Sao Tome: A tiny nation mobilizes for change

08 Aug 2014

UNDP Sao Tome Photo: WFP Sao Tome

In September, people in Sao Tome e Principe, a tiny Central African nation situated in the Gulf of Guinea, will go to the polls to elect a new parliament and local governments.

Intense efforts are underway to organize the vote. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been supporting the National Electoral Commission to enroll new voters amongst the country --, many of them youth and women,  -- using biometric technology.

Beyond the technical aspects of the ballot itself, my top priority as the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations is to encourage the country to come together and see these elections as a huge opportunity. It is an opportunity to represent the aspirations of the people, to involve women and men in decision-making and to boost the development process, through cohesion, determination and openness. 

The country’s  national dialogue, initiated by the President at the end of last year, has been aiming to advance that agenda. The dialogue built on a series of nationwide, UNDP-sponsored consultations on the post-2015 development agenda and has tabled a number of key concerns and aspirations.

Sao Tome, where 60 percent of the population is living in poverty, is pinning its hopes on oil exploration to boost its economy and development. The economy has been performing well, paralleled by consistent investments in infrastructure and basic social services. Now, the challenge is to consolidate these gains and ensure growth results in higher standards of living for all citizens, and especially for the youth who represent the future of this country.

Supported by UNDP and the European Union, the national dialogue now manifests itself through regular  informal meetings between governing institutions and civil society groups.

Democracy comes as the number one preoccupation and there is agreement that the country needs thorough governance reforms, including improving legislative processes; increasing accountability and;  implementation of existing regulations; improving citizens’ access to justice; and continued protection of freedom of expression in the media.

Attracting foreign investment and boosting economic growth came second. These objectives would include investments in infrastructure, more efficient business regulations, support for entrepreneurs and efforts to increase access to sustainable energy for citizens, governments institutions and businesses.

Consolidating national unity emerged as a third priority. Participants stressed, for example, the importance of continuing to hold regular meetings involving large sections of the population and holding institutions and political leaders accountable for their actions. Civic education in schools was also cited as an important tool for social cohesion.

The first of its kind in a nation that rarely makes the headlines, this national dialogue could represents the beginning of a process that may take the country to new heights. While solving the nation’s most pressing issues may take some time, UNDP and the UN will continue to stand behind the people of Sao Tome. The key is now to expand that dialogue and make sure it involves every possible section of society.

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