Trust, as the “main motor of good governance,” drives legitimacy in government and public institutions, leading toward a well-governed society (Blind, 2006, p. 16; Hetherington, 2005). Trust in institutions supports economic development by promoting financial-sector stability and encouraging investment (Tonkiss, 2009). Trust can also increase voter turnout during elections (Gray & Caul, 2000), encourage a vibrant civil society, and assist with the implementation of government policies, programs, and regulations that depend on citizen cooperation and compliance (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2017). In extreme cases, a lack of public trust has led to failed states, revolutions, and civil wars (Diamond, 2007).
This dispatch examines popular trust in the political institutions of São Tomé and Príncipe, as well as its relationship to perceptions of corruption. The small island nation enjoys lively competitive elections and is rated as “free” by Freedom House (2018), with high scores on both political rights and civil liberties. Transparency International (2017) ranked São Tomé and Príncipe 64th out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index (where higher rankings represent lower levels of corruption), seventh-best in sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite these favourable ratings, Afrobarometer survey data show that popular trust in state institutions is low while perceptions of corruption are widespread. These findings challenge São Tomeans working to reduce corruption and strengthen public trust in their democratic institutions.