São Tomé and Príncipe

Democratic Republic of
São Tomé and Príncipe

República Democrática de
São Tomé e Príncipe
Motto: "Unidade, Disciplina, Trabalho" (Portuguese)
"Unity, Discipline, Labour"
Anthem: Independência total
Total Independence
Location of São Tomé and Príncipe (dark blue) – in Africa (light blue & dark grey) – in the African Union (light blue)
Location of São Tomé and Príncipe (dark blue)

– in Africa (light blue & dark grey)
– in the African Union (light blue)

Location of São Tomé and Príncipe
and largest city
São Tomé
0°20′N 6°44′E / 0°20′N 6°44′E / 0.333; 6.733
Official languagesPortuguese
Recognised regional languages
  • São Toméan (Sao Tomean)[1]
  • Santomean
GovernmentUnitary semipresidential republic[2]
• President
Evaristo Carvalho
Jorge Bom Jesus
LegislatureNational Assembly
• from Portugal
12 July 1975
• Total
1,001[3] km2 (386 sq mi) (171th)
• Water (%)
• 2016 estimate
199,910[4] (178th)
• 2012 census
• Density
199.7/km2 (517.2/sq mi) (69th)
GDP (PPP)2017 estimate
• Total
$685 million[5]
• Per capita
GDP (nominal)2017 estimate
• Total
$355 million[5]
• Per capita
Gini (2010)33.9[6]
HDI (2017)Increase 0.589[7]
medium · 143rd
CurrencyDobra (STN)
Time zoneUTC+0 (GMT)
Driving sideright
Calling code+239
ISO 3166 codeST
Internet TLD.st

São Tomé and Príncipe (/;[8] Portuguese: [sɐ̃w̃ tuˈmɛ i ˈpɾĩsɨpɨ]), officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, is an island country in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa. It consists of two archipelagos around the two main islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, about 140 km (87 mi) apart and about 250 and 225 km (155 and 140 mi) off the northwestern coast of Gabon, respectively.

The islands were uninhabited until their discovery by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century. Gradually colonised and settled by the Portuguese throughout the 16th century, they collectively served as a vital commercial and trade center for the Atlantic slave trade. The rich volcanic soil and close proximity to the Equator made São Tomé and Príncipe ideal for sugar cultivation, followed later by cash crops such as coffee and cocoa; the lucrative plantation economy was heavily dependent upon imported African slaves. Cycles of social unrest and economic instability throughout the 19th and 20th centuries culminated in peaceful independence in 1975. São Tomé and Príncipe has since remained one of Africa's most stable and democratic countries.

With a population of 201,800 (2018 official estimate)[9],[4] São Tomé and Príncipe is the second-smallest African sovereign state after Seychelles, as well as the smallest Portuguese-speaking country. Its people are predominantly of African and mestiço descent, with most practising Roman Catholicism. The legacy of Portuguese rule is also visible in the country's culture, customs, and music, which fuse European and African influences. São Tomé and Príncipe is a founding member state of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries.



Map of São Tomé by Johannes Vingboons (1665)

The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe (English translation Saint Thomas and Prince) were uninhabited when the Portuguese arrived sometime around 1470. The islands were discovered by João de Santarém and Pêro Escobar. 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 21 December (St Thomas's Day) 1471, for São Tomé; and 17 January (St Antony's Day) 1472, for Príncipe, though other sources cite different years around that time. Príncipe was initially named Santo Antão ("Saint Anthony"), changing its name in 1502 to Ilha do Príncipe ("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 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.[10] In time, these settlers found the volcanic soil of the region suitable for agriculture, especially the growing of sugar.

