reflecting on how it might serve the needs of all communities, from the biggest to the smallest. “I support the protection of intellectual property,” he said. “It is an important way to make money and protect what you do, but in the 21st century we need to better reflect on why it works in some parts of the world but not in others. Only then can we know how to perfect it.”

While Cape Verde continues to face significant economic and social challenges, its creative and cultural resources are an engine for growth. “Cape Verde’s experience demonstrates the widespread social and economic impact of the cultural sector,” said Mr. Sousa. “Culture was the first basis for trade and commerce in the world and continues to be an important platform for development. That is why it is at the heart of Cape Verde’s drive to achieve sustainability.”

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