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The Electoral Origins of the Santomean Coup Attempt

December 05, 2022
Jonathan Powell and Julia Oldershaw


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Jonathan Powell, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida, and Julia Oldershaw, a REIGN Fellow at the same university, analyze the recent coup attempt in Sao Tome and Principe on November 25, 2022, and what the international community can do to respond.

Holding competitive elections and the transition of power following elections are crucial for long-term democratic consolidation. But history is replete with undemocratic post-election behavior. Refusals to honor election results have led to civil war in places such as Côte d’Ivoire, foreign military intervention in The Gambia, and now—perhaps most famously—the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol.

In other cases, trouble arises only after the new government has taken power. Such was the case in São Tomé and Príncipe’s capital in the early morning hours of November 25, when just after midnight residents were awoken by gunfire and explosions. A coup attempt had resulted in an hours-long gunfight between regime loyalists and would-be coupists at a local army base. When the coup ended around 6 a.m., four accused plotters were dead and the government, led by the Independent Democratic Action party (ADI), had narrowly avoided becoming Africa’s seventh regime in the last two years to be removed by a coup.

News soon emerged that two prominent Santomean figures had been among the alleged conspirators. The first was Alércio Costa, a former soldier and mercenary who had served in South Africa’s Apartheid-era 32 Battalion. The unit gained notoriety from fictionalized references in films such as Blood Diamond and Elysium, but the unit’s links to real coups has not been uncommon. Some of its veterans were linked to the infamous 2004 plot to oust the government of Equatorial Guinea, a plot which implicated foreign figures as prominent as the son of a former British Prime Minister. More relevant to the Santomean political scene, Costa was one of the primary organizers of the coup that unseated the island nation’s government for a week in August 2003. He was convicted again in 2009 for conspiring against the government.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.

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