After independence in 1975, President Manuel
Pinto da Costa and his party, the Freedom Movement for
São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP), began to pursue a radical
The regime established economic and military
relations with the Soviet Union and its allies,
including Cuba, Angola and East Germany. However, trade
with Western Europe, especially Portugal, continued to
dominate foreign trade.
Under the influence of the powerful "protectors" from
the Eastern bloc, the cocoa plantations were
nationalized, MLSTP became the only allowed party and
all opposition was silenced. The new policy caused
divisions within the party. Many of the party members
who wished to proceed more cautiously were driven into
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Sao Tome and Principe. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
In 1978, rumors of coup attempts appeared, prompting
Cuba and Angola, among others, to station soldiers in
the country to protect President Pinto da Costa. Several
politicians, including the president's old party mate,
Prime Minister Miguel Trovoada, were accused of taking
part in the plans for a coup and were sentenced to
The economic situation deteriorated. Cocoa production
fell sharply after the nationalization of the
plantations, and after 1979 the world market price of
cocoa also began to fall. During the first half of the
1980s, the country's gross domestic product (GDP)
steadily declined and in 1985 threatened economic
collapse. Instead of renewing the agreements with the
eastern countries, Pinto da Costa then sought support in
the western world. The government tried to attract
investors from the West and launched a cautious
privatization. Further reforms to deregulate the economy
followed when São Tomé and Príncipe in 1986 embarked on
a structural adjustment program in collaboration with
the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
At the same time, MLSTP sought reconciliation with
the opposition in exile. Among other things, the
Constitution was amended in 1987 so that not only the
ruling party but also independent candidates could stand
in elections to Parliament. However, the reforms were
insufficient for the opposition, and in March 1988 an
opposition group based in Cameroon made a coup attempt.
More than 40 rebels landed in the capital São Tomé and
attacked a police station but were themselves arrested.
Transition to democracy
The coup attempt, the economic crisis and growing
demands for reform prompted Pinto da Costa to end
democratic reforms at the end of 1989. In 1990, the
country's secret police was dissolved, and a
constitution that guaranteed multi-party systems and
human rights was adopted. The coup makers from 1988 were
pardoned and several opposition parties founded. A
younger group of politicians broke out of the MLSTP and
formed the Democratic Assembly-Reflection Group (PCD-GR).
MLSTP marked its new, reform-friendly line by adding to
its old name the Social Democratic Party (PSD).
In January 1991, the country's first general
elections to Parliament were held. PCD-GR became the big
winner with 54 percent of the vote. MLSTP-PSD came in
In the presidential election two months later, Miguel
Trovoada, who had been appointed prime minister in 1979,
Trovoada was supported by PCD-GR but the good
relationship between the ruling party and the president
did not last long. Almost a year after the presidential
election, the PCD-GR sought to limit the president's
power through a change of constitution. One of the
recurring arguments between the president and the
government culminated in a new election in October 1994.
The MLSTP-PSD became the largest party and could thus
come back to power. Two years later, Trovoada was
In the latter part of the 1990s, dissatisfaction with
the austerity policy pursued by the government in
cooperation with the IMF and the World Bank grew in
exchange for advice and favorable loans. Despite this,
the MLSTP-PSD government succeeded in strengthening its
position in the 1998 elections and gained its own
majority in Parliament.
During the election year, significant oil deposits
were discovered in the sea off São Tomé and Príncipe and
agreements were entered into with foreign companies
wishing to commence extraction.
In the 2001 presidential election, Manuel Pinto da
Costa made an attempt to get back into power. However,
he lost against the wealthy businessman Fradique de
Menezes, who was supported by the outgoing Trovoada and
his party ADI.
Meneze's time in power (2001–2011) was marked by
countless changes of government. Governments were most
often dominated by parties in opposition to President
Menezes. In Parliament there was a balance between
supporters and opponents of the president. The political
tug of war between the president and the government was
partly about the distribution of power, and partly how
the country's oil industry would be managed.
When President Menezes took office in September 2001,
the government was dominated by the old state-backed
party MLSTP-PSD. All attempts at cooperation were
unsuccessful. Menezes chose to arrange the 2002
parliamentary elections, which should have been held in
the autumn. Ahead of the election, a new party, the
Renewable Forces Democratic Movement (MDFM), was formed
by some defectors from ADI, including President Menezes
himself. MDFM entered into an alliance with the
Democratic Assembly Party (PCD, formerly PCD-GR). The
choice resulted in a balance between MLSTP-PSD and
MDFM-PCD. Finally, a unifying government was formed with
all parties in the Parliament, that is to say the
Alliance Uê-Kedadji, which was dominated by ADI.
The head of government became the ambassador to
Portugal, Gabriel Costa, who was supposed to be able to
bridge the contradictions within the government. But
already after six months, a crisis arose and the entire
government was dismissed. When Prime Minister Costa
resigned, he criticized President Menezes for breaking
the constitution through lack of transparency in
negotiations with foreign oil companies. Of other
prominent figures, the president was accused of funding
his election campaign with oil money.
In October 2002, President Maria das Neves de Souza
appointed prime minister for a new unity government. A
month later came the next crisis. Parliament then voted
for a constitutional reform that limited the president's
power. Among other things, the president's right to veto
constitutional amendments was abolished. In response,
Menezes dissolved the parliament and threatened with new
elections, but after mediation he agreed to the changes.
