Sal Rei’s township – the other side of tourism

Author Murray Stewart delves into the history of Sal Rei’s impoverished township, Boa Esperança.

Written by Murray Stewart


On the northeastern side of Sal Rei, far away in geography and equally distant economically from the massive all-inclusives on Chaves Beach, is Boa Esperança – or ‘Good Hope’ – Boavista’s impoverished township. It is also known locally as the ‘barraca’.

It may not be somewhere that all the guests at the luxury hotels become aware of during their stay, yet it has many past and present links to those establishments. Boa Esperança’s inhabitants are almost entirely foreigners, immigrant workers who came to Cape Verde to construct the vast hotel and condominium developments before the economic crisis of 2008 brought everything to a shuddering halt. Now, engineers from Senegal, architects from The Gambia, construction workers from Nigeria all rub shoulders with each other, living in ‘Good Hope’ that something’s going to change sometime soon.

Beach at Sal Rei, Boavista, Cape VerdeBeach at Sal Rei, Boavista © Romazur/Wikipedia

For the present, many of the township’s womenfolk are bussed out to the large hotels every day to perform the menial cleaning and other tasks that Cape Verdeans will not readily do for a monthly salary of €200. Despite the low income, amazingly some of the money is remitted to the relevant motherland, supporting loved ones left behind: after all, this is the reason that many of these people came to Cape Verde in the first place.

Some of the menfolk have set up tiny shops and bars in the illegally constructed township buildings, serving their own community. Right in the centre of Boa Esperança, crowded in by buildings on all sides, is the township’s football pitch.

There is no electricity and nearly all the houses lack sanitation. In the rainy season, the township floods, raising the risk of disease. Toilet needs are satisfied in the nearby woods; at night the residents do not even bother to walk that far. Prostitution and drug abuse are problems, though the police have had success in reducing the latter.

Despite the poverty and its associated problems, the atmosphere in Boa Esperança is lively and there is a strong community spirit, a spirit born out of shared adversity. Momo, from Senegal, smiles and shakes his head when I ask him if he believes the talk of a new hotel being built on one of the southern beaches, something that might offer to make good use of his skills as an electrician and bring him some income. And yet, amidst the roaming dogs, the piled-up litter, amidst the waft of human waste that blows through the township on the warm wind, hope – whether misplaced or not, whether ‘Good Hope’ or mere desperation – somehow sustains the thousands of people crammed together. A shiny new development of social housing sits next to the ramshackle dwellings, built to entice the people to leave their community. But it lies empty, the rents too high for the would-be inhabitants. Sadly and ironically, these so-called Casas para Todos (‘Houses for Everyone’) are for the moment ‘Houses for nobody’.

Boa Esperança has its own bars and restaurants, schools, shops and entertainment – it seems to look after itself, in a fashion. It is truly Sal Rei’s lesserknown, ‘all-inclusive’ resort.

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