A few months back, there was a great online discussion about Cape Verde's Tourism industry. I read the post and some of the comments, and decided to write about my own ideas around this in 'Why we need to invest in Tech & Startups in Cape Verde'.
What I wrote was not exactly an answer to the problems that the current situation has created, but rather an alternative for the future. Large parts of the islands of Sal and Boa Vista have been sold off to foreign investors and I don't expect this to end. I can't say that I'm happy with what I see all around the country in the sector, but I am happy with all the jobs and all the families that can put food on the table thanks to these jobs created by this 'foreign invasion'.
I'm not a fan of Cape Verdean politicians nor do I have any emotional attachment to any political party, but I do understand the complexity of the job in general, and of this case in particular. Investors negotiating with a government know about the advantage they have in these kinds of talks. An investor might be very interested in adding a new destination to its portfolio, or it might be out just 'shopping' for a new deal.
Governments need to create jobs but have very limited ways this can be done. They can use monetary and fiscal stimulus, and attract foreign investment. Knowing that there might be an opportunity to bring in 10.000 jobs by making a deal with only one group of investors is huge for a country such as Cape Verde, I get that. We need to understand that we practically don't have any other options.
Covid-19 has shown how much our country's depends on tourism, with many thousands of people being out of work due to the current crisis. I can only imagine how our country would have developed without all these jobs in the past 5-10 years. What would our country be like today if this big shift to Tourism had not been made?
I understand and sometimes even agree with the criticism towards our government, especially when it comes to the conditions of these deals, and the fact that the workers seem to have little to no protection. I've criticised the situation myself in the past, but have gotten a better understanding of it today. However, I continue to believe that there could be a more ethical approach to business by the large corporations that work in Cape Verde.
Where there is nothing more we can do against the buying/selling of large plots of land in our country, at least in my opinion, we can work towards a more ethical standard within companies all around Cape Verde, both with foreign businesses/corporations and the local ones. How? By investing in the creation and growth of businesses of young Cape Verdeans across all sectors, especially those within the Tech & Startup Scene.
Imagine if 20 or 30 years ago groups of Cape Verdeans in and outside the country had come together with a vision of the future and the Tourism sector. By forming groups they might have been in a position to buy up large plots of land on different islands, in places that would possibly become the target of big investors in the sector looking for opportunities. Without direct sellers on the markets, and extra cash on hand raised from new participants they might even have been able to start development on the plots, creating even more value.
The fact that this didn't happen is in now way a critique to those generations. They have been incredibly important to the development of our country, and part of what it is today is thanks to their sacrifice and hard work worldwide. I believe it is now our turn to take things to the next level. In order to get to that next level of development, solving critical and complex problems, we need a totally new approach. This means we need to be open to something that has not been done before.
With the tech & startup scene people always speak about an 'ecosystem'. This ecosystem is made up out of various participants such as founders, investors, talent, accelerators and other events. The ecosystem in Cape Verde today is just in the process of being built, and can still be considered underdeveloped. Without investors it's impossible to to have a mature ecosystem. This is one of the things Sonvela is currently working one.
I'm not saying tech can deliver a same type of opportunity as tourism, but I do know that software can't be stopped. It's important for us to get involved now because otherwise we risk becoming spectators, consumers, or labor as is the case in both tourism and commerce. We need Cape Verdean ownership in the tech scene, which will be such a big part of our society in the next 10-20 years.
With tech, the possibilities are endless, and there is already a group of incredibly talented people working on hard problems. Young founders and entrepreneurs building drones, or writing software to solve problems in health care and agriculture. We have people working on climate issues, taking on gender inequality challenges. Some in their twenties, others in their early thirties. Just imagine what they all could achieve with the right amount of funding & support.