Friday, June 24, 2011

The Cape Verdean diaspora

Horace Silver, jazz pianist
How many Cape Verdeans actually live outside of Cape Verde? These individuals comprise the Cape Verdean diaspora. The popular thinking is that more Cape Verdeans live outside Cape Verde than live within it. The population of Cape Verde is just over half-million residents in 2011 (based on the most recent census). I've heard estimates for the population of the diaspora that range from half-million to one million.

And it's a very interesting question to ask for several reasons.

First, it has significant implications for the country's economy because almost 10% of the GDP comes from remittances sent to Cape Verdean families from members who live in other lands, and provides support to families for the basics of living as well as to start small businesses. Remittances were actually an even higher percentage of the total economic output but have been surpassed by tourism and foreign direct investments.

Cape Verdeans emigrants often return home to work, start businesses themselves, or simply to retire. They often return with greater educational accomplishments, professional expertise, and assets. They thus can make invaluable contributions to Cape Verdean society.

Cape Verde Festival, RI, USA
And of course, many in the diaspora return periodically for vacations. In fact, it is estimated that Cape Verdeans returning for holidays and vacations comprise about 10% of the total tourism industry. But as you might imagine, they spend less nights per trip at hotels since many have relatives with whom they stay while on vacation. And I know many of you foreigners out there are thinking if you could only be so lucky to spend some time with a Cape Verdean family while here in Cape Verde. LOL! Listen, Cape Verdeans would love it if you would spend more of your dollars outside the hotels!

History of the Diaspora

Associacão Beneficiente Caboverdiana
Cape Verde has one of the highest historical rates of emigration. Starting in the mid 1800s, Cape Verdeans began a trend of heavy migration due to the droughts and severe poverty levels. They began migrating to the United States working aboard the whaling ships. The US currently has the oldest and largest of the Cape Verde expat emigrant communities.

When the US instituted extremely restrictive immigration policies starting around 1920, many Cape Verdeans began to emigrate to Senegal, a French colony at the time, because of its proximity. The Cape Verdeans in Senegal began to migrate to France after Senegal gained its independence. Senegal has the fifth largest Cape Verdean expat community.

There was also heavy migration to the Portuguese speaking countries in sub-Saharan Africa especially Angola, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Gabon, São Tomé e Príncipe because at one point those countries and South America were the only destinations the Portuguese authorities would approve for Cape Verdean emigrants. Today Angola has the third largest population of Cape Verdean expats. And Argentina at one tine had the sixth largest (Brazil probably has more Cape Verdeans today than Argentina).

Around the 1960s, Cape Verdeans joined the wave of immigrant labor movements to Western Europe especially Portugal, the colonial master at the time. Today, Portugal has the second highest and France the fourth highest population of Cape Verdean expats.

Then starting in the 1970s, the emigration levels were drastically reduced because of strict immigration policies in the US and Europe. In fact, the population growth rate in Cape Verde which had been negative for many years (more people emigrating that being born), turned quite positive and then tripled from the 1970s to around 2.5% per year in the 1990s.

The Number

Cape Verdeans, Southern California, USA
So how large is the diaspora? Well according to the World Bank, it's around 192,000 world wide. That's less than half the population of Cape Verde. Now the World bank gets its estimate from official figures plus they look at where remittances into Cape Verde come from and how many are sent. But I think this probably underestimates the number because "official" numbers probably do not count everyone, and remittance patterns vary from one expat community to the next.

Could it be one million? I think this is too high. One way to actually figure out the number is via simple math. The number of Cape Verdeans who've ever been born must be equal to those who are alive in Cape Verde plus those Cape verdeans who are alive outside of Cape Verde plus all who ever died. Ignoring deaths, then the diaspora would be one million only if there were 1.5 million Cape Verdeans ever born (and even higher when you add all of those who've ever died). For that to be true, Cape Verde must consistently have had an incredibly high birth rate per thousand for hundreds of years. I doubt that's been the case.

Who is the Diapora?

New Bedford, Cabo Verde Expo
What defines the diaspora? Is it only those who were born in Cape Verde and have emigrated? Or would the number include second, third or even fourth generations who were born in foreign lands of Cape Verdean parents? What about Cape Verdeans who emigrated and married non-Cape Verdeans? Are their kids, like famous Jazz pianist Horace Silver, part of the diaspora?

For an interesting scoop on the making of a new documentary by Claire Andrade, about the history of one on the oldest Cape Verdean communities in the USA, see the video below:

And what about all those foreigners who have no Cape Verdean ancestry but want to come live in Cape Verde? LOL. Maybe this is the clue to the answer. The number of people outside Cape Verde who consider themselves connected to it for one reason or another may far exceed its current population. Perhaps that includes you! If not, before you visit Cape Verde, get to know someone from there who lives in your community.


Afro-Europe said...

Angelo, very interesting story!

Angelo said...

Thanks for checking it out!

Angelo said...

I've noticed that one of the search phrases that people put into their Google Search to find this article is "how many Cape Verdeans live in the USA?"

The USA has the oldest and largest population of Cape Verdean expats in the world. It is estimated to be anywhere from 80,000 (from official US census data) to 200,000 (according to the Cape Verde embassy in Washington, DC).

For an interesting story about the history of one of the Cape Verdean communities in Rhode Island, see the documentary film by Claire Andrade here:

LOST Theatre said...

A Celebration of Capeverdean Culture

This year the Cape Verde Islands celebrate 36 years of independence

Come and celebrate the richness of this country and culture on Sat 9th July at the Lost Theatre, London.

Programme will start at 12.30pm

Appreciate live music
Enjoy traditional dance
Savour tasty delicacies.

And also: ‘Kontinuasom’
This full-length documentary, written in Crioulo language (subtitled in English), that takes us on a journey through Cape Verdean music. It is an identity hallmark for Cape Verdeans both in the archipelago and abroad.

Date: Saturday 9th July 2011
Time: From 12.30pm to 5pm
Tickets: £5 full / £3 conc. (under 18, Senior Citizens, UB40’s, Equity card holders, Student card holders, disabled badge holders) / Free for under 5

Box Office: 0844 847 1680 or
Group booking, please email

This event is an initiative of Capeverdeans living in the UK.

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