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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Sao Tome & Principe 2018 Crime & Safety Report

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Sao Tome & Principe has been assessed as Level 1: Exercise normal precautions.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy Libreville does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Sao Tome as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. Government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Sao Tome & Principe-specific webpage for analytic reports, travel alerts, and contact information.

The country of Sao Tome & Principe (STP) is comprised of two main islands and has a population of approximately 200,000 people; the majority of the population lives on the island of Sao Tome.

Crime Threats

Violent crime directed toward expatriates or foreign tourists is infrequent. The most common crime reported by expatriates is theft of unaccompanied items. Crime may increase around the winter holidays. Pickpocketing and petty theft are more common in markets, on the streets, and near hotels. Caution should be taken when visiting popular Sao Tome night spots, due to potential for crime.

Most hotels in Sao Tome city and resorts on the outlying islands have safeguards (24-hour guards, locking doors, and safes in each room) that match security standards found in Western countries.

There are some local gangs that are involved in robberies, hold-ups, and thefts but no organized crime.

Violent crime is rare, though there have been isolated incidents of violence in the commission of robberies.

Cybersecurity Issues

Incidence of cybercrime is low in STP, and the U.S. Embassy Libreville has not received any reports of card skimming. E-commerce does not exist in the country.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Traffic accidents are one of the greatest dangers to visitors to STP. Visitors should exercise extreme caution as a driver/passenger and a pedestrian. Local drivers may engage in reckless behavior, including driving under the influence of alcohol and failing to obey traffic signals. Slow moving vehicles, large trucks, and erratic stopping by various vehicles may increase risk of accident. Enforcement of speed limits and “rules of the road” has been non-existent; however, there have been some recent indications of more active enforcement. Since January 2017, visitors to the island of Sao Tome have reported that police are cracking down on unlicensed drivers.

While major roads are generally in good repair, smaller roads in rural areas may be nothing more than direct tracks. There are no highways in STP, and most roads are narrow with two lanes. In addition, STP are mountainous islands formed from volcanoes, making roads very serpentine with dramatic changes in elevation; as a result, roads can be difficult to navigate safely, particularly at night. Roads in rural and suburban are poorly illuminated, increasing the risk of accident at night. Pedestrians and livestock may pose additional road hazards, due to lack of or disregard for designated crossings. Local vehicles are not well maintained and often lack headlights.

Due to road safety concerns, visitors should drive defensively and wear seatbelts. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Public Transportation Conditions

Many residents utilize motorcycle taxis or minivans. Visitors should strongly consider other transportation options before deciding to take a motorcycle taxi. Every year, there are a number of serious accidents involving motorcycle taxis. Drivers often lack helmets for passengers and drive recklessly.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Travel by air to/from STP and between the islands can be frustrating for even the most seasoned traveler. Planes are often delayed and cancelled, sometimes for days. Baggage frequently goes missing and may never be found. Local airlines are not required to pay restitution for lost bags.

Direct flights between Libreville and Sao Tome are typically available four days per week (Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday); however, visitors should confirm flight availability in advance of travel.

Other Travel Conditions

Villagers set up road blocks as a form of protest. Common complaints that trigger such protests include a lack of running water or electricity in the village. There can be prolonged discussions between villagers and police, with local politicians occasionally called in to mediate. As a result, roads may be blocked for significant periods. In 2016, the Embassy received reports of roadblocks on main roads in Sao Tome, effectively cutting off parts of the island to the capital for several hours at a time.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Sao Tome as being a LOW-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

 

There are no known indigenous terrorist groups that operate in STP. However, terrorism remains an ongoing concern for Westerners traveling and operating in West Africa, as multiple terrorist groups are active in the region.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Dakar as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

STP is a relatively peaceful democracy. STP was a colony under Portugal and had a peaceful transition to independence. Over the last 15 years, there have been a few periods of political uncertainty after a couple of coup attempts and following a parliamentary shake-up in 2012 that led to confusion over who legitimately held power. None of these incidents involved violence, and STP has an overall history of peaceful transition of power. The most recent presidential elections in July 2016 transpired peacefully.

Civil Unrest

When protest activity does occur in the capital city, it generally takes place in the Riboque neighborhood near the Vitoria F.C. soccer stadium.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

During the rainy season, torrential downpours can cause severe damage to villages and bridges; roadways may become difficult to navigate or blocked, particularly if they are narrow or unpaved.

Rising sea levels are threatening coastal communities.

Privacy Concerns

Reports of privacy-related incidents are uncommon; however, U.S. citizens should practice the same protection of personally identifiable or private information that they would in the U.S.

Police Response

The police and security forces often lack communications equipment, weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and gasoline, all of which limits their ability to respond to routine and emergency calls. Any response is often slow and limited generally to writing a report or taking statements.

Travelers may encounter language barriers when requesting assistance, as most locals, including local police and emergency service providers, do not speak English; Portuguese is the predominant language.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Incidents of police or security force harassment or detention of foreigners are rare. U.S. citizens who become victims of police harassment should be polite and cooperative. U.S. citizens detained by police should ask that the U.S. Embassy in Libreville, Gabon, be notified immediately.

Crime Victim Assistance

In the event of an emergency, the local police are typically the first point of contact. However, police response is slow, and investigations are often never opened. Prosecutions are very slow, if they are even initiated.

The national police in Sao Tome may be reached at +239-2-222-222

The U.S. Embassy Libreville American Citizens Services (ACS) Officer may be reached at +241-01-45-71-00. In the event of an after-hours emergency involving an American citizen, callers should dial +241-01-45-71-00 and request the duty officer.

Police/Security Agencies

The National Police are responsible for traffic enforcement, security at major events, and criminal investigations.

Medical Emergencies

There is limited adequate medical care in STP. Availability of doctors and access to hospital facilities is unreliable; medical equipment does not function or lacks trained operators, medicines and surgical tools may not be available; and sanitary conditions may be sub-standard. Emergency responders and medical personnel likely do not speak English.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

The hospital Central Ayres de Menezes in Sao Tome may be reached at +239-2-221-222.

A few clinics also exist, but the service provided is very basic.

Available Air Ambulance Services

African Medicale Assistance:  +(241-07-41-11-11 (NOTE:  This service is based in Gabon)

Insurance Guidance

In the event of a traumatic injury or medical emergency, temporary stabilization and medical evacuation should be considered, if possible. Travelers are advised to have medical evacuation insurance.

Medical insurance may not cover any procedures. Travelers are advised to have available local currency to pay in advance for any procedures.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Sao Tome & Principe.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no OSAC Country Council in STP. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

There is no U.S. Embassy in STP; as a result, the U.S. Embassy in Libreville, Gabon, covers STP. The U.S. Embassy is located in the Sabliere neighborhood of Libreville, across the street from the Hotel Onomo.

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Operator: +241-01-45-71-00

Website: http://libreville.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

The U.S. Embassy Libreville has security responsibilities over Sao Tome & Principe. The U.S. government does not have a diplomatic mission in the country, so the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide consular services in STP is extremely limited. All U.S. citizens visiting or working in STP should have emergency response and evacuation plans that do not rely solely on U.S. government assistance as a primary means of leaving the country.

U.S. citizens traveling in STP are encouraged to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.

Additional Resources

Sao Tome & Principe Country Information Sheet

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