Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe

Map of São Tomé and Príncipe

National name: República Democrática de São Tomé e Príncipe

President: Fradique de Menezes (2003) Prime Minister: Tomé Vera Cruz (2006)

The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe were uninhabited before the arrival of the Portuguese sometime between 1469 and 1471. The islands were discovered in the 15th century by Fernão do Pó and bore his name until the 20th century. Portuguese navigators explored the islands and decided that they would be good locations for bases to trade with the mainland.

The first successful settlement of São Tomé was established in 1493 by Álvaro Caminha, who received the land as a grant from the crown. Príncipe was settled in 1500 under a similar arrangement. Attracting settlers proved difficult, however, and most of the earliest inhabitants were "undesirables" sent from Portugal, mostly Jews,( these "Jews" were young children taken from their parents that had just escaped the nightmare, so they hoped, of the Inquisition of Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain. The most famous and wealthy of Spanish Jewish families, the Abravanels, had a grandson abducted, forcibly baptised and lost - forever- settlers ? I dont think so)!. In time these settlers( these settlers were young boys and girls that were forcibly taken from the arms of their parents and sold into slavery or worse ) found the excellent volcanic soil of the region suitable for agriculture, especially the growing of sugar

The cultivation of sugar was a labour-intensive process and the Portuguese began to import large numbers of slaves from the mainland. By the mid-1500s the Portuguese settlers had turned the islands into Africa's foremost exporter of sugar. São Tomé and Príncipe were taken over and administered by the Portuguese crown in 1522 and 1573, respectively.

However, superior sugar colonies in the western hemisphere began to hurt the islands. The large slave population also proved difficult to control, with Portugal unable to invest many resources in the effort. Sugar cultivation thus declined over the next 100 years, and by the mid-17th century, the economy of São Tomé had changed. It was now primarily a transit point for ships engaged in the slave trade between the West and continental Africa.

In the early 19th century, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced. The rich volcanic soils proved well suited to the new cash crop industry, and soon extensive plantations (roças), owned by Portuguese companies or absentee landlords, occupied almost all of the good farmland. By 1908, São Tomé had become the world's largest producer of cocoa, which remains the country's most important crop.

The roças system, which gave the plantation managers a high degree of authority, led to abuses against the African farm workers. Although Portugal officially abolished slavery in 1876, the practice of forced paid labor continued. In the early 20th century, an internationally publicized controversy arose over charges that Angolan contract workers were being subjected to forced labor and unsatisfactory working conditions. Sporadic labor unrest and dissatisfaction continued well into the 20th century, culminating in an outbreak of riots in 1953 in which several hundred African laborers were killed in a clash with their Portuguese rulers. This "Batepá Massacre" remains a major event in the colonial history of the islands, and its anniversary is officially observed by the government.

By the late 1950s, when other emerging nations across the African Continent were demanding independence, a small group of São Toméans had formed the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP), which eventually established its base in nearby Gabon. Picking up momentum in the 1960s, events moved quickly after the overthrow of the Caetano dictatorship in Portugal in April 1974. The new Portuguese regime was committed to the dissolution of its overseas colonies; in November 1974, their representatives met with the MLSTP in Algiers and worked out an agreement for the transfer of sovereignty. After a period of transitional government, São Tomé and Príncipe achieved independence on July 12, 1975, choosing as the first president the MLSTP Secretary General Manuel Pinto da Costa.

In 1990, São Tomé became one of the first African countries to embrace democratic reform, and changes to the constitution — the legalization of opposition political parties — led to elections in 1991 that were nonviolent, free, and transparent. Miguel Trovoada, a former prime minister who had been in exile since 1986, returned as an independent candidate and was elected president. Trovoada was re-elected in São Tomé's second multi-party presidential election in 1996. The Party of Democratic Convergence (PCD) overtook the MLSTP to take a majority of seats in the National Assembly, with the MLSTP becoming an important and vocal minority party. Municipal elections followed in late 1992, in which the MLSTP came back to win a majority of seats on five of seven regional councils. In early legislative elections in October 1994, the MLSTP won a plurality of seats in the Assembly. It regained an outright majority of seats in the November 1998 elections. The Government of São Tomé fully functions under a multi-party system. Presidential elections were held in July 2001. The candidate backed by the Independent Democratic Action party, Fradique de Menezes, was elected in the first round and inaugurated on September 3. Parliamentary elections were held in March 2002. For the next four years, a series of short-lived opposition-led governments were formed.

