U.S. Department of State  
Background Notes: Sao Tome and Principe, February 1995
Bureau of African Affairs


Prepared and released by the Bureau of African Affairs,
Office of Central African Affairs 
 
February 1995 
Official Name: Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe 
 
PROFILE 
 
Geography 
 
Area: 963 sq. km. (372 sq. mi.); about the size of metropolitan 
Indianapolis, or 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, influenced by the 
mountainous topography. 
 
People 
 
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Sao Tomean(s). 
Population (1991): 117,504. 
Annual growth rate: 1.8%. 
Ethnic groups: Mixed African, Portuguese-African. 
Religion: Christian 80%. 
Language: Portuguese. 
Education: Years compulsory--to secondary level. Literacy--(1990): 63%. 
Health: Infant mortality rate (1991)--68/1,000. Life expectancy--65 yrs. 
Work force 1992: (34,064)--agriculture--55%; industry, commerce, 
services--24%; government--12%. 
 
Government 
 
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: 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 
Alliance (ADI), an numerous other small parties. Suffrage: Universal 
adult. 
Central government budget (1992): $60.1 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. 
 
Economy 
 
GDP (1993): $32 million. 
Change in GDP for 1992-93: minus 24%. 
Per capita income: $250. 
Average inflation rate: 60%. 
Natural resources: Agricultural products, fish. 
Agriculture (24% of GDP): Products--cocoa, copra, palm kernels, bananas. 
Cultivated land--484 sq. kilometers. 
Industry (8% of GDP): Types--light construction, shirts, soap, beer, 
fisheries, shrimp processing. 
Trade: Exports (1993)--$1.3 million: (98% Cocoa, 41% to The 
Netherlands), copra, palm kernels, coffee. Major markets--Netherlands, 
Germany, China, Portugal. Imports (1993)--$14.4 million: foodstuffs, 
petroleum products. Major suppliers--Portugal (41%), Spain, Angola, 
France. 
Exchange Rate (Feb 1995): 1,250 dobras=US$1. 
 
Membership in International Organizations 
 
ACP, AfDB, CEEAC, ECA, FAO, G-77, IBRD, ICAO, IDA, IFAD, ILO, IMF, IMO, 
INTELSAT (nonsignatory user), INTERPOL, IOM (observer), ITU, LORCS, NAM, 
OAU, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WHO, WMO, WTO. 
 
GEOGRAPHY 
 
The islands of Sao Tome and Principe, situated in the equatorial 
Atlantic about 300 and 250 kilometers (200 and 150 miles), respectively, 
off the northern coast of Gabon, constitute one of Africa's smallest 
countries.  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 48 kilometers (30 
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 16 kilometers (10 mi.) long and 6 kilometers (4 mi.) wide.  Both 
islands are crossed by swift streams radiating down the mountains 
through lush forest and cropland to the sea. 
	 
At sea level, the climate is tropical--hot and humid with average yearly 
temperatures of about 27 degrees C (80 degrees F) and little daily 
variation. At the interior's higher altitudes, the average yearly 
temperature is 20 degrees C (68 degrees F), 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 May. 
 
PEOPLE 
 
Of Sao Tome and Principe's total population, about 116,500 live on Sao 
Tome and 7,000 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, 
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 salves when slavery was abolished; 
--  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--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. 
 
HISTORY 
 
The 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 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 1900's, 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 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 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.  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. The Government of Sao Tome fully 
functions under a multiparty system. 
 
GOVERNMENT 
 
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 multiparty elections for the 
first time since independence.  Shortly after the constitution took 
effect, the National Assembly formally legalized opposition parties and 
permitted independent candidates to participate in the January 1991 
legislative elections.  The National Assembly is the supreme organ of 
the state and the highest legislative body.  Its members are elected for 
a four-year term and meet semi-annually. 
 
The president of the republic is elected to a 5-year term by direct 
universal suffrage and a secret ballot.  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 tour 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 
cabinet.  The National Assembly is made up of 55 members, all of whom 
must stand for reelection every five years. 
 
Justice is administered at the highest level by the Supreme Tribunal; 
formerly responsible to the National Assembly, the judiciary is now 
independent under the new 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 five years. 
 
Principal Government Officials: 
 
President--Miguel Trovoada 
Prime Minister--Carlos Alberto Monteiro Dias Da Graca 
Deputy Prime Minister--Armindo Vaz D'Almeida 
 
Ministers 
 
Foreign Affairs And Cooperation--Guilherme Posser Da Costa 
Defense and Internal Order--Albertino Paulino 
Economic Affairs--Joaquim Rafael Branco 
Plan and Finance--Carlos Quaresma Batista De Sousa 
Justice, Public Administration, Employment and Social Security--Manuel 
Vaz Afonso Fernandes 
Transportation and Public Works--Alcino Martinho De Barros Pinto 
Education, Youth and Sports--Guilherme Octaviano Viegas Dos Ramos 
Health--Fernando Da Conceicao Silveira 
Government Minister for Principe--Zeferino Vaz Dos Santos Dos Prazeres 
State Secretary for Communication and Culture--Antonio Quintas Do 
Espirito Santo 
State Secretary in Charge of Agriculture--Paul D'Almeida Viana 
State Secretary in Charge of Employment and Social Security--Albano 
Germano De Deus 
 
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 1604, New York, New York 10017 (tel. 212-697-4211) 
 
POLITICAL CONDITIONS 
 
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 an 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.  Three major political parties and several 
minor ones actively participate in government and openly express their 
views.  Freedom of the press is respected, with two independent 
newspapers in addition to the government paper.  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. 
 
ECONOMY 
 
Since the 1800's, 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 dominant crop on Sao Tome is cocoa, representing about 
98% 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 
(GDP). 
 
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.  It has invited greater private participation in 
management of the 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 focus of 
economic reform since 1991 has been widespread privatization, especially 
of the state-run agricultural and industrial sectors.  Agricultural 
privatization has met with mixed success, but capital is not readily 
available and this has led to difficulties in finding private investors 
to take over many of the still-inefficient means of production in both 
sectors.  In 1993, the government announced plans to designate a free 
trade zone to attract offshore investors in the hopes of further 
developing the country's shipping and manufacturing sectors. 
 
The Sao Tomean Government has traditionally obtained foreign assistance 
from various donors.  The UN Development Program, the World Bank, the 
European Union, and the African Development Bank finance projects on the 
islands. 
 
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. 
 
FOREIGN RELATIONS 
 
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 Congo and Gabon, are also good. 
 
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 
U.S. and Western Europe. 
 
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 Bush. 
 
U.S. relations with Sao Tome are excellent.  The United States Peace 
Corps maintains 20 Volunteers on the islands, working primarily in the 
health and rural appropriate technology sectors.  Voice of America and 
the Government of Sao Tome signed a long term agreement in 1992 for the 
establishment of a relay transmitter station in Sao Tome; VOA currently 
broadcasts to most of central Africa from this facility, and is looking 
to expand the operation.  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: 
 
Ambassador--Joseph C. Wilson, IV 
Deputy Chief of Mission--Michael Meigs 
Economic/Commercial Officer--Peter Harding 
Consular Officer--Gregory Thome 
Public Affairs Officer--Judith Mudd Kaula 
 
The US Embassy in Gabon is located on the Boulevard de la Mer, B.P. 
4000, Libreville, Gabon (Tel: 241-743-492; Fax: 241-745-507). 
 
=====================================================
Travel Notes 
 
Customs: Visas should be obtained in advance from a Sao Tomean Embassy.  
Health requirements:  Proof of Yellow Fever and Cholera vaccinations are 
required. 
 
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; drinking water should be boiled.  Avoid 
raw vegetables and undercooked meats.  Malaria prophylaxis should be 
taken, starting 3 weeks before arrival in the tropics.  Hospital 
facilities, even for common ailments, are extremely limited and not 
consistent with American standards for hygiene. 
 
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: Air Sao Tome and Principe provides regular air service 
to Libreville four times per week and to Principe twice weekly.  The 
Angolan national carrier, TAAG, runs a weekly round trip from Luanda, 
and TAP Air Portugal runs a weekly flight from Lisbon that also serves 
Abidjan.  Boat transportation between the islands and to the African 
mainland is limited and unpredictable. 
 
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 
 
 
Further Information 
 
These titles are provided as a general indication of material published 
on this country.  The Department of State does not endorse unofficial 
publications. 
 
Abshire, David, and Michael A. Samuels, eds. Portuguese Africa: A 
Handbook. New York: Praeger, 1969. 
 
Africa Contemporary Documents: Annual Surveys and Documents. Vols. 1-6. 
New York: Africana Publishing Co., 1968-74. 
 
Africa South of the Sahara. London: Europa Publications, Ltd., 1982 
(annual). 
 
Carreira, Antonio. The People of the Cape Verde Islands: Exploitation 
and Emigration. Hamden: Archon, 1982. 
 
Chilcote, Ronald H. Emerging Nationalism in Portuguese Africa: 
Documents. Palo Alto: Stanford University, Hoover Institution Press, 
1972. 
 
Gibson, Richard. African Liberation Movements. New York: Oxford 
University Press, 1962. 
 
Hodges, Tony and Hewitt, Malyn.  Sao Tome And Principe: From Plantation 
Colony To Microstate.  Boulder: Westview Press, 1988. 
 
Moser, Gerald M. "African Literature in the Portuguese Language." 
Journal of General Education. Vol. 13, No. 4, Jan. 1962. 
 
Quarterly Economic Review of Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome 
and Principe. London: Economist Intelligence Unit. 
 
For information on economic trends, commercial development, production, 
trade regulations, and tariff rates, contact the International Trade 
Administration; U.S. Department of Commerce (Washington, DC, 20230); or 
any Commerce Department district office. 
(###)
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