Freedom in the World
São Tomé and Príncipe
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Controversial oil-exploration licenses granted in the Joint Development Zone (JDZ) with Nigeria provoked a political crisis in Sao Tome and Principe in June 2005 that was only resolved with the naming of Maria do Carmo Trovoada Silveira, the well-respected head of the Central Bank, to serve as both prime minister and finance minister. In September, Attorney General Adelino Pereira announced an investigation into alleged irregularities in the awarding of the licenses.
Seized by Portugal in the sixteenth century, the tiny Gulf of Guinea islands of Sao Tome and Principe gained independence in 1975. The Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (MLSTP) functioned under President Manuel Pinto da Costa as the only legal party until a 1990 referendum established multiparty democracy. Miguel dos Anjos Trovoada, an independent candidate backed by the Democratic Convergence Party, returned from exile to become the first democratically elected president in 1991. He was reelected to a second and final term in 1996.
Fradique de Menezes, backed by Trovoada's Independent Democratic Action party (ADI), gained 56 percent of the vote to 38 percent for the MLSTP's Pinto da Costa in the 2001 presidential elections. A coalition government was created after no party gained a majority in the March 2002 parliamentary elections. International observers declared both polls to be free and fair.
In July 2003, officers allegedly disgruntled over persistent poverty and corruption briefly ousted President Menezes. He was returned to power one week later with broad regional and international support. Controversial foreign investment deals in 2004 led to a cabinet shuffle that left the president's party, the Force for Change Democratic Movement (MDFM), in the opposition. Menezes later replaced the prime minister with Damiao Vaz de Almeida of the MLSTP-Social Democratic Party.
Disagreements with Menezes over the granting of the first oil-exploration licenses in the JDZ, as well as the handling of negotiations with striking civil servants anxious to receive their share of the oil bonanza in the form of a minimum wage increase, led to Almeida's resignation in June 2005. A threat by the MLSTP, which controls the largest number of seats in the parliament, to leave government and force early parliamentary elections was avoided after the appointment of Maria do Carmo Trovoada Silveira, who had earned widespread respect for her stewardship of the country's central bank, to serve as both prime minister and finance minister.
In September, Attorney General Adelino Pereira announced an investigation into alleged corruption in the controversial awarding of five JDZ oil blocks in advance of the scheduled signing of oil production-sharing contracts. This followed protests that many of the Nigerian-controlled companies that were awarded exploration rights were little more than investment vehicles for financial speculators with no track record in oil production or exploration.
The potentially large offshore oil fields that link Sao Tome and Nigeria are likely to be a continuing source of political conflict, though Sao Tome has committed itself to transparency in the oil sector. The development of a revenue management law and broad public consultations to determine national development priorities are seen as important steps toward that goal. Sao Tome and Principe has strengthened its relationship with the United States, which has a growing stake in the country's potential oil wealth. Nigeria wields increasing influence over the political class.
Sao Tome's poor island economy has been largely dependent on cocoa since independence in 1975, and the majority of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture and fishing. Sao Tome benefited from $200 million in debt relief in December 2000 under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program, but it has not benefited from subsequent debt reductions. In August 2005, the International Monetary Fund approved a three-year, $4.3 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility arrangement.
Citizens of Sao Tome and Principe can change their gov-ernment democratically. Presidential and legislative elections in 1991 gave citizens their first chance to elect their leader in a free and transparent contest. The president is elected for a five-year term. Members of the single-chamber, 55-seat National Assembly are elected by popular vote to four-year terms. The prime minister is chosen by the National Assembly and approved by the president. Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for 2006.
The MLSTP currently holds 24 legislative seats, the MDFM holds 23, and the Ue-Kedadji coalition has 8. A number of other parties exist and often work in coalition with the larger parties; all parties operate freely.
Sao Tome's potential oil wealth has fueled growing corruption among members of the country's ruling elite. In June, the legislatures of Nigeria and Sao Tome agreed to form a joint parliamentary oversight committee to monitor the JDZ, and Sao Tome's attorney general requested cooperation from Nigeria in his investigation of the awarded oil-exploration licenses. Sao Tome was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of expression is protected by the constitution and respected in practice. While the state controls a local press agency and the only radio and television stations, no law forbids independent broadcasting. Opposition parties receive free airtime, and newsletters and pamphlets criticizing the government circulate freely. There are no government restrictions on internet access.
Freedom of religion is respected within this predominantly Roman Catholic country. The government does not restrict academic freedom. Education is compulsory through the sixth grade and tuition free to the age of 15 or grade 6, though rural students often stop attending school after fourth grade. Primary school enrollment stands at approximately 74 percent.
Freedom of assembly and association is respected. Citizens have the constitutional right to gather and demonstrate with an advance notice of two days to the government. The rights to organize, strike, and bargain collectively are guaranteed and respected. In May, government workers conducted a nationwide strike for higher wages that resulted in a negotiated settlement. However, the terms of the settlement have not been implemented.
Sao Tome's judiciary is independent, though occasionally subject to manipulation. The Supreme Court has ruled in the past against both the government and the president. The court system is understaffed, inadequately funded, and plagued by long delays. Prison conditions are harsh.
The constitution provides for equal rights for men and women, but women encounter significant discrimination in all sectors, including education and employment. However, several women have been appointed to cabinet positions, including that of prime minister. Domestic violence against women is reportedly common and rarely prosecuted. Women are often disadvantaged because of their reluctance to take disputes outside their families or a lack of knowledge about their rights. Abortion is prohibited.