Sao Tome and Principe

From New World Encyclopedia
República Democrática de São Tomé e Príncipe
Democratic Republic of
São Tomé and Príncipe
Flag of São Tomé and Príncipe Coat of arms of São Tomé and Príncipe
MottoUnidade, Disciplina, Trabalho
Portuguese: "Unity, Discipline, Work"
AnthemIndependência total
"Total Independence"
Location of São Tomé and Príncipe
(and largest city)
São Tomé
0°20′N 6°44′E
Official languages Portuguese
Recognized regional languages Forro, Angolar, Principense
Demonym Santomean
Government Democratic semi-presidential Republic
 -  President Manuel Pinto da Costa
 -  Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada
 -  from Portugal 12 July 1975 
 -  Total 1,001 km² (183rd)
372 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 0
 -  2009 estimate 163,000[1] (188th)
 -  Density 169.1/km² (69th)
438.2/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $311 million[2] 
 -  Per capita $1,880[2] 
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $196 million[2] 
 -  Per capita $1,183[2] 
Currency Dobra (STD)
Time zone UTC (UTC+0)
Internet TLD .st
Calling code +239

São Tomé and Príncipe, officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, is an island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Africa. It consists of two islands, São Tomé and Príncipe, both part of an extinct volcanic mountain range. São Tomé, the sizable southern island, was named after Saint Thomas by Portuguese explorers who discovered the island on his feast day. Early settlers on the uninhabited islands found the volcanic soil suitable for agriculture. Initially sugar but later coffee and cocoa, were grown on large plantations, using slave labor imported from Africa. Cocoa remains the country's most important crop.

Upon achieving independence from Portugal in 1975, São Tomé and Príncipe adopted a single-party, Marxist model until economic necessity forced the government to liberalize. A multiparty system was adopted in 1990, along with economic liberalization, needed to attract investors and donors. Sao Tome is optimistic about the development of petroleum resources in its territorial waters in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, which are being jointly developed with Nigeria.

São Tomé and Príncipe is the second smallest (in terms of population) African country (larger only than Seychelles). It is also the smallest Portuguese-speaking country.


The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, situated in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 and 150 miles (300 and 250 km), respectively, off the northwest coast of Gabon, constitute Africa's smallest country. Both are part of the Cameroon volcanic mountain line, also known as the Guinea line, which is a flaw in the African tectonic plate that has served as a channel for magma for millions of years, giving rise to major oceanic and continental topographic features extending from southwest to northeast. These include, in addition to São Tomé and Principe, the islands of Annobón to the southwest and Bioko to the northeast (both part of Equatorial Guinea), Mount Cameroon on the African west coast, the various ranges of the Cameroon Highlands, and the Jos Plateau of Nigeria. Principe is geologically older than São Tomé.

São Tomé is 31 miles (50 km) long and 20 miles (32 km) wide and the more mountainous of the two islands. Its peaks reach 6,640 ft (2,024 m). Príncipe is about 19 miles (30 km) long and 4 miles (6 km) wide. Swift streams radiating down the mountains through lush forest and cropland to the sea cross both islands. The capital, also named São Tomé, lies on this island. The country is one-third the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island.

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


Map of São Tomé and Príncipe

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

Flora and fauna

The Obô, an Atlantic rain forest of high altitude, covers about 30 percent of the country and is crossed by rivers and waterfalls. In 1988 scientists classified the forests of Sao Tomé and Principe as the second most important in terms of biological interest of the 75 forests of Africa. The Obô contains the majority of the fauna and flora that gave Sao Tomé and Principe this classification.

Of the about 700 plant species existing on the archipelago, hundreds are endemic, such as the giant begonia that reaches 9 feet (3 m) in height, a treelike fern, and various orchids.

Of the 55 existing species of birds in Sao Tomé and Principe, between 15 and 26 are endemic and others are considered rare. The Sao Tomé Grosbeak (Neospiza concolor) was only seen twice: in 1888 and 1991. The Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor), has been seen again after 65 years, as well as the Dwarf Olive Ibis (Bostrychia bocagei), which has been spotted in an area of abandoned plantations. The maroon pigeon or Sao Tomé Olive Pigeon (Columba thomensis) as well as the Sao Tomé Giant Sunbird (Dreptes thomensis) have also been seen.

As the area of the Obô has not yet been fully analyzed, it may be that the forests still hide other ornithological and botanical treasures that await discovery.

Humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins dwell in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast. Certain fish are only found in waters off coastal islands such as Sao Tomé and Principe.


The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe were uninhabited before the arrival of the Portuguese sometime between 1469 and 1471. The islands were discovered by Fernão do Pó and bore his name until the twentieth 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. In time these settlers found the excellent volcanic soil of the region suitable for agriculture, especially the growing of sugar.

The cultivation of sugar was a labor-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 hundred years, and by the mid-1600s, the islands had become primarily a transit point for ships engaged in the slave trade between the West and continental Africa.

In the early 1800s, 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 1900s, 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 twentieth 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 dictatorship in Portugal in April 1974. The new Portuguese regime was committed to the dissolution of its overseas colonies; in November 1974, its 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 its first president the MLSTP secretary general, Manuel Pinto da Costa.

The Portuguese abandoned their plantations, leaving as their legacy a 90 percent rate of illiteracy and few skilled workers. President da Costa adopted the Marxist model, nationalizing plantations and banning large holdings of land. People's militias were set up to control dissent. No opposition political parties were permitted to form. The collapse of cocoa prices in the mid-1980s led to social unrest that finally led to economic and political liberalization.

In 1990, São Tomé embraced 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 multiparty 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.

