News from Cape Verde, Angola & Mozambique

José Pedro Oliveira

Hello Mr Oliveira, thank you very much for talking to Atlantico Weekly. Could you please tell the readers of Atlantico Weekly who you are? Allright, my name is José Pedro Chantre de Oliveira, better known as Djopan, born 58 years ago. Though I was born in Chá de Pedras, on Santo Antão, I consider myself a citizen of the world. When I was 10 years old I left Santo Antão for secondary school in São Vicente. In those days we had no such school on this island. Then I studied engineering in Lisbon. After Independence of our country I came back to Cape Verde, but I went to Santiago. Some 25 years ago, in 1986, I founded the Poeta restaurant in Praia and managed it for several years. But in 1990 I decided to leave Praia and settle down on Sal island, so I sold the restaurant. I became one of the pioneers of tourism on Sal, and I founded Turim (Sociedade Turística e Imobilária), the company behind the Murdeira resort. I also advised most foreign investors, like the Italian Stefanini Group. At that time the tourism business was absolutely not explored. Nevertheless, I always had a strong urge to return to Santo Antão, back to my roots. Someone gave me a local gastronomy book of this island and that was the last push I needed. Today, besides running Hotel Pedracin Village I regularly contribute to two national newspapers: A Nação and A Semana. I like discussing the development of our country. My position is that the central role of Praia these days is no good for the development of both Praia and the other islands. We need to spread out our development over all our islands and balance our economic growth. Other islands cannot depend on Praia for work and money. Furthermore, an island like Santo Antão cannot depend on the development of São Vicente, as some of my colleagues propose. We should all have the same opportunities in this country.

Could you tell us more about Pedracin Village? Hotel Pedracin Village opened in 2003, on July 5th, which is as you know our Independence Day. It is a rural hotel located on the slope of a mountain and it therefore benefits from fantastic views. Many people seem to think you can only build hotels on the beach. Well, not so! You can sleep just as well in the mountains! The hotel offers bungalows built in a traditional Capeverdean style. My intention was to establish a quality place with comfort in the interior of Santo Antão and something that also upholds the island’s history and traditions. I believe that it is essential to display the island’s history and culture in our tourism facilities. That may be what tourism is all about. I think people who come here want to be in a typical environment and in a typical building that you won’t find anywhere else. In Pedracin Village I made this possible by using traditional architecture. But there is something else. You know, I am from a period in which we had literally nothing. By letting tourists have a glimpse of how we lived in the past, we are also honouring our previous poverty.

What made you become an entrepreneur on Santo Antão? I always wanted to return to my roots. Here on Santo Antão I wanted to develop a place with the best Cape Verde has to offer. I also wanted to restore the balance of tourist development among our islands. I like to mention too that it is important to learn from the mistakes that were made in the past. We need to plan our tourist facilities and resorts with the utmost care. We should not just copy the mistakes that were made decades ago, in the Canaries for instance. We let the big resort groups make the same mistakes in Cape Verde as they made 30 years ago in other places. For lack of adequate planning we now have ghettos near our resorts on Sal, Boa Vista and Praia. This brings insecurity to the area and the destination may lose its tourist value in the end. This could have been avoided, because it is all about planning. Planning is very important if we want to have sustainable tourism.

Is it easy to start a business in Cape Verde? No, it is not, let me make this clear! It is very difficult to start a business on Cape Verde! Oh yes, maybe you can register your company in 24 hours, but that’s the easy part. All the rest comes later. In practice it’s difficult to succeed and the first years may bring you little result. For instance, one of the things we need is local production to reduce our dependence on imports. In my opinion our internal productivity is still low because the mentality still persists that imported goods are better than local products. We need to change that mentality and start producing locally. My dream is that one day politicians start focusing themselves on changing this mentality. We must show that we are at least capable of producing enough for domestic consumption. The state needs to give entrepreneurs more breaks when it comes to taxes. The government also has to come up with more incentives, provide new and innovative technologies, facilitate access to inexpensive equipment and improve the quality of energy and water supply to entrepreneurs and farmers. For example, I could easily run my place with wind and solar power, but those technologies are not available nor affordable at the moment. But there is more. Cape Verde is still a bureaucratic country. Taxes may stifle entrepreneurs, especially those just starting. Agribusiness and tourism will only take off when the state really starts facilitating entrepreneurs. Access to funding and credit is another problem we will have to solve in this country.

Could you describe one of your highlights or successes? The inauguration of Hotel Pedracin Village of course! It had always been my dream to return to Santo Antão and realize a project in surroundings like these… I succeeded,  even when people said it would be impossible!

What do you recommend other entrepreneurs when setting up a business in Cape Verde? Come straight to Santo Antão, it’s virgin territory! There are many opportunities here, especially for projects linked to nature, agriculture and tourism or a combination of those. You could also come here, find water and start farming virgin lands, bringing those fields to life. Unfortunately we do not have the financial capacity to change these islands ourselves, so we need joint ventures with external partners. I would like very much to witness the arrival of foreign investors with vision to the island and see them change Santo Antão for the better. Planning is necessary from our side, that’s the part we have to do as locals. We have to make sure we don’t squander our natural beauty and attractiveness to any investor, national or foreign. But I would support any serious entrepreneur that comes to Santo Antão with the intention to improve this island. It makes no difference if the investment comes from a foreign or domestic investor, as long as he respects the nature and culture of the island.

Thank you very, very much Mr Oliveira. Thank you too.

February 5th 2012. All rights reserved by Atlantico Weekly.