Parliament, in turn, promised to agree to hold a
referendum on the state's governance within a few years.
The referendum, however, never came to fruition.
In July 2003, a group of officers led by Major
Fernando "Cobo" Pereira conducted a coup d'état while
President Menezes visited Nigeria. The coup makers
captured several ministers and accused the government of
corruption. Mediators from Nigeria, among others,
persuaded the coup makers to give up, having received a
number of demands. The President promised to reform the
government, give Parliament transparency in the oil
business and create a national forum where
representatives from political parties and NGOs would be
made public. The conditions of the army soldiers would
be improved. After the coup, Menezes also promised
in-depth reforms to consolidate democracy and measures
to improve the economy, all to regain the world's faith
in São Tomé and Príncipe.
In March 2004, two ministers from the presidential
party MFDM were forced to leave the government after
being accused of having signed two comprehensive oil
agreements without the prime minister's knowledge.
Later, two more MFDM ministers left the government. In
September of that year, President Menezes resigned from
government after Prime Minister Maria das Neves was
indicted for involvement in aid money corruption.
Managing the expected revenue from future oil
recovery was an important political issue. Many powerful
interests were fought to gain control of the oil. In
order to avoid the usual corruption in the state
apparatus, in December 2004, a law was passed that would
guarantee national and international transparency of the
cash flows and ensure that the revenue was used for the
benefit of the general public. With the oil money, a
fund for the future would be built up.
A new government was added after the Neves government
was dismissed. It lasted almost a year, until June 2005,
when it debated the question of how a strike among
public servants would be handled. Maria do Carmo
Silveira, from MLSTP-PSD, was appointed new Prime
In March 2006, parliamentary elections were held. In
four constituencies, voters urged electoral boycotts in
protest that politicians had failed to fulfill promises
to install electricity, water and other services.
Barricades prevented some voters from voting, thus
holding re-election in some constituencies. The MDFM-PCD,
with close ties to the president, gained a scarce
majority and formed a minority government with Tomé Vera
Cruz as prime minister.
In the July 2006 presidential election, de Menezes,
with the support of the MDFM-PCD, was re-elected for
another five-year term with 60 percent of the vote.
In October and November 2007, the police headquarters
in São Tomé was occupied by hundreds of members of the
elite "Ninja", trained in Angola. Ninja cops demanded a
promised bonus and their own headquarters. The Speaker
of Parliament negotiated with the rebels and the
government, but it ended with seven rebels being
imprisoned. In January, the Supreme Court ruled that the
prison lands were illegal and the ninjas were released
New government is formed
In January 2008, Prime Minister Vera Cruz failed to
get through the government budget in the parliaments and
therefore resigned. He was succeeded in February by ADI
leader Patrice Trovoada, son of former president Miguel
ADI formed a broad coalition government with Trovoada
as prime minister but as early as May the government
lost a vote of confidence in parliament. President
Menezes then wanted to announce new elections, but was
forced to back after protests from civil society
including the unions. A new election would cost too
much, critics said, and would not solve the basic
political problems. Politicians should rather agree on a
new, broad unity government, they felt.
In June, President Menezes asked the leader of the
country's second-largest MLSTP-PSD party, Joaquim Rafael
Branco, to form a new government (MLSTP-PSD was the only
major party not a member of the Trovoada government). It
became a unity government with ministers from all
parties in parliament, except Trovoada's ADI, which was
now the only opposition party.
In December 2008, trials were prepared against
several former ministers who were suspected of seizing
money from the 1993 established but subsequently
dissolved GGA (Gabinete de Gestao das Ajudas). The GGA
would manage foreign aid, but about $ 4 million seemed
to have gone to government members' personal expenses.
Among the defendants were two former prime ministers:
Maria das Neves and Guilherme Posser da Costa. In March
2009, the former director of the GGA was sentenced to
nine years in prison and the former chamberlain to seven
years for crimes in connection with the embezzlement.
The outcome was controversial as the previously
suspected ministers were not brought to trial.
Halted coup attempt
In February 2009, the Minister of Justice announced
that a planned coup attempt had been prevented. Weapons
were found at the home of Arlecio Costa, leader of the
opposition party Christian Democratic Front (FDC).
Several people arrested along with Costa were said to be
linked to the so-called Buffalo Battalion, a South
African association of former mercenaries who were also
believed to have had a finger in the game at the 2003
coup (see above). In November, Costa was sentenced to
five years in prison for his involvement in the coup
plans. Another defendant was sentenced to two years in
prison, while the other 36 were released. In January
2010, Costa Amnesty was granted by President Menezes.
During the trial, Costa had accused the president of
fabricating the coup attempt for being both competing
Parliamentary elections would have been held in
February 2010 but postponed until August of the same
year. ADI won and received 26 seats, but that was not
enough for the party to gain a majority in the
parliament with 55 seats. However, ADI was able to form
a government and Patrice Trovoada again became prime
In July 2011, presidential elections were held. Pinto
da Costa, who is running as an independent candidate,
won 53 percent of the vote.
Pinto da Costa's victory raised fears of a return to
authoritarian rule, even though during his election
campaign he assured him that he would not revert to old
politics. He promised to work to improve the poor
country's economy, fight corruption and create political