Army foils coup attempt in Sao Tome, says PM

The army foiled a coup attempt on Friday in Sao Tome and Principe, a small archipelago considered a model of parliamentary democracy in Africa, the Prime Minister accusing the former President of the National Assembly, who been arrested, to be one of the sponsors.

Four men, including the former number 1 of Parliament, Delfim Nevès, as well as a former mercenary who had already attempted a putsch in 2009, were arrested after being denounced by a commando of four men captured after six hours of exchanges of fire at the army headquarters, which they had attacked during the night, according to the head of government Patrice Trovoada.

“I want to reassure everyone, the armed forces have the situation under control,” said the head of government, in the video of an interview with Santomean journalists provided to AFP by the Prime Minister’s press service. Mr. Trovoada appears there seated at a desk, with tired features, in a white T-shirt under a blue raincoat.

“There was a coup attempt which started around 12:40 a.m. and (…) ended shortly after 6 a.m.,” he continued, adding: “The armed forces suffered an attack in a barracks”.

A soldier, “taken hostage”, was injured, “but he will be able to resume his activities in a few days”, specified Mr. Trovoada.

A resident contacted by telephone by AFP said on condition of anonymity that she had heard “fire from automatic weapons and heavier weapons, as well as detonations, for two hours inside the HQ of the army” in the capital Sao Tome.

“The operation was sponsored by certain personalities of the country in complicity with certain others within the army camp, the four assailants were arrested and denounced certain others, including Delfim Nevès and Arlecio Costa”, assured Mr. Trovoada .

“A group of four people associated with the infamous Buffalo Battalion entered the barracks, while another group was outside (…) in vans” which could not be stopped , detailed Mr. Trovoada.

Delfim Nevès was the president of the outgoing National Assembly and lost this function on November 11 during the installation of the new chamber resulting from the legislative elections of September 25, won by an absolute majority by the center-right party of Mr. Trovoada , Independent Democratic Action (ADI).

Mr. Neves had also been eliminated in the first round of the presidential election on July 18, 2021, finally won by ADI Carlos Vila Nova.

“Some do not accept the will of the ballot box,” said Mr. Trovoada.

– Political alternations –

Arlecio Costa is a former Santomean mercenary from the South African group “Bataillon Buffalo”, a sulphurous private security group dismantled in 1993 by Pretoria. In February 2009, while leader of a small opposition party, he had already been arrested and accused of being the leader of a thwarted coup attempt 12 days earlier.

“The situation in the barracks is under control, but we must be sure that the country is completely under control,” assured Mr. Trovoada. He announced that an investigation was underway and explained that the army “has an obligation to clarify the situation, if there have been other ramifications within the armed forces”.

Soldiers were deployed overnight to secure the residences of members of the government and the President of the Republic, also testified the resident contacted by AFP after taking a car ride in the capital.

“The city is calm, people are going about their normal business but schools have asked parents not to send their children,” she said.

Two major parties have been vying for the leadership of the country since its independence in 1975: Mr. Trovoada’s ADI and the Liberation Movement of Sao Tome and Principe-Social Democratic Party (MLSTP-PSD, centre-left).

This small, poor country is accustomed to the alternations in power of these two parties which have dominated the political scene since the establishment of a multiparty system in 1991, after 15 years of a Marxist one-party regime in this former Portuguese colony.

Following several coup attempts, the last in 2003 and 2009, the parliamentary regime asserted itself there and allowed several alternations between the ADI and the MLSTP, the latter being from the former single party .