São Tomé and Príncipe | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé and Príncipe

Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


The year was marked by the continued slow-down of São Tomé and Príncipe’s economy, as well as brewing tensions between the government coalition and the Independent Democratic Action party (ADI), which boycotted certain parliamentary activities for the first half of the year. In addition to exchanging corruption accusations, the ADI and the ruling Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe-Social Democratic Party (MLSTP-PSD) disagreed on items including the appointment of an attorney general.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Political Rights: 34 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 11 / 12

São Tomé and Príncipe’s president is elected for up to two five-year terms. Members of the unicameral, 55-seat National Assembly are elected by popular vote to four-year terms. In the August 2010 parliamentary elections, which were considered free and fair, the ADI captured 26 seats, followed by the MLSTP-PSD with 21 seats, and the Democratic Convergence Party (PCD) with 7; the Force for Change Democratic Movement captured only 1 seat. ADI leader Patrice Trovoada was appointed prime minister.

Former strongman Manuel Pinto da Costa, who ruled São Tomé and Príncipe for the first 15 years after independence, won the August 2011 presidential election as an independent candidate. He defeated the incumbent ADI party’s Evaristo Carvalho in a run-off election with 52.9 percent of the vote. Foreign observers deemed the highly contested elections credible and fair.

Following a no-confidence vote that brought down the ADI government in November 2012, MLSTP-PSD leader Gabriel Costa assumed office as the new prime minister on December 10. Meanwhile, ADI’s members boycotted parliament from November 2012 until February 15, when the now MLSTP-PSD-controlled National Assembly voted to cut the salaries of absent members. The ADI continued to boycott parliamentary commissions until early July, at which point the National Assembly ordered the cancellation of car privileges for nonparticipating members. On July 18, after returning to full participation, ADI submitted a request for a no-confidence vote, accusing the MLSTP-PSD government of corruption, human rights’ violations, and endangering the health of São Tomeans. The president of the National Assembly refused the request on the grounds that it did not fulfill procedural requirements.

In May, President Pinto da Costa postponed municipal and regional elections, originally scheduled for July, until 2014. Consultations on revisions to a draft electoral law were ongoing at year’s end.

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 14 / 16

The multiparty system features vigorous competition between the ADI, the MLSTP-PSD, the PCD, and other parties. Though political parties are free to operate there is evidence that some of the opposition leaders have been victim of political persecution.

As indicated by the President, Sao Tomeans are losing trust in political parties as they are appear to be more concerned with their own interests than those of the country. As a result, Sao Tomeans are increasingly turning to civil society organizations.

Although immigrants represent a very small share of the population in Sao Tome, they have yet to be allowed to participate in elections and vote.

C. Functioning of Government: 9 / 12

Following the approval of a new anticorruption law and the establishment of the Public Integrity Center in 2012, the new prime minister warned in January that money laundering and narco-trafficking were on the rise. In August, following pressure from international donors, the National Assembly approved a new law to prevent and fight money laundering. In April, to promote transparency, the government submitted to the Supreme Court a list of all assets controlled by its cabinet members.

A slew of alleged corrupt deals came to the fore in 2013. In March, the government declared that €572,000 ($753,000) was missing from a state fund financed through the sale of rice donated by Japan. In May, the ADI accused the minister of agriculture and fisheries of establishing a private company within the Fisheries Department and cozying up to a private Spanish company. The ADI also accused the Ministry of Commerce of illicitly buying 3,000 tons of tainted rice from Cameroon. In June, the PCD accused former prime minister Trovoada of money laundering, including €624,600 ($821,800) sent under suspicious circumstances to Gabon. This exchange of corruption allegations contributed to political instability. São Tomé and Príncipe was ranked 72 out of 177 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Civil Liberties: 47 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 15 / 16
Freedom of expression is guaranteed and respected. 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. Residents also have access to foreign broadcasts. Internet access is not restricted, though a lack of infrastructure limits penetration.
Freedom of religion is respected within this predominantly Roman Catholic country. The government does not restrict academic freedom. However, although the government has identified education as a top priority, limited funds and poor training undermine the quality of teaching.

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 10 / 12

Freedoms of assembly and association are respected, and citizens have the constitutional right to demonstrate with two days’ advance notice to the government. The tainted rice case caused public demonstrations, which led to the government’s July decision to recall the rice.

In May 2013 the Federation of NGOs in Sao Tome and Principe that represents approximately 100 NGOs inaugurated their new headquarters. NGOs are free to operate though their capacity to intervene is limited as most have very limited funding. Workers’ rights to organize, strike, and bargain collectively are guaranteed and respected. In October the teachers’ union called for a strike that disrupted schooling for 80,000 students. The prime minister headed the negotiations with the union, which called off the strike after signing an agreement with the government addressing several of the teachers’ demands.

F. Rule of Law: 12 / 16

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, though it is susceptible to political influence and is understaffed and inadequately funded. The country’s one prison is overcrowded, and inmates suffer from inadequate food and medical care. In January, Elsa Pinto was appointed as the new attorney general by presidential decree. As Pinto is prominent in the MLSTP-PSD party, the Bar Association and others argued that her political ties jeopardized the office’s independence. Just two weeks after her appointment, Pinto was dismissed. She was replaced by Frederique Samba. On July 30, after an audit of the courts’ finances and rumors of poor management, the head judge of the Supreme Court, José Bandeira, dissolved the courts’ Board of Administration and nominated a new board that he presides over. Critics called it an abuse of power, arguing that only the National Assembly may perform this type of structural change.

Although the 2012 penal code removed restrictions, same-sex relationships are generally hidden due to discrimination. São Tomé was among the countries that signed a UN joint declaration to decriminalize homosexuality in 2011.

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 10 / 16

While Sao Tomeans are free to travel and seek employment, they have limited access to secondary and higher education.

Sao Tome & Principe is one of the smallest economies in Africa and extremely dependent on international aid (85 percent of its budget is financed by donors). Economic activity is growing but it is still challenging to establish private businesses in view of red tape and corruption. Access to economic opportunities is also uneven with Sao Tome e Principe exhibiting one of the highest Gini coefficients in Sub-Saharan Africa (50.8).

There are currently 10 women in the National Assembly.  The constitution provides equal rights for men and women, but women encounter discrimination in all sectors of society. Domestic violence is common and rarely prosecuted.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology