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Cape Verde president says Africa must develop an institutional culture

November 8, 2011 (LONDON) – The president of Cape Verde Pedro Pires called on Africa to develop what he described as a missing institutional culture through increased engagement of citizens.

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Outgoing Cape Verde President Pedro Pires speaks to the press next to his wife Adelcia Pires (R) after voting during the presidential elections in Praia on August 21, 2011 (AFP)

"We - African leaders - must make sure that societies, in general, internalise the rules of democracy and citizens can participate in this process to generate an institutional culture and increase respect for the rule of law," Pires said.

Cape Verde’s president was speaking in n advance of receiving the 2011 Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership in Tunis on Saturday.

The Ibrahim Prize was established by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to recognise and celebrate excellence in African leadership. It is an annual $5 million award paid over 10 years and $200,000 annually for life thereafter.

Pires said that he dedicated all his life for his country during its pursuit of independence and as president.

"I think that I’ve done my best to ensure that the country could have a taste of progress, with institutions of Rule of Law being established, getting better and consolidating," he said.

The African leader disclosed that he resisted calls to amend the country’s constitution to give him a third term stressing that law must be respected.

Organisers of the award, established in 2006 by Sudanese telecoms tycoon Mo Ibrahim to improve the quality of African governments, also praised Pires for his decision this year not to run for office again after the expiry of his second term.

Previous winners of the prize, which can only be awarded to an African head of state who has peacefully left office, include Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano and Botswana’s Festus Mogae.

There were no winners in 2009 and 2010 because of a lack of suitable candidates, organisers said.

Pires was prominent in Cape Verde’s struggle for independence from Portugal, and became prime minister in 1975, a position that allowed him to pave the way toward the first democratic elections in 1991.

1. What was your reaction upon learning that you’d won the 2011 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership?

"I must say I was surprised and very honoured of course. The Ibrahim Prize means a lot to me in recognition of my time in office. I believe it honours the hard work of all Cape Verdeans who, together, have brought the nation to where it stands today."

2. You’ve been active in Cape Verdean politics since the struggle for independence. What led you to choose this path?

"I’ve dedicated my entire life to the cause of my country and of course the first part of that was the cause of independence. Back in 1975, our country was an impossible place to live for many people. As a nation, we’ve made major efforts and we’ve made successive progress.

"For me personally, it was an obligation, a duty to do everything I could to take my country forward. As leader of the Cape Verdean State, I think that I’ve done my best to ensure that the country could have a taste of progress, with institutions of Rule of Law being established, getting better and consolidating."

3. Near the end of your second term, there were calls for amending the constitution to allow you to run for a third term. Why didn’t you entertain these propositions?

"In my country, the institutions of Rule of Law are credible, which is essential to ensure political stability, people’s confidence and predictability of decisions and the future. The law must be respected — this is what we have worked so hard to achieve."

4. Cape Verde is a small state compared to the majority of its African counterparts, yet it has been able to impact African politics. How did you achieve this?

"We tried to be creative and useful. In my view, any international political actor, big or small, should act to be politically credible, reliable and helpful.

"To me, the cause of my country and the cause of Africa and African people are in many ways the same. Ever since the movement for independence we realised that as Africans we are bound by a joint future. The success of one country is shared among all of us and we all have an interest in working together to achieve our common aims.

"We made certain to consolidate relationships with important non-African countries which have a stake in Africa’s future. For example, we proposed the first ECOWAS summit with Brazil, focusing on trade between South America and West Africa as well as strategies for tackling drug trafficking from South America to Europe via West Africa.

"Many of Africa’s challenges are global in nature, and it is important that we open dialogue on an international scale to find solutions."

5. You have also played a role in conflict mediation on the continent. What drove you to get involved in peacemaking?

"We have to work for a peaceful world and a peaceful Africa, striving for harmony and understanding. In our independent states in Africa the importance of this has been clearly demonstrated by the costs we have borne through conflict. It is vital that we implement a policy of peace and search harder for appropriate solutions to conflicts.

"Cape Verde has been called upon to mediate conflicts on the continent on many occasions because we exercise a policy of loyalty, balance and friendly interaction with our African counterparts. We have assisted in conflict mediation in Southern Africa and Guinea-Bissau and have been asked for advice on the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire. We have also been called upon in many other cases, not so covered by the press."

6. Commentators have remarked that Cape Verde has grown economically despite its lack of natural resources and difficult climate. What policies did you pursue to achieve these results?

"Our first urgent priority was to meet the basic needs of the population. We began by introducing policies that would allow the country to boot and we used the scarce resources we had available with rationality, seeking results that would ensure economic, social and spiritual growth, and convey more confidence in the future. As such, we began to gain credibility and new foreign partnerships.

"We have placed great importance on maintaining stable and fruitful trade relationships with major partners like the European Union, the United States and South America. Additionally, we recognise the importance of our large Diaspora and respond to their needs, as our compatriots abroad provide financial support for Cape Verdeans at home.

"To this end, in June 2011, I visited the United States, where a large and two centuries old Cape Verdean community lives. This trip served to cement good relationships with the U.S. government and our Diaspora.

"With regards to the economy, investment and job creation, we have focused primarily on the service sector and aim to become a trade and tourism hub for West Africa. We are already seeing the results as trade between South America and West Africa flows through."

7. As a recipient of the Ibrahim Prize, many across the world will now look to you for advice on tackling Africa’s most difficult problems. What would you say is Africa’s most pressing governance issue right now?

"I think, in reflecting on Africa and governance, that we’re missing an institutional culture. What we’re missing is, above all, the drive to develop, reinforce and consolidate the institutional culture within our society.

"We - African leaders - must make sure that societies, in general, internalise the rules of democracy and citizens can participate in this process to generate an institutional culture and increase respect for the rule of law.

"So in my view, the answer resides in the establishment of the Rule of Law in strong, effective and operative States, which are able to convey trust and hope to their citizens. This is the starting point for solving remaining problems in Africa."

8. What lessons can other countries learn from Cape Verde’s success?

"The belief that it is possible to overcome the difficult challenges we face is so important. In the end, well-targeted effort is always rewarded. Self-confidence and self-esteem are invaluable.

"Finally, I think we ought to set a big ambition: the search for an African culture of excellence and results, through the training and retention of highly qualified human resources, in order to overcome current foreign dependencies and open new avenues for a brighter future."