The army seized power for one week in July 2003, complaining of corruption and that forthcoming oil revenues would not be divided fairly. An accord was negotiated under which President de Menezes was returned to office.

The cohabitation period ended in March 2006, when a pro-presidential coalition won enough seats in National Assembly elections to form and head a new government.

In the 30 July 2006 presidential election, Fradique de Menezes easily won a second five-year term in office, defeating two other candidates Patrice Trovoada (son of former President Miguel Trovoada) and independent Nilo Guimarães. Local elections, the first since 1992, took place on 27 August 2006 and were dominated by members of the ruling coalition.


Main article: Politics of São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé has functioned under a multiparty system since 1990. The president of the republic is elected to a 5-year term by direct universal suffrage and a secret ballot, and must gain an outright majority to be elected. The president may hold up to two consecutive terms. The prime minister is named by the president, and the fourteen members of cabinet are chosen by the prime minister.

The National Assembly, the supreme organ of the state and the highest legislative body, is made up of 55 members, who are elected for a 4-year term and meet semiannually. Justice is administered at the highest level by the Supreme Court. The judiciary is independent under the current constitution.

With regards to human rights, there exists the freedom of speech and the freedom to form opposition political parties.


Palace of congress
Main article: Provinces of São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé and Príncipe is divided into 2 provinces: Príncipe, São Tomé.

The provinces are further divided into seven districts, six on São Tomé and one on Príncipe.

Note: Príncipe has had self-government since April 29, 1995


Map of São Tomé and Príncipe
Main article: Geography of São Tomé and Príncipe
Satellite image of São Tomé and Príncipe, generated from raster graphics data supplied by The Map Library

The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, situated in the equatorial Atlantic about 300 and 250 kilometers (200 and 150 miles), respectively, off the northwest coast of Gabon, constitute Africa's smallest country. Both are part of the Cameroon volcanic mountain line, which also includes the islands of Annobón to the southwest, Bioko to the northeast (both part of Equatorial Guinea), and Mount Cameroon on the African west coast. São Tomé is 50 kilometers (31 miles) long and 32 kilometers (20 miles) wide and the more mountainous of the two islands. Its peaks reach 2,024 meters (6,640 feet). Príncipe is about 30 kilometers (19 miles) long and 6 kilometers (4 miles) wide. Swift streams radiating down the mountains through lush forest and cropland to the sea cross both islands.

At sea level, the climate is tropical—hot and humid with average yearly temperatures of about 27°C (80°F) and little daily variation. The temperature rarely rises beyond 32°C. At the interior's higher altitudes, the average yearly temperature is 20°C (68°F), and nights are generally cool. Annual rainfall varies from 5 m (200 inches) on the southwestern slopes to 1 m (40 in) in the northern lowlands. The rainy season runs from October to May.

  • The island of São Tomé is 32 by 48 kilometers (20 by 30 miles) in size and the more mountainous of the two islands. The capital, also named São Tomé, lies on this island.
  • The island of Príncipe is 6 by 16 kilometers (4 by 10 miles) in size.

The equator lies immediately south of São Tomé Island, passing through or near the islet named Ilhéu das Rolas.


Main article: Economy of São Tomé and Príncipe

Since the 1800s, the economy of São Tomé and Príncipe has been based on plantation agriculture. At the time of independence, Portuguese-owned plantations occupied 90% of the cultivated area. After independence, control of these plantations passed to various state-owned agricultural enterprises, which have since been privatized. The dominant crop on São Tomé is cocoa, representing about 95% of exports. Other export crops include copra, palm kernels, and coffee.

Domestic food-crop production is inadequate to meet local consumption, so the country imports some of its food. Efforts have been made by the government in recent years to expand food production, and several projects have been undertaken, largely financed by foreign donors.

Other than agriculture, the main economic activities are fishing and a small industrial sector engaged in processing local agricultural products and producing a few basic consumer goods. The scenic islands have potential for tourism, and the government is attempting to improve its rudimentary tourist industry infrastructure. The government sector accounts for about 11% of employment.

Following independence, the country had a centrally directed economy with most means of production owned and controlled by the state. The original constitution guaranteed a “mixed economy,” with privately owned cooperatives combined with publicly owned property and means of production. In the 1980s and 1990s, the economy of São Tomé encountered major difficulties. Economic growth stagnated, and cocoa exports dropped in both value and volume, creating large balance-of-payments deficits. Efforts to redistribute plantation land resulted in decreased cocoa production. At the same time, the international price of cocoa slumped.

