My Recent Trip to Cabo Verde: Empowering People to Reduce Poverty, Drive Growth

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MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau (center) and U.S. Ambassador to Cabo Verde Donald Heflin (right) discuss MCC’s investments with partners on the island of São Vicente.
MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau (center) and U.S. Ambassador to Cabo Verde Donald Heflin (right) discuss MCC’s investments with partners on the island of São Vicente.

My Recent Trip to Cabo Verde: Empowering People to Reduce Poverty, Drive Growth

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Cabo Verde to celebrate the closing of MCC’s $66 million Cabo Verde Compact. As MCC’s Vice President for Compact Operations, I was excited to see the results of another great compact — a real testament to how MCC empowers people to lift themselves out of poverty.

Cabo Verde is a nation of 10 islands, located off the coast of West Africa. Each island has its own personality, with African and Portuguese influences reflected in their architecture and language. The country’s beautiful beaches make it a popular tourism destination, and tourism is a major driver of jobs and economic growth. But a lack of access to water and sanitation is a pressing issue for the people of Cabo Verde and a barrier to domestic and foreign investment.

During my trip I kept a travel diary and here I’ll share some highlights from my trip with you:

Part 1: Visiting Beneficiaries in São Vicente

On November 27, I was honored to travel to the island of São Vicente alongside Ambassador Donald Heflin, who, with his team, has been a strong supporter of the MCC-Cabo Verde Compact.

MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau talks with Crisolita, a beneficiary of MCC’s investments in water and sanitation in Cabo Verde. Crisolita now has a toilet and water in her home on the island of São Vicente.

MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau talks with Crisolita, a beneficiary of MCC’s investments in water and sanitation in Cabo Verde. Crisolita now has a toilet and water in her home on the island of São Vicente. (MCC photo)

I talked with beneficiaries of MCC’s investment about the past challenges of getting their water supply from a public pump. Not only did walking to fetch water take up time — time that could be spent benefitting families and communities in other ways — but it actually costs more to buy water by the bucket, making this critical resource a significant cost.

Jandir, a beneficiary of the MCC-Cabo Verde Compact, points to a water meter for his home on the island of São Vicente. Jandir organized his neighbors to help clear trenches for water pipes that were laid in their community.

Jandir, a beneficiary of the MCC-Cabo Verde Compact, points to a water meter for his home on the island of São Vicente. Jandir organized his neighbors to help clear trenches for water pipes that were laid in their community. (MCC photo)

One of the compact projects included a social access fund, designed to improve access to water and sanitation, particularly for poor and women-led households.

In discussing this project, I had an opportunity to meet Jandir, a young man that made a real impression on me. At the outset of this project, he advocated for his community to be a part of it and helped to organize residents to put their own “sweat equity” into the effort. To complement the social access fund’s investment, Jandir and his neighbors literally dug in as well, helping to clear trenches for pipes. They were very much a part of this project — and the ownership and pride in this was evident as Jandir pointed out the new water meter on his own home.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Crisolita, who now has access to both water and a toilet in her home. This access now allows her to focus more time on raising her three children and running her small pastry business.

After speaking with Jandir, Crisolita, and local leaders and partners that have worked with Millennium Challenge Account-Cabo Verde — the local team responsible for implementing the compact — I am now looking at the compact closeout as an opportunity to celebrate what comes next for the people of Cabo Verde.

MCC is all about country-led development, and partnerships are key to everything we do. I congratulate the MCA-Cabo Verde for its hard work, as well as my MCC colleagues on a job well done. It is clear to all that this compact is an investment in the people and potential of Cabo Verde. This was an amazing start to our Cabo Verde journey and I was very excited to move on to Praia, the country’s capital and largest city!

Part 2: Assessing Progress in Land Titling at the Praia Register

The impact of MCC’s investments can be seen in many ways in Cabo Verde: talking to beneficiaries, seeing new water pipes, and sometimes even in a stack of museum-piece binders.

MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau (center) talks with Praia Registry General Director for Registration and Notary Services Rita Ramos (right) and her team in Cabo Verde. As part of MCC’s investments in land management, the registry digitized its land titling records and cut down its registration certificate delivery time.

MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau (center) talks with Praia Registry General Director for Registration and Notary Services Rita Ramos (right) and her team in Cabo Verde. As part of MCC’s investments in land management, the registry digitized its land titling records and cut down its registration certificate delivery time. (MCC photo)

Walking into the Praia Register, on November 28, a wall covered in rows of binders filled with yellowing documents is a powerful reminder of how far the process of land titling has come. It wasn’t too long ago that officials had to handwrite registrations and sift through endless paperwork to work with individuals and businesses that wanted to buy or sell land. But thanks to land sector investments made as part of the MCC-Cabo Verde Compact, a digital system now houses all country-wide land titling information.

General Director for Registration and Notary Services Rita Ramos gave me a tour of the Praia Register as her team fielded questions about buying and selling property and land ownership from the city’s residents. Officials in municipalities on each of the country’s nine inhabited islands can now deliver registration certificates in days instead of weeks — making a real difference in the lives of people who want to pass their property on to their children, to real estate markets, or companies looking to invest.

MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau (left) and Port of Praia Administrator Celso Martins (right) discuss MCC’s 2005 investments that helped expand the port, maximizing its capacity and productivity in this island nation.

MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau (left) and Port of Praia Administrator Celso Martins (right) discuss MCC’s 2005 investments that helped expand the port, maximizing its capacity and productivity in this island nation. (MCC photo)

I also had the chance to see the impact of MCC’s 2005 investment in the Port of Praia. As an island nation, ports are really important to the movement of goods and people.The Port of Praia used to struggle to handle cargo and suffered from inefficiencies, congestion and inadequate services. MCC’s investment helped finance the port’s expansion, maximizing capacity and productivity. Port of Praia Administrator Celso Martins was my tour guide of this bustling, now-modern port. It was a pleasure to talk with him — he was actually part of the team that implemented MCC’s 2005 compact. He is proud of how far the port has come and told me how critical MCC’s investments created a foundation on which the government has continued to build. After the compact ended, the Government of Cabo Verde worked with other partners to continue implementation of the strategy MCC helped to develop. Today, Celso and his team continue to attract financing and business partners to maximize the port’s potential.

Millennium Challenge Account-Cabo Verde CEO Helder Santos (center, front row) and MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau (right of Santos) outside of the MCA-Cabo Verde office with members of the MCC and MCA teams.

Millennium Challenge Account-Cabo Verde CEO Helder Santos (center, front row) and MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau (right of Santos) outside of the MCA-Cabo Verde office with members of the MCC and MCA teams. (MCC photo)

Talking with Celso reminded me of why MCC’s approach is so effective — we work with our partner countries to identify opportunities to tackle barriers to growth, and then they run with it! They continue building on MCC’s investments long after we’re gone.

Great partners are critical to the success of all that MCC does. I was grateful to spend some time and give my thanks to the people at the heart of the compact’s work — Helder Santos, the CEO of Millennium Challenge Account-Cabo Verde, and his team. Another piece of great news is that many of the team’s members will take their experience from this compact and share it in their future work in the water, sanitation, and land management sectors to continue creating new opportunities for the people of Cabo Verde.

Part 3: Water Networks Expanded — The Impacts of MCC Investment in São Domingos

On November 29, my final day in Cabo Verde, I had an opportunity to see the impact of MCC’s investments in the town of São Domingos, where many, for the first time, now have running water in their homes and businesses. We followed the new, extended water network from a pumping station in Praia to the interior of Santiago Island. Just outside of São Domingos, I had the honor of joining Prime Minister José Ulisses de Pina Correia e Silva in opening the water valves leading to the town.

MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau (left) and Cabo Verde Prime Minister José Ulisses de Pina Correia e Silva (right) inaugurate a water network extension outside the town of São Domingos.

MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau (left) and Cabo Verde Prime Minister José Ulisses de Pina Correia e Silva (right) inaugurate a water network extension outside the town of São Domingos. (U.S. Embassy Cabo Verde photo)

At a ceremony that followed in São Domingos, which included some traditional singing and dancing, the Prime Minister and I, together with U.S. Ambassador Donald Heflin, Mayor of Praia Oscar Santos, Mayor of São Domingos Clemente Garcia, and Minister of Agriculture Gilberto Silva, recognized the hard work behind this successful effort. This work was conducted as part of an innovative grant facility established through the compact to fund infrastructure improvements in water and sanitation, with a focus on accountability and system modernization.

The water network extension is a great example of how MCC’s investments are helping expand affordable access to critical resources and supporting the Government of Cabo Verde’s efforts to spur growth across the islands. Before this project, water was transported great distances, which was costly and held back economic development.

MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau highlights MCC’s investments in water and sanitation and land management and the impact they’re having at a compact closeout celebration in São Domingo, Cabo Verde.

MCC Vice President for Compact Operations Robert Blau highlights MCC’s investments in water and sanitation and land management and the impact they’re having at a compact closeout celebration in São Domingo, Cabo Verde. (U.S. Embassy in Cabo Verde photo)

Talking to beneficiaries of MCC’s investments and learning from the country’s leadership about their plans for the future reminded me not only of the impact of MCC’s work, but also the impact of how MCC works. Country ownership is central to MCC’s model and means that the impact of projects reaches beyond MCC’s initial investments.

The Government of Cabo Verde is committed to building on MCC’s investments, just as we saw with the Port of Praia. Working together, the Government of Cabo Verde and Luxembourg’s development agency LuxDev have committed more than $4 million to turn the compact’s grant facility into a sustainable, autonomous fund that will allow the Government of Cabo Verde to continue water network expansion into the future.

Cabo Verde Prime Minister José Ulisses de Pina Correia e Silva talks with attendees at a compact closeout celebration event in São Domingos.

Cabo Verde Prime Minister José Ulisses de Pina Correia e Silva talks with attendees at a compact closeout celebration event in São Domingos.(U.S. Embassy in Cabo Verde photo)

For the final event of the trip, we returned to the very same room in Praia where the compact was signed back in 2012. It was an emotional ceremony, as Millennium Challenge Account-Cabo Verde CEO Helder Santos recounted highlights of all that has been accomplished in the water and sanitation and land management sectors over the last five years and offered his heartfelt thanks to his great team. Seeing the photos, hearing the success stories, and being surrounded by the people who made it all happen was a special experience.

Cabo Verde has set quite a high bar for compact closeout because of both the work achieved and the Government of Cabo Verde’s efforts to build on compact progress. I congratulate the Government of Cabo Verde, the Millennium Challenge Account-Cabo Verde, and all of my MCC colleagues who were part of developing and implementing this compact on a job well done. Obrigado!

About the Author:  Robert I. Blau serves as the Vice President of the Millennium Challenge Corporation's (MCC) Department of Compact Operations.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com and was adapted from a story that originally appeared on the MCC's blog.