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Official Dinner - Cape Verde

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Official Dinner hosted by His Excellency, Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires,
President of the Republic of Cape Verde

Island of Sal (Cape Verde), Friday, April 23, 2010

I would like to begin by thanking you, Excellency, for the warm welcome you have given us here in Cape Verde.

I cannot think of a better way to end our journey to the continent of my ancestors.

It is here—in the middle of these wind-swept islands, which cross transatlantic shipping lanes and form the archipelago of Cape Verde—that I have the pleasure of concluding this third trip to Africa, from its western shores to its very heart, from Senegal to Rwanda, passing through the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Africa, where I made my first State visits as Governor General of Canada in 2006, to Algeria, Mali, Ghana, South Africa and Morocco.

Africa, where I returned last year, to Liberia, at the invitation of Africa’s first female elected head of State, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to take part in an international colloquium on women’s empowerment.

Africa, a continent facing countless challenges, a continent of untold misery, but a continent I am discovering to be full of promise, one very different from the pessimistic vision we are too often shown.

Africa, whose rebirth is more than ever embodied in the women, men and youth of the Republic of Cape Verde.

Excellency, they say that singing is second nature to Cape Verdeans, that music is their greatest resource and that Cesaria Evora is the voice of their hearts. A big voice, a spirit that has conquered Canada. Every time she comes to Montreal, for example, she draws great crowds.  

I would like Dona Cesária —Cize as she is called here—to know that the members of the Canadian delegation accompanying me are honoured, as I am myself, to be in her country. We have always loved her––our barefoot diva––and we will forever adore her.

She once said, and I quote: “What makes me happy me is knowing that I went through years of suffering to have the life I have now.”

I believe these brilliant words evoke not only her own journey, but that of your country, from the slave trade—serving as a transit point—to independence, to today.

As a black woman born in Haiti—a country suffering so greatly these days—whose ancestors freed themselves from slavery and established the first black republic in the world, I am not unfamiliar with the battles you fought to win your freedom.

And although it has had its share of suffering, Cape Verde remains a source of inspiration and hope today.

A small island country, lacking in natural resources and fresh water, Cape Verde went from being on the list of the world’s least developed countries to being a middle-income country.

All this by building on what you, President Pires, call its “human capital,” including education and innovation; that is, by building on the most powerful tools you have to involve a generation of young people on the road to prosperity.

Cape Verde is one of most stable democracies in Africa. And it is breaking the cycle of poverty. It is also one of the few African countries on the brink of reaching the Millenium Development Goals.

This is truly admirable and deserves to be widely recognized.

President Pires, you said that the secret, if there is one, is perhaps the fact that you believed in yourselves.

Rest assured that Canada has the same confidence in Cape Verdeans’ ability to take full control of their destiny.

As members of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, in addition to sharing a willingness to help the French fact to flourish and grow around the world, we share the same values, especially that of gender equality.

In that spirit, I was happy to learn that Cape Verde is also a leader in female political representation. I am told that women occupy nearly half of all cabinet positions, including those of Defence and Justice.

Excellency, you recently said that it was important for Cape Verde to show maturity, commitment and daring.

These words are filled with hope for Cape Verde’s future, and to them I would like to add my wish:

That this “poor country full of love,” that this “wise country full of love”, as you so beautifully sing, Ms. Evora, in your song, Petit pays, be the star shining in the sky that guides Africa towards better days.

Thank you.