In response to its economic downturn, the government undertook a series of far-reaching economic reforms. In 1987, the government implemented an International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment program, and invited greater private participation in management of the parastatals, as well as in the agricultural, commercial, banking, and tourism sectors. The focus of economic reform since the early 1990s has been widespread privatization, especially of the state-run agricultural and industrial sectors.

The São Toméan Government has traditionally obtained foreign assistance from various donors, including the UN Development Programme, the World Bank, the European Union (EU), Portugal, Taiwan, and the African Development Bank. In April 2000, in association with the central bank, the Banco National São Tomé e Príncipe, the IMF approved a poverty reduction and growth facility for São Tomé aimed at reducing inflation to 3% for 2001, raising ideal growth to 4%, and reducing the fiscal deficit. In late 2000, São Tomé qualified for significant debt reduction under the IMF-World Bank’s heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative. The reduction is currently being reevaluated by the IMF, due to the attempted coup d’etat in July 2003 and subsequent emergency spending. Following the truce, the IMF decided to send a mission to São Tomé to evaluate the macroeconomic state of the country. This evaluation is ongoing, reportedly pending oil legislation to determine how the government will manage incoming oil revenues.

Portugal remains one of São Tomé's major trading partners, particularly as a source of imports. Food, manufactured articles, machinery, and transportation equipment are imported primarily from the EU.

Petroleum exploration

In 2001, São Tomé and Nigeria reached agreement on joint exploration for petroleum in waters claimed by the two countries of the Niger Delta geologic province. After a lengthy series of negotiations, in April 2003 the joint development zone (JDZ) was opened for bids by international oil firms. The JDZ was divided into 9 blocks; the winning bids for block one, ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil, and the Norwegian firm, Equity Energy, were announced in April 2004, with São Tomé to take in 40% of the $123 million bid, and Nigeria the other 60%. Bids on other blocks were still under consideration in October 2004. São Tomé stands to gain significant revenue both from the bidding process and from follow-on production, should reserves in the area match expectations.


Main article: Demographics of São Tomé and Príncipe

Of São Tomé and Príncipe's total population, about 137,500 live on São Tomé and 6,000 on Príncipe. All are descended from various ethnic groups that have migrated to the islands since 1485. Six groups are identifiable:

  • Mestiços, or mixed-blood, descendants of Portuguese colonists and African slaves brought to the islands during the early years of settlement from Benin, Gabon, and Congo (these people also are known as filhos da terra or "sons of the land");
  • Angolares, reputedly descendants of Angolan slaves who survived a 1540 shipwreck and now earn their livelihood fishing;
  • Forros, descendants of freed slaves when slavery was abolished;
  • Serviçais, contract laborers from Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde, living temporarily on the islands;
  • Tongas, children of serviçais born on the islands; and
  • Europeans, primarily Portuguese.
  • Asians, mostly Chinese minority, including Macanese people of mixed Portuguese and Chinese blood from Macau.

In the 1970s, there were two significant population movements—the exodus of most of the 4,000 Portuguese residents and the influx of several hundred São Toméan refugees from Angola. The islanders have been absorbed largely into a common Luso-African culture. Almost all belong to the Roman Catholic, Evangelical Protestant, or Seventh-day Adventist Churches, with a small but growing Muslim population.

Although a small country, São Tomé and Príncipe has four national languages: Portuguese (the official language, spoken by 95% of the population), and the Portuguese-based creoles Forro (85%), Angolar (3%) and Principense (0.1%). French is also learned in schools, as the country is a member of Francophonie.


The equator marked as it crosses Ilhéu das Rolas, in São Tomé and Príncipe. The shadow points SW indicating that the Sun is several degrees North likely late April or early August about 1-2 hours before Noon.
Main article: Culture of São Tomé and Príncipe
  • Music of São Tomé and Príncipe
  • List of writers from São Tomé and Príncipe

Culturally, the people are African but have been highly influenced by the Portuguese rulers of the islands.

São Toméans are known for ússua and socopé rhythms, while Principe is home to the dêxa beat. Portuguese ballroom dancing may have played an integral part in the development of these rhythms and their associated dances.

Tchiloli is a musical dance performance that tells a dramatic story. The danço-congo is similarly a combination of music, dance and theatre.