Presidential elections were held in July 2001. The candidate backed by the Independent Democratic Action party, Fradique de Menezes, a wealthy cocoa exporter who had served as an ambassador in Europe and as foreign minister, was elected in the first round. 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 July 30, 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 August 27, 2006, and were dominated by members of the ruling coalition.


São Tomé has functioned under a multiparty system since 1990. The president of the republic is elected to a five-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 four-year term and meet semiannually. Justice is administered at the highest level by the Supreme Court. The judiciary is independent under the current constitution. The legal system is based on the Portuguese legal system and customary law.

Freedom of speech and the freedom to form opposition political parties both are present.

Administrative divisions

São Tomé and Príncipe is divided into two provinces: Príncipe and São Tomé. The provinces are further divided into seven districts, six on São Tomé and one on Príncipe. Príncipe has had self-government since April 29, 1995.


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 percent 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 percent 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. The government has made efforts 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 percent of employment.

Over the last few years, an increasing interest has been shown in eco-tourism, but the sector is still in its beginning. Trekking is now organized on various levels and in combination with overnight stays at the old plantations (the 'roças').

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 percent for 2001, raising ideal growth to 4 percent, and reducing the fiscal deficit. Sao Tome benefited from $200 million in debt relief in December 2000 under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program, which helped bring down the country's $300 million debt burden. In August 2005, Sao Tome signed on to a new 3-year IMF Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) program worth $4.3 million.

Considerable potential exists for development of a tourist industry, and the government has taken steps to expand facilities in recent years. The government also has attempted to reduce price controls and subsidies. Sao Tome is optimistic about the development of petroleum resources in its territorial waters in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, which are being jointly developed in a 60-40 split with Nigeria. The first production licenses were sold in 2004, though a dispute over licensing with Nigeria delayed Sao Tome's receipt of more than $20 million in signing bonuses for almost a year. Real GDP growth exceeded 4 percent in 2006, as a result of increases in public expenditures and oil-related capital investment. The estimated GDP in 2005 was $71.38 million (2005 est.). GDP per capita is $1,200 (2003 est.).

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.


Of São Tomé and Príncipe's total population of 199,579 (July 2007 est.), the majority live on São Tomé, and an estimated 6,000 live 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.

Life expectancy for the total population is 67.64 years, with females slightly higher.

In the 1970s, there were two significant population movements: the exodus of most of the four thousand 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 percent), and the Portuguese-based creoles Forro (85 percent), Angolar (3 percent) and Principense (0.1 percent). French is also learned in schools, as the country is a member of La Francophonie.

Most of the population age 15 and over can read and write (85 percent), with the number for males (92 percent) much higher than for females (78 percent).


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.

Culturally, the people are African but have been highly influenced by the former 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 theater.

Social standings

The old African creole families that figured prominently in the history of the islands in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries still control politics and resources. Descent from a Forro family (freed slaves) that owns land assures kin ties and the influence needed to secure state patronage. Achieving status through education is important but depends on patronage; it is rare for non-Forros to advance through education alone. Thrift and hard work may advance the economic status of small farmers, traders, and fishers, but their low status gives these people little access to credit. Decades of economic stagnation and the fact that most resources are funneled through the state restrict people's opportunities to achieve social and economic mobility. Workers on the plantations are the most marginal citizens in social and economic terms.

Family life

Three types of conjugal union are common: the Christian monogamous marriage, the co-residential customary union, and the visiting relationship. Christian marriage is largely confined to the educated elite and has the highest social prestige. Among members of evangelical Christian churches and the elite, formal marriage is an accepted institution, but men often maintain conjugal relations with other women and support multiple households. Most couples live in co-residential customary unions. Typically, women and men have several partners over the course of their adult lives and have children by different partners. In plantation households, marriages are less stable, with women maintaining visiting relations with a series of men. The visiting relationship is the most common form of conjugal union for poor Forro or tonga females. Polygyny is not accepted but has been known to occur in rural areas. In all forms of conjugal unions, the father and husband are expected to contribute to the expenses of the wife and child.


Indigenous architecture consists of wooden houses raised on stilts that are surrounded by small patches of garden (kintéh). Most people in urban or rural spaces live in these small houses. There is no coordinated plan other than the continual subdivision of house plots as families grow and access to land in urban areas decreases. People on plantations are housed in large cement barracks and houses known as sanzalas above which loom the spacious houses of the plantation administrators.


The cuisine is based on tropical root crops, plantains, and bananas, with fish as the most common source of protein. The vegetables consist of gathered indigenous greens that are cooked in red palm oil. Production of foodstuffs is inadequate as a result of the islands' history as a plantation economy. Traditional palm oil stews are the national dish. The traditional food includes fruit bats and monkey meat. New World fruits such as papayas and guavas are abundant. Citrus trees can be found in most yards. Since colonial times, the country's reliance on food from abroad has begun to change the food culture. Imported rice and bread made of imported wheat flour are staple foods of urban dwellers.

Generally people eat a hot meal cooked before sunset. Breakfast consists of reheated food from the night before or tea and bread. People generally eat around the hearth, which in most dwellings is a separate structure made of wood or fronds.


  1. Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division (2009). World Population Prospects, Table A.1. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Error on call to template:cite web: Parameters url and title must be specified. International Monetary Fund.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cutter, Charles Hickman. 2006. Africa, 2006. World Today series. Harpers Ferry, WV: Stryker-Post Publications. ISBN 1887985727
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary et al. 2002. West Africa, 5th ed. Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications. ISBN 1740592492
  • Gailey, Harry A. 1989. History of Africa: Volume III, From 1945 to present. Malabar. FL: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company. ISBN 0894642960

External links

All links retrieved December 22, 2022.


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