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Summary Article: São Tomé and Principe
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(souN tʊmĕ', prēn'sēpӘ), officially Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Principe, republic (2015 est. pop. 196,000), 372 sq mi (964 sq km), W Africa, in the Gulf of Guinea, consisting of the island of São Tomé (c.330 sq mi/860 sq km) and the neighboring islets of Rôlas and Cabras and the island of Principe (c.40 sq mi/100 sq km) and the neighboring Pedras Tinhosas, Caroço, and Bombom. São Tomé is the capital and chief town.

Land, People, and Economy

Located just north of the equator, the islands are of volcanic origin and rise to 6,640 ft (2,024 m) on São Tomé. They have a tropical rain forest climate and thick vegetation. The official language is Portuguese, although a creole dialect is widely spoken. About 70% of the population is Roman Catholic, and there is an Evangelical Protestant minority. The population consists mainly of mesticos (persons of mixed European and African descent), descendants of slaves and laborers from from the African mainland, and Portuguese. There is also a sizable population of foreign workers, principally from Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde.

From state-owned farms, tropical produce, notably cocoa (80% of export earnings), copra, coffee, and palm oil, is exported. Coconuts, cinnamon, pepper, bananas, and papayas are also important, as are fish and timber. Industry is limited to food processing and light manufacturing. Efforts to diversify agriculture and the economy in general have met with limited success, but there are significant offshore oil fields to the north of the islands that are now being developed. Machinery, electrical equipment, foodstuffs, and petroleum products are imported. The country's trading partners include the Netherlands, Portugal, the United States, and Belgium. The country has an ongoing balance-of-payments problem and relies heavily on foreign aid. São Tomé island has a good road and railroad system.


São Tomé and Principe is governed under the constitution of 1990 . The president, who is head of state, is popularly elected for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The government is headed by a prime minister, who is nominated by the legislature and appointed by the president. The unicameral legislature consists of the 55-seat National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into the two provinces of São Tomé and Principe; Principe is autonomous.


The islands were visited (1471) by Pedro Escobar and João Gomes, the Portuguese explorers, and in 1483 the São Tomé settlement was founded. They were proclaimed a colony of Portugal in 1522. The Dutch held the islands from 1641 to 1740, when they were recovered by the Portuguese. Until the establishment of a slave-based plantation economy in the 18th cent., the islands were used mainly as supply stations on the shipping routes to Brazil and India.

São Tomé and Principe became an overseas province of Portugal in 1951 and received local autonomy in 1973. Following the 1974 military coup in Portugal, the new government recognized the islands' right to independence, granting it on July 12, 1975. Manuel Pinto da Costa, leader of the Gabon-based Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Principe (MLSTP), became the country's first president, and his party the sole legal one. The first years were marked by economic hardship caused by the departure of both the Portuguese and a large number of foreign workers. A severe drought and depressed cocoa prices hurt the economy during the 1980s.

A new constitution adopted in 1990 officially ended one-party rule. In 1991, the MLSTP lost the legislative elections and Miguel Trovoada, running unopposed as an independent candidate, won the country's first free presidential election. Principe was granted local autonomy in 1994 (effective 1995). A military coup in 1995 ended peacefully when the president was restored to office and parliament granted the rebel soldiers amnesty.

In July, 1996, Trovoada, this time running against former president Pinto da Costa, was reelected. The MLSTP, which had dominated parliament since 1994, won a majority of seats in the 1998 legislative elections. Inflation, unemployment, and the inability of the government to pay workers resulted in a series of strikes and demonstrations in the 1990s. Fradique de Menezes, the candidate of the opposition Independent Democratic Action party (ADI), was elected president in 2001; his main opponent was Pinto da Costa. In the parliamentary elections the following year, however, the MLSTP won a slim plurality of the seats.

In July, 2003, members of the military, complaining of social and economic decline, ousted President de Menezes, but an agreement was negotiated that resulted in his return to office. The development of offshore oil led to conflicts in the government in 2004 and accusations of corrupt practices; the president ultimately removed the prime minister and entire cabinet. Parliamentary elections in Mar.–Apr., 2006, resulted in a victory for the Force for Change Democratic Movement–Party for Democratic Convergence coalition (MDFM-PCD), which secured a plurality of the seats.

In July, 2006, de Menezes was reelected to the presidency. The MDFM-PCD–led government resigned in Feb., 2008, and a new government, led by the ADI, was formed. Four months later the new government lost a confidence vote, and a new coalition, led by the MLSTP and including the PCD and MDFM, was formed. Several dozen people were arrested on charges of attempting to overthrow the president in Feb., 2009. The Aug., 2010, parliamentary elections were won by the ADI. Pinto da Costa, running as an independent, was elected to succeeded de Menezes in Aug., 2011. The ADI minority government was dismissed in Dec., 2012, and replaced by an opposition coalition. In the Oct., 2014, elections ADI won a parliamentary majority and subsequently formed a government. Evaristo Carvalho, a former prime minister, was elected president in Aug., 2016, after Pinto da Costa withdrew from the runoff election; he accused the opposition of irregularities in the July voting.

  • See T. Hodges; M. Newitt, São Tomé and Principe (1988).
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