Portuguese São Tomé and Príncipe

By 1515, São Tomé and Príncipe had become slave depots for the coastal slave trade centered at Elmina.[11]

The cultivation of sugar was a labour-intensive process and the Portuguese began to enslave large numbers of Africans from the mainland. These slaves originated mainly from the Niger Delta and in Kongo.[12] Originally, the residents of São Tomé focused on cultivating provisions for themselves, sustaining their slaves, and participating in the export of slaves. A lack of value existed for the property on the island, as before the sugar boom, not much incentive remained to own land.[13] Foodstuffs often had to be imported, as cultivation on São Tomé was limited. The low value of property is emphasized by the death of a São Toméan landowner, Álvaro Borges in November, 1504.[13] When Borges passed, his cleared land and domesticated animals were sold for merely 13,000 réis at a time when four slaves could be bought for 19,400 réis.[14] Although São Tomé, according to Valentim Fernandes around 1506, had bountiful sugarcane fields and even larger sugarcane than Madeira "from which they already produce molasses,"[15] the island was absent of the facilities needed for industrial levels of sugar production.[13]

São Tomé would only became economically noteworthy with the introduction of a land grant in 1515 of a water-powered sugar mill.[16] Just two years later in 1517, Portuguese documents highlighted the importance of these sugar mills in the mass cultivation of sugar.[16] The documents state, "The fields are expanding and the sugar mills, too. At this time, only two sugar mills are here and another three are being built, counting the mill of the contractors, which is large. Similarly, the necessary conditions exist, such as streams and timber, to be able to build many more. And the [sugar] canes are the biggest I have ever seen in my life." The expansion of sugar fields and production in São Tomé led to the creation of plantation[s].[17] The creation of plantations resulted in an economic surge of sugar through slave labor. Consequently, São Tomé's economy was based in sugar production and the slave trade. By the mid-16th century, the Portuguese settlers had turned the islands into Africa's foremost exporter of sugar.

Slaves in São Tomé were bought from the Slave Coast of West Africa, the Niger Delta, the island Fernando Po, then later from the Kongo and Angola.[18] In the 16th century, the enslaved were imported from and exported to Portugal, Elmina, the Kingdom of Kongo, Angola, and the Spanish Americas. In 1510, reportedly 10,000 to 12,000 slaves were imported by Portugal.[19] Then in 1516, São Tomé received 4,072 slaves with the purpose of re-exportation.[19] As a result, in 1519 the island became the center of the slave trade between Elmina and the Niger Delta up until 1540.[20] Throughout the early to mid sixteenth century, São Tomé was additionally harboring slave trade relationships intermittently with Angola and the Kingdom of Kongo.[21] Furthermore, in 1525 São Tomé began its slave trade relationship with the Spanish Americas.[22] Most of the slaves to the Spanish Americas went to the Caribbean and Brazil. In the period between 1532 and 1536, every year São Tomé sent an average of 342 slaves to the Antilles.[23] Prior to 1580, the island accounted for 75 percent of Brazil's imports, mainly exporting slaves.[23] The slave trade was a cornerstone of São Tomé's economy all the way until the beginning of the seventeenth century.

The power dynamics of São Tomé in the 16th century were surprisingly diverse with the participation of free mulatto[s] and black citizens in governance. Due to the minimal amounts of voluntary colonists, who actively avoided inhabiting São Tomé because of the presence of disease and food shortages, the crown deported convicts to the island and encouraged interracial relationships to secure the settlement. Slavery was also not permanent, as demonstrated through the 1515 royal decree granting the manumission to African wives of white settlers and their mixed-race children.[24] Then in 1517, another royal decree freed the male slaves who had originally arrived on the island with the first colonists.[24] After 1520, a royal charter allowed for property-owning, married, free mulattos to hold public offices.[24] This was followed by a royal decree in 1546 that equated these qualified mulattos with the white settlers.[24] Consequently, free mulattos and black citizens enjoyed opportunities for upward mobility and participated in local politics and economy. Compounded with the participation of deported convicts and white settlers in government, frequent disputes occurred in the governance of São Tomé, which consisted of town councils, a governor, and a bishop.[25] These quarrels meant that São Tomé was constantly politically unstable.

