Background Notes: Sao Tome and Principe

PA/PC Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Date: Aug 28, 19918/28/91 Category: Country Data Region: Subsaharan Africa Country: Sao Tome and Principe Subject: Military Affairs, Cultural Exchange, Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics [TEXT] Official Name: Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe


Area: 963 sq. km. (372 sq. mi.); one-third the size of Rhode Island. Cities: Capital--Sao Tome. Other cities--Trindade, Santana, Porto Alegre, Santo Antonio. Terrain: Two small, volcanic islands. Climate: Tropical, with wet and dry seasons.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Sao Tomean(s). Population (1991): 123,500. Annual growth rate: 1.8%. Ethnic groups: Mixed African, Portuguese-African. Religion: Christian 80%. Language: Portuguese. Education: Years compulsory--to secondary level. Literacy--about 51%. Health: Infant mortality rate (1990)-- 62/1,000. Life expectancy--65 yrs. Work force (1990, 35,000): Agriculture--70%. Industry, commerce, services--13%. Government--12%.
Type: Republic. Independence: July 12, 1975. Constitution: November 5, 1975; revised September 1990, following a national referendum. Branches: Executive--president and prime minister. Legislative-- National Assembly. Judicial--Supreme Tribunal. Administrative subdivisions: 7 counties, 6 on Sao Tome, 1 on Principe. Political parties: Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD); Democratic Convergence Party/Group of Reflection (PCD/GR); Christian Democratic Front (PDC); Democratic Coalition (CODO). Suffrage: Universal adult. Central government budget (1990): $9.2 million. Current deficit-- $807,000. National holiday: July 12. Flag: Green, yellow, and green horizontal bands, two black stars in the yellow band, red triangle on the staff side.
GDP (1990): $53 million. Annual growth rate: 3.8%. Per capita income (1990): $434. Annual inflation rate: 40%, 1990; 36%, 1989; 40%, 1988; 25%, 1987. Natural resources: Agricultural products, fish. Agriculture (25% of GDP): Products--cocoa, copra, palm kernels, bananas. Cultivated land--35,741 hectares. Industry (10% of GNP): Types--light construction, shirts, soap, beer, fisheries, shrimp processing. Trade (1990 est.): Exports--$2.4 million: cocoa, copra, palm kernels, coffee. Major markets--Netherlands, Germany, China. Imports--$4.5 million: foodstuffs, petroleum products. Major suppliers--Portugal, Netherlands, Angola (fuel), Japan. Official exchange rate (July 1991): 192.0 dobras=US$1.
Membership in International Organizations
UN, Organization of African Unity (OAU), European Community (associate member under the Lome Convention), Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC).


Of Sao Tome and Principe's total population, about 116,500 live on Sao Tome and 7,000 on Principe. All are descended from 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, Congo, and Angola (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; -- Servicais, contract laborers from Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde, living temporarily on the islands; -- Tongas, children of servicais born on the islands; and -- Europeans, primarily Portuguese. In the 1970s, there were two significant population movements--an exodus of most of the 4,000 Portuguese residents and an influx of several hundred Sao Tomean refugees from Angola. The islanders have been absorbed largely into a common Portuguese-African culture. Almost all belong to the Roman Catholic, Evangelical Protestant, or Seventh-day Adventist Churches, which retain close ties with churches in Portugal.


These uninhibited islands were first discovered by Portuguese navigators between 1469 and 1472. The first successful settlement of Sao Tome was established in 1493 by Avaro 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 them, and extensive plantations (rocas), owned by Portuguese companies or absentee landlords, soon occupied most 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 international press 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. 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 1974, Portuguese representatives met with the MLSTP in Algiers and worked out an agreement for the transfer of sovereignty. After a period of transition, Sao Tome and Principe achieved independence on July 12, 1975, choosing as its first president the MLSTP Secretary General Manuel Pinto da Costa. Da Costa was re-elected unopposed in 1985 to a third 5-year term. He declined to run in Sao Tome's first multi-party presidential election, held in March 1991, and was succeeded on April 3, 1991, by Miguel Trovoada, an MLSTP founder who had been exiled after challenging Da Costa's leadership of the party.


Under the new constitution passed by the National Assembly in April 1990, which was approved in an August public referendum and promulgated in September, Sao Tome and Principe held multi- party elections for the first time since independence. Shortly after the constitution took effect, the Popular Assembly formally legalized opposition parties and permitted independent candidates to participate in the January 1991 legislative elections. The Popular Assembly is the supreme organ of the state and the highest legislative body. It is elected for a 4-year period and meets semiannually. The president of the republic is elected to a 5-year term by universal suffrage and secret ballot. Under the revised constitution, the president is now elected by direct vote and is limited to two terms. Justice is administered at the highest level by the Supreme Tribunal, formerly responsible to the Popular Assembly. The judiciary is now independent under the new constitution.
Principal Government Officials
President--Miguel Trovoada Prime Minister--Daniel Lima Dos Santos Daio Minister Foreign Affairs--Alda Bandeira Tavares Vaz Da Conceicao Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations--Joaquim Rafael Branco The Sao Tome and Principe Mission to the United States, which also is the Sao Tomean Embassy to the United Nations, is located at 801 Second Avenue, Suite 1504, NY, NY 10017 (tel. 212-697-4211)


The MLSTP was the sole political party and predominant force in Sao Tomean politics from independence until 1991. A new constitution, as announced in 1989 by President Da Costa, was adopted by the Popular Assembly in April 1990 approved in an August nationwide referendum, and promulgated in September of that year. In preparation for the elections, opposition parties were legalized, and independent candidates were authorized to seek seats. Several oppositoin candidates, including Miguel Trovoada, who became the country's new president, returned to Sao Tome and Principe from exile to participate. In January 1991, Sao Tome became the second Lusophone African country (only weeks after Cape Verde) to hold multi-party legislative elections; 2 months later, it completed the transition by electing a new president.


