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Leveraging human and natural capital to overcome challenges in São Tomé and Príncipe

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On my first visit to São Tomé and Príncipe this week, I will reflect on the options available to foster resilience and unlock potential for the Santomean people. Despite the breathtaking natural beauty of these islands, São Tomé and Príncipe faces significant structural challenges—many of which are common to small island states. The archipelago's limited size and 220,000-strong population constrain large-scale economic development, resulting in a fragile and undiversified economy. Additionally, its geographic isolation inflates trade costs and heightens vulnerability to economic shocks, while climate change and weather-related events pose additional threats.

The new Country Partnership Framework (CPF) for São Tomé and Príncipe, which outlines the World Bank Group’s strategic support over the next five years, serves as a backdrop for my visit and our engagement in the country going forward. This framework targets critical sectors such as Energy, Digital, Infrastructure, and Education to address significant constraints hindering sustainable and inclusive growth. It also focuses on enhancing the country’s resilience to climate change and extreme weather events, ensuring that São Tomé and Príncipe can effectively harness and benefit from its abundant natural resources.

Education stands out as a critical area for investment, particularly given that nearly half of São Tomé and Príncipe's population is under the age of 18. The country's impressive secondary school enrollment rate of 89% reflects a sustained commitment to education and human capital development. Yet, the quality of education is low, with associated weak learning outcomes—a result of poor learning conditions, ineffective teacher management and school leadership, and inadequate financing. The government's focus on girls' education through initiatives like the Girls Empowerment and Quality Education for All Project is crucial for equipping all young Santomeans with essential life skills and improving overall learning outcomes.

I am also eager to witness the impact of the West Africa Coastal Areas Management Program (WACA) in some of the 12 coastal communities it supports. This program is tackling socio-economic and environmental challenges that make fishers and their families particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change and environmental degradation. Given the archipelago's susceptibility to coastal degradation, flooding, and rising sea levels, I look forward to learning about the proactive measures being implemented to increase communities’ physical and economic security.  

A significant portion of my visit will focus on the energy sector, which is vital for economic stability and growth. The high cost of electricity in São Tomé and Príncipe, the third highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, impacts macro-economic and fiscal stability, while also hampering private sector growth. I am particularly interested in learning what can be done to quickly support São Tomé and Príncipe to move towards a greener power generation mix, with the provision of cheaper electricity. Stabilizing the electricity sector, by tackling overdue energy reforms and investing in infrastructure, will be crucial to foster a robust private sector, generate employment, and stimulate economic growth.

Through these engagements, I hope to reaffirm the World Bank Group’s commitment to supporting São Tomé and Príncipe in realizing its development potential. By leveraging human and natural capital, and addressing critical challenges, we can help ensure a resilient and prosperous future for all Santomeans.

Together, with a strong partnership and a shared vision, we can overcome the challenges of insularity and climate change, paving the way for a brighter, more sustainable future for São Tomé and Príncipe.

Victoria Kwakwa

Vice President, Eastern and Southern Africa

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