The latest coup attempt in São Tomé has the alleged involvement of an expatriate opponent, former minister Gabriel Costa. Researcher Gustavo Plácido dos Santos, an expert on PALOP issues, believes that this instability is related to the discontent in the country and the proximity of the elections, to be held on October 7
There were two alleged coup attempts in São Tomé and Príncipe in less than two months, with alleged attacks on sovereign bodies, both with the alleged participation of men opposing Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada. Dismantled Saturday night, the latest "terrorist action" (thus dubbed by the São Tomé government) involved two Sao Tomean citizens - including Albertino Francisco, former Minister of Youth and Sports during Gabriel Costa's tenure (2012-2014).
The footage aired by TVS (São Tomé's state television) shows the arsenal seized from the five suspects (including three Spanish mercenaries) and their arrest on Saturday night.
"The only explanation for this political instability is the general elections of October 7," says researcher Gustavo Plácido dos Santos (IPRIS - Portuguese Institute for International Relations and Security), an expert on Portuguese-speaking countries.
Sao Tomean journalist Abel Veiga, director of the online newspaper Téla Nón and RTP África correspondent, points out that former minister Albertino Francisco is one of Patrice Trovoada's opponents in the diaspora. "He moved away from the Democratic Convergence Party (PCD), he traveled, he was out of the country, he spent a lot of time in Portugal, and he is now said to have joined, in the diaspora, another opposition party, the Popular Progress Party (PPP)."
The Sao Tomean diaspora has been constantly prevented from voting in the country's elections. A 2016 draft bill that would allow expatriates to vote was 'kept in the drawer' this year following a decision by Patrice Trovoada's Independent Democratic Action Party (ADI).
"The ADI has 33 MPs out of 55. It's an absolute majority. Unlike other parties, the ADI has access to State resources," says Gustavo Plácido dos Santos.
The IPRIS researcher adds that "now that former minister and political opponent Albertino Francisco is under investigation and has been arrested for his alleged involvement in the coup, he will certainly be quieter, he won't be able to speak so loud." The same thing happened, Santos points out, to the two suspects of the June coup - Gaudêncio Costa, former Minister of Agriculture, MP and leader of the largest opposition party (MLSTP/PSD), and Armed Forces Sergeant Ajax Managem. They are both free, but under Conditional Bail (an automatic coercive measure when someone is formally under investigation).
Great "insecurity and fragility"
"These two coup attempts in less than two months show that the country is experiencing great insecurity, an enormous fragility. Our maritime border is unprotected, without armed forces. We must thank God that the authorities were able to prevent the latest coup, but they did it with the help of the Interpol and friendly countries," Abel Veiga points out, while also emphasizing the "presence of three Spanish mercenaries in the country."
Researcher Gustavo Plácido dos Santos believes that "these coup attempts may also be related to São Tomé's most lucrative criminal activity, cocaine trafficking." It is "very easy" to smuggle war material - such as the arsenal that has been seized by the Police - into the country. "You just need to visit São Tomé Port to realize that there is no control at all. And since customs workers get €50 a month, they are easily corruptible."
The five detainees in this coup attempt - three Spanish mercenaries and two Sao Tomean citizens - were supposed to be interrogated by a Criminal Investigation Judge yesterday. Some judges said they could not be present. "There has been a confrontation between the judiciary and the government, as seen in the dismissal of Supreme Court advisory judges," says the IPRIS researcher.
In addition to former minister Albertino Francisco, the other São Tomean suspect is a former member of the defunct South African Buffalo Battalion - a mercenary unit which during the Apartheid regime fought in Angola, against Angolan troops, alongside South African invading forces. They allegedly wanted to kidnap the President of the Republic and the Chairman of the National Assembly, and kill Patrice Trovoada.
A "safe haven" for criminals and terrorists
On Wednesday, the main opposition party (MLSTP-PSD - São Tomé and Príncipe Liberation Movement - Social Democrat Party) accused Patrice Trovoada's government of trying to turn the country "into a safe haven for evildoers and criminal and terrorist organizations" by passing a new law that exempts foreigner citizens of entry visas. "The country does not have a border and migration police capable of effectively controlling the permanence of all those who enter the country in these conditions, and São Tomé and Príncipe could become a safe haven for evildoers and terrorists, compromising the security of the country and even of neighboring countries," said party leader Elsa Pinto to reporters. The new law allows foreign citizens, without specifying their nationality, to enter and remain in the country for a period of six months, but the Vice President of the Social Democrats warned "all Sao Tomeans of the imminent danger" that threatens the country's democracy.
The Portuguese government is providing assistance
The Foreign Ministry explained that "the Portuguese and Sao Tomean governments have been in touch, as part of the close bilateral relations between the two countries and the cooperation agreements arising thereof. The goal is to provide the technical assistance requested by Sao Tomean authorities in order to clarify recent events in the country."