Since the 1800s, the Sao Tome and Principe economy has been based on plantation agriculture. At the time of independence, Portuguese-owned plantations occupied 90% of the cultivated land. After independence, control of these plantations passed to various state-owned agricultural enterprises. The dominant crop on Sao Tome is cocoa, representing about 90% of exports. Other export crops include copra, palm kernels, and coffee. Domestic food-crop production is inadequate to meet local consumption, and 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 20% of both employment and gross domestic product. Since independence, the country has had a centrally directed economy with most means of production owned and controlled by the state. The new constitution guarantees a "mixed economy," with privately owned cooperatives combined with publicly owned property and means of production. In recent years, the economy of Sao Tome has encountered major difficulties: economic growth has stagnated, and cocoa exports have dropped in both value and volume, leaving large balance-of-payments deficits. The situation stems from a combination of external and internal factors, including the significantly lower world price for cocoa and production inefficiencies on the plantations. In response to its economic downturn, the government announced its intention to carry out far-reaching economic reforms. In 1987, the government implemented an International Monetary Fund structural adjustment program, to which the new government continues to adhere. It has invited greater private participation in management of parastatals, as well as in the agricultural, commercial, banking, and tourism sectors, and is increasing efforts to attract foreign investment to Sao Tome and Principe. The Sao Tomean Government has traditionally obtained foreign assistance from various donors. The UN Development Program, the World Bank, the European Community, and the African Development Bank finance projects on the islands. Both communist and Western governments have provided bilateral technical assistance in the past. Portugal remains one of Sao Tome's major trading partners, particularly as a source of imports. Food, manufactured articles, and machinery and transportation equipment are imported from the European Economic Community. The Netherlands and Germany represent the largest markets for the country's exports.


Until independence, 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 countries in the region, such as the Congo and Gabon, also are good. Sao Tome and Principe has diplomatic relations with Western countries, including the US, Portugal, France, and Germany, and with communist countries, such as the Soviet Union and Cuba. The latter have been active in providing technical advisers in Sao Tome, especially Cuba, which has advisers in the Ministries of Education and Planning. While the Sao Tomean Government has maintained a foreign policy based on nonalignment and cooperation with any country willing to assist in its economic development, it has recently begun to emphasize ties to the United States and Western Europe.


The United States was among the first to accredit an ambassador to Sao Tome and Principe. The US 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 Vice President Bush. The United States has funded projects aimed at training managers on cocoa plantations and has contributed food commodities through the UN World Food Program. In addition, the United States has a program to develop and support farmers' cooperatives. A small Peace Corps program in health education was inaugurated in October 1990. The United States, through the Human Rights Fund, provided communications equipment and an election expert to help organize Sao Tome and Principe's 1991 multi-party legislative and presidential elections.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador--Keith L. Wauchope Deputy Chief of Mission--Stephen G. Brundage Political Officer--Alexander Andrews Economic/Commercial Officer--Matthew Rooney Consular Officer--Melissa Kehoe Public Affairs Officer--Jan Hartman The US Embassy in Gabon is located on the Boulevard de la Mer, B.P. 4000, Libreville, Gabon (tel: 241-762-003; fax: 241-745-507).


Customs: Obtain visas in advance from a Sao Tomean Embassy. A vaccination certificate against yellow fever is required of all visitors except those arriving from a non-infected area and who stay for less than 2 weeks. Health requirements change; check latest information. Climate and clothing: Lightweight, washable clothing is recommended year round. At higher altitudes in the interior, evenings can be cool enough for sweaters. Health: Tapwater is not potable; boil drinking water. Avoid raw vegetables and undercooked meats. Take malaria pills starting 3 weeks before arrival. The islands have adequate hospital facilities for common ailments. Telecommunications: Telephone and telegraph link the islands with Europe and, more recently, with the African mainland at Gabon, although in the latter case connections are often difficult. A radio network also connects the Sao Tomean government with its representative in Libreville. Sao Tome is four standard time zones ahead of eastern standard time. Transportation: Regular air service from Libreville is limited to four weekly flights by Equatorial Airlines. Charter aircraft also are available. The Angolan national airline, TAAG, has two flights weekly from Luanda. Taxi service is available. The Portuguese national airline, TAP, has one flight monthly from Lisbon. There are two flights a week from Sao Tome to Principe, but most transportation between the islands is by boat. National holidays: Businesses may be closed on the following official holidays Martyrs' Day, February 4; Independence/National Day, July 12; Armed Forces Day, First week in September (varies); Farmers' Day, September 30. For information on economic trends, commercial development, production, trade regulations, and tariff rates, contact the International Trade Administration, US Department of Commerce, Washington, DC, 20230 or any Commerce Department district office. Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC --Series Editor: Peter Knecht--Department of State Publication Background Notes Series. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.(###)