Slavery in São Tomé was originally much less structured because of the scarcity of resources on the island. In the mid-16th century, an anonymous Portuguese pilot noted that the slaves were employed as couples, built their own accommodations, and worked autonomously once a week on the cultivation of their own food supply.[26] However, this more relaxed slave system did not last long following the introduction of plantations. From the onset of slavery in São Tomé, slaves frequently ran away to the mountainous interior of the island.[27] Between 1514 and 1527, five percent of slaves that were imported to São Tomé escaped.[27] These runaway slaves frequently starved to death, as there were few crops and edible animals in the tropical mountains of the island.[28] Ironically, the lack of food on the sugar plantations especially between 1531 and 1535 was one of the main reasons slaves attempted to escape.[28] Eventually, the Maroon (people) developed settlements in the interior of the island known as macambos.[28]

The first signs of slave rebellion began in the 1530s, when the maroon gangs organized and attacked plantations.[28] As a result, more plantations were abandoned. The attacks became so common that a formal complaint was lodged by local Portuguese authorities in 1531 claiming that too many settlers and black citizens were being killed in the fights, and that the island would be lost if the problem remained unresolved.[28] As a solution, in 1533 local authorities engaged in a 'bush war' led by a 'bush captain' using militia units to suppress the maroon combatants.[28] A significant event in the maroon fight for freedom occurred in 1549, when two men claiming to have been born free men from the macambos were taken in by a wealthy mulatto planter named Ana de Chaves.[28] With the support of de Chaves, the two men sent in a petition to the king to be labeled free men instead of slaves. The monarch ended up approving the request. The largest occurrence of marronage happened simultaneously to the sugar boom of the mid-16th century, when the number of plantation slaves increased exponentially.[28] Between 1587 and 1590, many of the runaway slaves were defeated as a result of the bush war.[29] However, in 1593 the slaves regrouped and reorganized only for later that year, according to the governor at the time, to be almost completely extinguished.[30] Despite the counter-revolutionary efforts by the authorities, the settlers were unable to inhabit the southern and western parts of São Tomé, because of their proximity to the maroons. The greatest slave revolt in São Tomé occurred in July 1595, during a period when the government was weakened by disputes between the bishop and the governor.[29] The revolt, which was headed by a native slave named Amador, was successful in uniting 5000 slaves in an effort to raid and destroy plantations, sugar mills, and settler's houses.[29] Amador and his rebellion unsuccessfully attempted to raid the town three times before eventually, after three weeks, they were defeated by the militia.[29] Two hundred slaves were killed in combat, and Amador and the other rebel leaders were executed.[29] The rest of the slaves were granted amnesty and returned to their plantations. Amador's revolt had successfully destroyed 60 of the island's 85 sugar mills in one of the greatest slave uprisings in history.[29] Smaller slavery rebellions followed in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Eventually, competition from sugar-producing colonies in the Western Hemisphere began to hurt the islands. The large enslaved 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 São Tomé 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 (known as roças), owned by Portuguese companies or absentee landlords, occupied almost all of the good farmland.[citation needed] 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 labour continued. Scientific American documented in words and pictures the continued use of slaves in São Tomé in its 13 March 1897 issue.

In the early 20th century, an internationally publicized controversy arose over charges that Angolan contract workers were being subjected to forced labour 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 "Batepá Massacre" remains a major event in the colonial history of the islands, and its anniversary is officially observed by the government. The cultivation of sugar was a labour-intensive process and the Portuguese began to enslave large numbers of Africans from the mainland. By the mid-16th century, 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.

Independence (1975)

The cathedral of São Tomé

By the late 1950s, when other emerging nations across the African continent demanded their 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 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, São Tomé and Príncipe achieved independence on 12 July 1975, choosing as the first president the MLSTP Secretary General Manuel Pinto da Costa.

In 1990, São Tomé became one of the first African countries to undergo 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 won 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 won 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, was elected in the first round and inaugurated on 3 September. Parliamentary elections were held in March 2002. For the next four years, a series of short-lived opposition-led governments was 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.[citation needed] The cohabitation period ended in March 2006, when a propresidential coalition won enough seats in National Assembly elections to form a new government.[31]

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 Guimarães. Local elections, the first since 1992, took place on 27 August 2006 and were dominated by members of the ruling coalition.[citation needed] On 12 February 2009, a coup d'état was attempted to overthrow President Fradique de Menezes. The plotters were imprisoned, but later received a pardon from President de Menezes.[32]