Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe
Location: Western Africa; islands straddling the
equator in the Gulf of Guinea west of Gabon.
Area: 1,001 sq. km. (386 sq. mi.); about the
size of metropolitan Indianapolis, or one-third
the size of Rhode Island.
cities--Trinidade, Santana, Angolares, Neves,
Terrain: Two small, volcanic islands.
Climate: Tropical, with wet and dry seasons,
influenced by the mountainous topography.
and adjective--Sao Tomean(s).
Population (July 2008 est.): 206,178.
Annual growth rate (2008 est.): 3.116%.
Ethnic groups: Mixed African,
Religions: Christian (Roman Catholic,
Evangelical Protestant, Seventh-day Adventist)
Language: Portuguese (official).
Education: Literacy (census
compulsory--to secondary level.
est.)--68 yrs. Infant
mortality rate (2008
Work force (by household, 2000 UN Development
Program est.): Agriculture--15.3%; industry,
commerce, services--36.5%; government--11.5%.
Independence: July 12, 1975 (from Portugal).
Constitution: November 5, 1975; revised
September 1990, following a national referendum,
revised again January 2003.
and prime minister. Legislative--National
Administrative subdivisions: Seven counties, six
on Sao Tome and one on Principe.
Political parties: Movement for the Liberation
of Sao Tome and Principe (MLSTP), Party of
Democratic Convergence (PCD), Independent
Democratic Action (ADI), Democratic Movement
Force of Change (MDFM), Christian Democratic
Front-Socialist Union Party (FDC-PSU), Santomean
Workers Party (PTS); Popular Party of Progress
(PPP), and National Union for Democracy and
Suffrage: Universal adult.
GDP (2007 est.): $119 million.
Annual real GDP growth rate (2007 est.): 6.0%.
Per capita GDP (2007 est.): $881.
Consumer price inflation (2007 est.): 19.9%.
Natural resources: Agricultural products, fish,
petroleum (not yet exploited).
Agriculture (16.6% of GDP, 2006): Products--cocoa,
coconuts, copra, palm kernels, cinnamon, pepper,
coffee, bananas, beans, poultry. Cultivated
land--484 sq. kilometers.
Industry (15.3% of GDP, 2006): Types--light
construction, shirts, soap, beer, fisheries,
shrimp processing, palm oil.
Trade: Exports (2007
est.)--$4 million (f.o.b.): 95% cocoa, copra,
palm kernels, coffee. Major
markets--Portugal, Netherlands, Spain,
Germany, China. Imports (2007
est.)--$73 million (f.o.b.): food, fuel,
machinery and electrical equipment. Major
suppliers--Portugal (43%), France (16%),
Total external debt (2007 est.): None.
Fiscal year: Calendar year.
The islands of Sao Tome and Principe, situated
in the equatorial Atlantic about 300 and 250
kilometers (200 mi. and 150 mi.), respectively,
off the northwest coast of Gabon, constitute
Africa's smallest country. Both are part of an
extinct volcanic mountain range, which also
includes the island of Bioko in Equatorial
Guinea to the north and Mount Cameroon on the
African west coast. Sao Tome is 50 kilometers
(31 mi.) long and 32 kilometers (20 mi.) wide
and the more mountainous of the two islands. Its
peaks reach 2,024 meters (6,640 ft.). Principe
is about 30 kilometers (19 mi.) long and 6
kilometers (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
27oC (80oF) and little
daily variation. At the interior's higher
altitudes, the average yearly temperature is 20oC
(68oF), and nights are generally
cool. Annual rainfall varies from 500
centimeters (200 in.) on the southwestern slopes
to 100 centimeters (40 in.) in the northern
lowlands. The rainy season runs from October to
Of Sao Tome and Principe's total population,
about 137,500 live on Sao Tome and 6,000 on
Principe. All are descended from various ethnic
groups that have migrated to the islands since
1485. Six groups are identifiable:
- Mestico, or mixed-blood, descendants of
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
- Forros, descendants
of freed slaves when slavery was abolished;
laborers from Angola, Mozambique, and
Cape Verde, living temporarily on the
- Tongas, children
of servicais born
on the islands; and
- Europeans, primarily Portuguese.
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 Sao Tomean 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, which in turn
retain close ties with churches in Portugal.
The islands were first discovered by Portuguese
navigators between 1469 and 1472. The first
successful settlement of Sao Tome was
established in 1493 by Alvaro Caminha, who
received the land as a grant from the Portuguese
crown. Principe was settled in 1500 under a
similar arrangement. By the mid-1500s, with the
help of slave labor, 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.
