Cape Verde’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Communities and Defence, Luis Filipe Lopes Tavares, paid a working visit to Moscow from April 29 to May 1. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held diplomatic talks with him focusing on bilateral political, trade, economic and people-to-people ties. They also paid special attention to the promotion of mutually beneficial cooperation in energy, the fuel and energy sector, tourism and agriculture. An inter-governmental agreement on ending visa formalities for reciprocal travel was signed.
In his opening statement, Sergei Lavrov, referred to Cape Verde as Russia’s traditional partner in Africa. “We value the friendship. Cooperation is growing between the two countries. I would like bilateral trade and economic cooperation to reach the level of political contacts, which is very high. There are good opportunities for this in various areas, especially tourism. And I hope that the visa-free travel agreement we signed will contribute to the development of tourism in both directions,” Lavrov said.
Both ministers further agreed to take additional measures to step up economic partnership, identify and use all opportunities available, including via direct contacts between members of the business community. They believed through more active involvement of business executives from Cape Verde in frequent corporate events in Russia, such as the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, is one practical way of boosting cooperation between Russia and Cape Verde.
The substantive part of the official discussion was devoted to the development of tourism, including in the context of the Visa Waiver Agreement between Russia and Cape Verde that was signed.
Lavrov and Tavares stressed that this new visa-free agreement would encourage tourism, as well as cultural and educational exchanges and contacts between people in the two countries.
Over the past ten years (decade), Russia and Cape Verde have achieved very little, if nothing at all, in dealing with previous diplomatic promises and pledges. Undoubtedly, some bilateral agreements were signed but have not been implemented.
In fact, as far back as October 2007 when Cape Verdean Foreign Minister Victor Manuel Barbosa Borges visited Moscow, Lavrov held similar diplomatic talks dedicated to substantively exploring the possibilities of intensifying bilateral relations, which have a long-standing history, in a variety of fields.
“We have an understanding of the necessity to encourage business circles to establish direct links and to explore the capabilities of each other, particularly under the auspices of the chambers of commerce and industry,” Lavrov told his counterpart, then Foreign Minister Victor Borges who visited in October 2007.
Lavrov added: “There are a number of practical projects already. In particular, a project for the supply of a floating nuclear power station to Cape Verde is in the stage of quite advanced study. A number of Russia’s regions, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, the Tyumen Region, Tatarstan, and a number of our companies have shown keen interest in tourism projects in Cape Verde.”
On the other hand, during that working visit from October 8-10 in Moscow, Victor Borges had separate working sessions with many senior officials from a number of Russian agencies and organizations.
In December 2010 interview held with the Honorary Consul of Cape Verde in Moscow, Theodore F. Trushin explicitly explained that Russia’s interest in Cape Verde was extremely low, nothing much there that required adequate discussion.
Trushin pointed out that while the Government of Cape Verde has taken enough policies to attract foreign investors, Russian business investors only went forth and back without concrete tangible results. Russian tourism, for example, did not pick up due to multiple reasons including the closure of the consulate by the Russian Foreign Ministry and absence of direct aviation links made it impossible to develop tourism.
As the then Honorary Consul in the Russian Federation, there were official bureaucracy and many other key problems and challenges that remained to overcome in order to make way for strengthening economic cooperation and to improve the overall relations between Russia and Cape Verde.
He described Cape Verde’s future economic prospects as one that depended heavily on foreign aid flows, the encouragement of tourism by other western foreigners, remittances from their own diaspora, outsourcing labor to neighboring African countries.
Theodore F. Trushin told me in that interview that there was little commitment towards development-oriented projects and investment that would help the island of Cape Verde from the Russian Federation.
The Russian tourism industry have still not tapped into Cape Verde. In terms of tourism and other investment sectors have remained relatively unknown, primarily due to inadequate information and lack of publicity in Russia, according to Felly Mbabazi, Executive Director of Safari Tropical Tours, who for nearly 15 years, has directed and organized several Russian group tours to safari in East Africa. East African safari includes Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Her company also operates tours to South Africa and other southern African countries.
“Beyond taking advantage of the existing potential to increase mutual relations, Praia and Moscow first need a shared business strategy. There are lot of things to be considered in the tourism business to Cape Verde. For example: distance from Moscow to Cape Verde, quality tourism infrastructure, reasonable prices, attractions like wildlife, white sandy beaches and most importantly tourist safety,” Mbabazi told me during the interview discussion.
For instance in Cape Verde – the European level of service for those who want to relax away from modern civilization or cosmopolitan life, have privacy and explore the underwater world of Islands, attracts sea/windsurfers and those who enjoy great fishing! Cape Verde is one of the centers for windsurfing and for sport fishing. This is possible all year-round in Cape Verde.
In her view, the creation of public-private partnerships and some intensive strategies as well as working on suitable air-links (connectivity) are important if to present Cape Verde as tourism destination for Russians.
The strategic step for the Government of Cape Verde is to design a marketing plan to expose the country to potential middle level Russians with rising income and has growing interest in island tourism, and this has to deal with reliable campaign through the media across Russia, suggested Mbabazi.
Felly Mbabazi, however, expressed optimism that “if Russia intensifies efforts in understanding the country’s development needs, then there could be some flow of effective business operations in agriculture and fishing, and of course, tourism. It needs commitment, investment guarantees or some sort of financial stimulus needed to improve such investment so as to make diplomatic policies more effective than mere declaration of interests.”
With information on trade and investment still sparse, the Public Relations department of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI), in an emailed response to a media query, has only described Cape Verde as tiny and insignificant business deal for Russia.
Vladimir Padalko, the Vice-President of the CCI of Russia, in a separate interview, explained that despite the fact there has been low investment and business, Russia and Cape Verde still have firm commitment in continuing to strengthen friendship and cooperation ties, and this could be complemented by intensive trade and economic exchanges in future.
While expressing optimism, Padalko stressed: “It’s now the Year of Africa in Russia. The CCI of Russia holds an important mini-business session May 22 as part of the preparation for Sochi. In October a full-fledged Russia-Africa business dialogue will be devoted for building important bridges between Russia and the African world.”
The Cape Verde Peninsula is off the coast of Northwest Africa. Since the early 1990s, Cape Verde has been a stable representative democracy, and remains one of the most developed and democratic countries in Africa.
Lacking natural resources, its developing economy is mostly service-oriented, with a growing focus on tourism and foreign investment. Its population of around 540,000 is mostly of mixed European, Moorish, Arab and African heritage, and predominantly Roman Catholic, reflecting the legacy of Portuguese rule. A sizeable diaspora community exists across the world, slightly outnumbering inhabitants on the islands. Cape Verde is a member of the African Union. *Cape Verde is an English translation for Cabo Verde.