In Depth Look: 20 Years Between Humphrey Fellows from Cabo Verde
Cabo Verde is a small nation, comprised of an archipelago of 10 islands located about 350 miles off the coast of Western Africa. After gaining independence from Portugal in 1975 and writing a constitution in 1980, the first multi-party elections were held in 1991. Two years later, Cabo Verde’s first Humphrey Fellow, Andre Corsino Tolentino arrived in Minneapolis to study public administration, management, and planning as part of the Humphrey cohort of 1993-1994. After Tolentino’s departure in the spring of 1994, it would be 20 years before another Cabo Verdean won a fellowship. Since then, 3 more have become Humphrey Fellows: Joao Pedro Abreu Martins in 2013-2014, Deborah Cristina Ramos de Pina Vera Cruz in 2014-2015, and Deina Maraica Almeida Barros in 2015-2016.
Ambassador Tolentino’s career has mirrored that of Cabo Verde’s development. Tolentino helped create the democracy that is still in place in Cabo Verde today. He was a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a member of parliament, an ambassador to Portugal, minister of education and finally director of Gulbenkian foundation. It was then, in 1992 that he was, “looking for an opportunity to think about my own experience and to push the frontiers of my knowledge.” During his Humphrey year, he worked hard updating his technical skills, interacting with his Humphrey cohort and deepening his knowledge of public administration. Tolentino was inspired by Hubert H. Humphrey’s commitment to education and approached his Humphrey year with the mentality that, “without education, you go nowhere.” Following his Humphrey Program, the ambassador has continued his illustrious career and remains a strong advocate for the Humphrey Program.
In the twenty years between André Corsino Tolentino and Joao Pedro Abreu Martins, the country continued its development in a remarkably positive trajectory. The country has gone through alterations in government and consolidation of democracy, has changed from a one-party system to a multi-party system, and has implemented two new constitutions. It has continued to increase per capita income, expanded its economy, and is transitioning into a middle-income country. However, Ambassador Tolentino indicates that the country could still use improvement in the systematic analyses of public programming, better organization of government and political processes, and combatting increases in urban-rural disparities and social inequality.
Deborah Cristina Vera Cruz arrived in Minneapolis amid the backdrop of these continuing challenges. Since she’s been back to Cabo Verde, about 6 months, she was offered a job opportunity as the Office Coordinator of a Land Management Project with the government, funded through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Vera Cruz says that her Humphrey experiences have contributed well to her new position, where she has to lead a local team of 50 employees while also responding to an international leadership. “Every day I try to apply [things I learned on my Humphrey Program] in the various situations that I encounter.” Speaking of her experience as one of the very few Cabo Verdeans to come on the Humphrey Program, “I felt kind of special and proud to be representing my country in the program, after such a long period and made a commitment that I would make all efforts so that we no longer have such a gap.”
Indeed since Cabo Verde is such a small country, the four Fellows have all met, and coordinated over the holidays to prepare a project to promote education for Cabo Verdeans. Vera Cruz says of her Humphrey colleagues, “I believe that now that we are in a more considerable number of Fellows from Cabo Verde, we will be able to do much more together. Alone, each of us has been contributing to the development of our country in our own way and level. As a group the possibilities are endless!”
Ambassador Tolentino believes that Cabo Verde could benefit from having more Humphrey Fellows. Since Cabo Verde has few natural resources, the country depends on human capital for development and progress. Vera Cruz agrees that Cabo Verde is “full of potential candidates.”
As Cabo Verde’s group of alumni grows, so does their potential for continuing Cabo Verde’s development success story. The Cabo Verdean Humphrey alumni have a breadth of knowledge that they can pass along to current Fellows. Vera Cruz says, “At halfway through their program year I believe most of the fellows are looking into their professional affiliation and for the ones who haven’t got it settled yet I know the feeling of worries and anxiety, but just sit back and relax! Everything will work out! And you should go after what you would like the most, even if it seems hard to get. You will get it!” Ambassador Tolentino’s advice is, “Work hard and be ethically ambitious, because there is always somebody looking at you!”
Photo: Deborah Cristina Ramos de Pina Vera Cruz during her Humphrey year at the University of Minnesota, Humphrey School of Public Affairs