Sugar cultivation declined over the next 100
years, and by the mid-1600s, Sao Tome was little
more than a port of call for bunkering ships. 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 (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, still 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 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 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 the government
officially observes its anniversary.
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 Salazar and 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 its 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.
Changes to the constitution, including the
legalization of opposition political parties,
led to nonviolent, free, and transparent
elections in 1991. 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 multiparty presidential
election in 1996. The Party of Democratic
Convergence (PCD) toppled 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
The Government of Sao Tome fully functions under
a multiparty 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 held in March 2002 led to a coalition
government after no party gained a majority of
seats. An attempted coup d'etat in July 2003 by
a few members of the military and the Christian
Democratic Front (mostly representative of
former Sao Tomean volunteers from the
apartheid-era Republic of South African Army)
was reversed by international, including
American, mediation without bloodshed. In
September 2004, President de Menezes dismissed
the Prime Minister and appointed a new cabinet,
which was accepted by the majority party. In
June 2005, following public discontent with oil
exploration licenses granted in the Joint
Development Zone (JDZ) with Nigeria, the MLSTP,
the party with the largest number of seats in
the National Assembly, and its coalition
partners threatened to resign from government
and force early parliamentary elections. After
several days of negotiations, the President and
the MLSTP agreed to form a new government and to
avoid early elections. The new government
included Maria Silveira, the well-respected head
of the Central Bank, who served concurrently as
Prime Minister and Finance Minister.
The March 2006 legislative elections went
forward without a hitch, with President Menezes'
party, the Movement for the Democratic Force of
Change (MDFM), winning 23 seats and taking an
unexpected lead ahead of MLSTP. MLSTP came in
second with 19 seats, and the Independent
Democratic Alliance (ADI) came in third with 12
seats. Amidst negotiations to form a new
coalition government, President Menezes
nominated a new prime minister and cabinet.
July 30, 2006 marked Sao Tome and Principe's
fourth democratic, multiparty presidential
elections. The elections were regarded by both
local and international observers as being free
and fair. Incumbent Fradique de Menezes won the
election with approximately 60% of the vote.
Voter turnout was relatively high with 63% of
the 91,000 registered voters casting ballots.
In November 2007, President de Menezes dismissed
and replaced several ministers in his government
following significant public criticism of
souring economic conditions and the government's
handling of recurring mutinies by dissident
police officers. The changes took place
peacefully and without incident. During another
government shakeup in February 2008, President
de Menezes appointed Patrice Trovoada as Prime
On May 20, 2008 the government collapsed after
losing a parliamentary vote of confidence. The
opposition Movement for the Liberation of Sao
Tome and Principe-Social Democratic Party
(MLSTP-PSD), with the support of Party of
Democratic Convergence (PCD), asserted that
Prime Minister Trovoada had failed to deliver on
reforms that he promised when he entered office.
Joachim Rafael Branco became Prime Minister in
Following the promulgation of a new constitution
in 1990, Sao Tome and Principe held multiparty
elections for the first time since independence.
Shortly after the constitution took effect, the
National Assembly formally legalized opposition
parties. Independent candidates also were
permitted to participate in the January 1991
legislative elections. The 55-member National
Assembly is the supreme organ of the state and
the highest legislative body. Its members are
elected for a 4-year term and meet semiannually.
The president of the republic is elected to a
5-year term by direct universal suffrage and a
secret ballot, and may hold office up to two
consecutive terms. Candidates are chosen at
their party's national conference or individuals
may run independently. A presidential candidate
must obtain an outright majority of the popular
vote in either a first or second round of voting
in order to be elected president. The prime
minister is named by the president but must be
ratified by the majority party and thus normally
comes from a list of its choosing. The prime
minister, in turn, names the 14 members of the
Justice is administered at the highest level by
the Supreme Court. Formerly responsible to the
National Assembly, the judiciary is now
independent under the current constitution.
Administratively, the country is divided into
seven municipal districts, six on Sao Tome and
one comprising Principe. Governing councils in
each district maintain a limited number of
autonomous decision-making powers, and are
reelected every 5 years.
Principal Government Officials
President--Fradique Bandeira Melo de MENEZES
Prime Minister--Joachim Rafael BRANCO
Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Planning and
Finance--Maria dos Santos Tebus Torres
Minister of Foreign Affairs and
Cooperation--Carlos Alberto Pires TINY
Minister of Defense and Internal Affairs--Elsa
Texeira De Barros PINTO
Ambassador to the United States--Ovidio Manuel
Representative at the United Nations--To be
The Sao Tomean Embassy to the United States is
located at 1211 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite
300, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202-775-2075);
For visa information, please contact Mr.
