São Tomé and Príncipe | Freedom House

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São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé and Príncipe

Freedom in the World 2007

2007 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


President Fradique de Menezes won a second and final term in July 2006, after his party’s coalition won parliamentary elections in March. Corruption in the increasingly important oil sector remained a major concern, though the government has put into place mechanisms to ensure transparency and sound management once production begins. In December 2005, Attorney General Adelino Pereira noted serious irregularities after conducting an investigation of the awarding of oil exploration licenses.

The small Gulf of Guinea islands of Sao Tome and Principe gained independence from Portugal in 1975. President Manuel Pinto da Costa’s Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (MLSTP) was the country’s only legal party until a 1990 referendum established multiparty democracy. Miguel dos Anjos Trovoada, a former prime minister, returned from exile and ran as an independent candidate 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 in the 2001 president election, compared with 38 percent for Pinto da Costa. A coalition government was created after no party gained a majority in the March 2002 parliamentary elections. International observers declared both polls free and fair.

In July 2003, a group of disgruntled military officers briefly ousted 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 (PSD). Vaz de Almeida resigned in June 2005, following public discontent and allegations of corruption in the award of oil exploration licenses in the Joint Development Zone (JDZ) with Nigeria. The MLSTP-PSD and its coalition partners, which held the largest block of seats in Parliament, threatened to resign from government and force early parliamentary elections. To avoid that outcome, Menezes reached agreement with the MLSTP-PSD on the formation of a new government that included Maria Silveira, the well-respected head of the Central Bank, to serve concurrently as prime minister and finance minister.

The MDFM, in coalition with the Democratic Convergence Party (PCD), took 23 of 55 seats in the March 2006 legislative elections. The MLSTP-PSD won 19 seats, while ADI came in third with 12 seats. The newly formed New Way Movement (NR) won 1 seat. Six other parties competed, but failed to win any seats. Though peaceful, protesters in several parts of the country prevented approximately 9,600 people from voting in 18 electoral districts, but a rerun was held in April without incident. Negotiations on the formation of a new coalition government led to the appointment of a new prime minister, MDFM leader Tome Soares da Vera Cruz, in April.

Menezes won a second term in office in the July presidential election with 60 percent of the vote, eliminating the need for a runoff with his main challenger, Patrice Trovoada, son of former president Miguel Trovoada.

Large oil and natural gas deposits were discovered off the country’s coast in the 1990s, though production is not expected to begin before 2010. A 2001 territorial agreement with Nigeria resulted in the creation of the JDZ, headquartered in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. Under its terms, Sao Tome and Principe will receive 40 percent of all JDZ oil and gas revenue. The awarding of exploration blocks in the JDZ has been controversial and in some cases disadvantageous to the Sao Tome and Principe government. Following public criticism that many of the Nigerian-controlled companies which won exploration rights had little experience in the oil sector, Sao Tome and Principe attorney general Adelino Pereira launched a probe into alleged corruption in 2005. In December of that year, he announced that serious irregularities in the award process had been identified. His report was submitted to the National Assembly for debate, and to the government, but no action had been taken by the end of 2006.

The oil fields are likely to be a continuing source of political conflict, though Sao Tome and Principe 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.

The country’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. The country benefited from $200 million in debt relief in December 2000 under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program and received additional relief in 2006. In August 2005, the International Monetary Fund approved a three-year, $4.3 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility arrangement.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Sao Tome and Principe is an electoral democracy. Presidential and legislative elections in 1991 gave citizens their first chance to elect their leaders in a free and transparent contest. Presidential and legislative elections held in 2006 were deemed credible, though the legislative polls were disrupted by protesters in a number of districts and had to be rerun. The president is elected for a five-year term and can serve up to two consecutive terms. Members of the unicameral, 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.

Four party blocks currently hold seats in the legislature, and a number of other parties exist and compete for elected office. Smaller parties often join forces with larger parties to form coalitions. All parties operate freely.

The country’s potential oil wealth has fueled growing corruption among members of the ruling elite. In 2005, the legislatures of Nigeria and Sao Tome and Principe agreed to form a joint parliamentary oversight committee to monitor the JDZ, and Sao Tome and Principe’s attorney general requested cooperation from Nigeria in his investigation of oil exploration licenses that year. Sao Tome and Principe’s foreign minister was forced to resign in January 2006 following allegations that he had misappropriated approximately $500,000 in aid from Morocco. The country was not ranked in Transparency International’s 2006 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.

  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 sixth grade, though rural students often stop attending school after fourth grade. Primary school enrollment stands at approximately 74 percent.

Freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Citizens have the constitutional right to gather and demonstrate with an advance notice of two days to the government. Workers’ rights to organize, strike, and bargain collectively are guaranteed and respected.

  The 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.

There is societal discrimination against homosexuals. Persons with HIV/AIDS have been rejected by the communities in which they lived and shunned by their families, though testing is free and antiretroviral drugs are available. 

The constitution provides for equal rights for men and women, but women encounter significant discrimination in all sectors, including education and employment. 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.