Capital City: Sao Tome
Largest City: Sao Tome
Languages: Portuguese; Forro, Angolar, Principense
Official Currency: Dobra (STD)
GDP (nominal): $175 million
Population: 2009 estimate 163,000
Land Area: 1,001 km2
Sao Tome and Principe, officially the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe, is a Portuguese-speaking island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Africa. It consists of two islands: Sao Tome and Principe, located about 140 kilometres (87 mi) apart and about 250 and 225 kilometres (155 and 140 mi), respectively, off the northwestern coast of Gabon. Both islands are part of an extinct volcanic mountain range. Sao Tome, the sizable southern island, is situated just north of the equator. It was named in honour of Saint Thomas by Portuguese explorers who happened to arrive at the island on his feast day.
Sao Tome and Principe is the second-smallest African country in terms of population (the Seychelles being the smallest). It is the smallest country in the world that is not a former British overseas territory, a former United States trusteeship, or one of the European microstates. It is also the smallest Portuguese-speaking country.
The islands of Sao Tome and Principe, situated in the equatorial Atlantic about 300 and 250 kilometres (186 and 155 mi), respectively, off the northwest coast of Gabon, constitute Africa's second smallest country. Both are part of the Cameroon volcanic mountain line, which also includes the islands of Annobon to the southwest, Bioko to the northeast (both part of Equatorial Guinea), and Mount Cameroon on the African west coast.
Sao Tome is 50 km (31 mi) long and 32 km (20 mi) wide and the more mountainous of the two islands. Its peaks reach 2,024 metres (6,640 ft). Principe is about 30 km (19 mi) long and 6 km (4 mi) 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 (80.6 °F) and little daily variation. The temperature rarely rises beyond
32 °C (89.6 °F). At the interior's higher altitudes, the average yearly temperature is 20 °C (68 °F), and nights are generally cool. Annual rainfall varies from 5,000 mm (196.85 in) on the southwestern slopes to 1,000 mm (39.37 in) in the northern lowlands. The rainy season runs from October to May.
The equator lies immediately south of Sao Tome Island, passing through an islet named Ilheu das Rolas.
Sao Tome and Principe -- History --
The islands of Sao Tome and Principe were uninhabited before the arrival of the Portuguese sometime around 1470. The islands were discovered by Joao de Santarem and Pedro Escobar 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 dates of discovery are sometimes given as December 21 (St Thomas's Day), 1471 for Sao Tome, and January 17 (St Anthony's Day), 1472 for Principe, though other sources give different nearby years. Principe was initially named Santo Antao ("Saint Anthony"), changing its name in 1502 to Ilha do Principe ("Prince's Island"), in reference to the Prince of Portugal to whom duties on the island's sugar crop were paid.
The first successful settlement of Sao Tome was established in 1493 by Alvaro Caminha, who received the land as a grant from the crown. Principe 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 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. Sao Tome and Principe 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 Sao Tome 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 (rocas), owned by Portuguese companies or absentee landlords, occupied almost all of the good farmland. By 1908, Sao Tome had become the world's largest producer of cocoa, which remains the country's most important crop.
The rocas 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 "Batepa 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 Sao Tomeans had formed the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (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, Sao Tome and Principe achieved independence on July 12, 1975, choosing as the first president the MLSTP Secretary General Manuel Pinto da Costa.
In 1990, Sao Tome 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 Sao Tome'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 Sao Tome 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 Guimaraes. Local elections, the first since 1992, took place on 27 August 2006 and were dominated by members of the ruling coalition.
On February 12, 2009, there has been an attempted coup d'etat to overthrow President Fradique de Menezes according to sources of the authorities.
Sao Tome and Principe -- Economy --
Since the 1800s, the economy of Sao Tome and Principe 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. The main crop on Sao Tome 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.
Fisherman landing their catch in Sao TomeOther 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 Sao Tome 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 Sao Tomean 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 Banco Central de Sao Tome e Principe, the IMF approved a poverty reduction and growth facility for Sao Tome aimed at reducing inflation to 3% for 2001, raising ideal growth to 4%, and reducing the fiscal deficit.
In late 2000, Sao Tome 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 Sao Tome 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 Sao Tome's major trading partners, particularly as a source of imports. Food, manufactured articles, machinery, and transportation equipment are imported primarily from the EU.
Sao Tome and Principe -- Culture --
Sao Tomean culture is a mixture of African and Portuguese influences.
Sao Tomeans are known for ussua and socope rhythms, while Principe is home to the dexa 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 danco-congo is similarly a combination of music, dance and theatre.
Sao Tome and Principe -- Political system, law and government --
Sao Tome 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.
Sao Tome and Principe finished 9th out of the 48 sub-Saharan African countries measured by the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, a comprehensive reflection of the levels of governance in Africa.