Domingos Augusto Ferreira, Cell: 917-751-2742;
Fax: 212-239-2272; Email: email@example.com;
or the Embassy in Washington.
Since the constitutional reforms of 1990 and the
elections of 1991, Sao Tome has made great
strides toward developing its democratic
institutions and further guaranteeing the civil
and human rights of its citizens. Sao Tomeans
have freely changed their government through
peaceful and transparent elections. And while
there have been disagreements and political
conflicts within the branches of government and
the National Assembly, the debates have been
carried out and resolved in open, democratic,
and legal fora, in accordance with the
provisions of Sao Tomean law. A number of
political parties actively participate in
government and openly express their views.
Freedom of the press is respected, and there are
several independent newspapers in addition to
the government bulletin. The government's
respect for human rights is exemplary; the
government does not engage in repressive
measures against its citizens, and respect for
individuals' rights to due process and
protection from government abuses is widely
honored. Freedom of expression is accepted, and
the government has taken no repressive measures
to silence critics. The ongoing negotiations to
establish a new government may create a level of
paralysis in the government's operations, but
thus far daily activities are continuing.
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, which have since been
privatized. The dominant crop on Sao Tome is
cocoa, representing about 95% of exports. Other
export crops include copra, palm kernels, and
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 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
The Sao Tomean Government has traditionally been
reliant on foreign assistance from various
donors, including the UN Development Program,
the World Bank, the European Union (EU),
Portugal, Taiwan, and the African Development
Bank. Sao Tome qualified for debt relief when it
reached decision point under the IMF's Heavily
Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) in
December 2000, but went off track on its poverty
reduction program in early 2001. After four
years and satisfactory performance on an interim
staff-monitored program, the IMF approved a new
three-year $4.3 million Poverty Reduction and
Growth Facility (PRGF) program for Sao Tome in
September 2005. The ambitious program aims to
reduce inflation to a single-digit number,
address the country's macroeconomic imbalances,
and substantially reduce poverty.
In 2001, Sao Tome and Nigeria reached agreement
on joint exploration for petroleum in waters
claimed by the two countries. 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,
Chevron, ExxonMobil, and the Norwegian firm
Equity Energy, were announced in April 2004,
with Sao Tome to take in 40% of the $123 million
bid, and Nigeria the other 60%. Blocks 2 through
6 were allocated in June 2005. Nigeria and Sao
Tome signed production sharing contracts with
the winning bidders in November 2005. Chevron
became the first firm to start exploratory
drilling in January 2006.
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.
Until independence in 1975, Sao Tome and
Principe had few ties abroad except those that
passed through Portugal. Following independence,
the new government sought to expand its
diplomatic relationships. A common language,
tradition, and colonial experience have led to
close collaboration between Sao Tome and other
ex-Portuguese colonies in Africa, particularly
Angola. Sao Tomean relations with other African
countries in the region, such as Gabon and the
Republic of the Congo, also are good. In
December 2000, Sao Tome signed the African Union
treaty; the National Assembly later ratified it.
The Sao Tomean Government has generally
maintained a foreign policy based on
nonalignment and cooperation with any country
willing to assist in its economic development.
In recent years, it also has increasingly
emphasized ties to the United States and western
U.S.-SAO TOMEAN RELATIONS
The United States was among the first countries
to accredit an ambassador to Sao Tome and
Principe. The U.S. Ambassador based in Gabon is
accredited to Sao Tome on a non-resident basis.
The Ambassador and Embassy staff make regular
visits to the islands. The first Sao Tomean
Ambassador to the United States, resident in New
York City, was accredited in 1985. In 1986, Sao
Tomean President da Costa visited the United
States and met with then-Vice President George
U.S. relations with Sao Tome are excellent. In
1992, the Voice of America (VOA) and the
Government of Sao Tome signed a long-term
agreement for the establishment of a relay
transmitter station in Sao Tome; VOA currently
broadcasts to much of Africa from this facility.
In 2007, the Millennium Challenge Corporation
approved a two-year threshold program to improve
the capacity of the country's tax administration
and customs enforcement agencies. The U.S.
Government also maintains a number of smaller
assistance programs in Sao Tome, administered
through non-governmental organizations or the
Embassy in Libreville.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Nathan Holt
Management Officer--Charles Morrill
Public Affairs/Economic/Commercial Officer--John
Political Officer--Leslie Williams Doumbia
Defense Attache--Rene Dechaine
Consular Officer--Grace Genuino
to Sao Tome and Principe is located on the
Boulevard de la Mer, B.P. 4000, Libreville,
Gabon (tel: 241-762-003; fax: 241-745-507).