São Tomé and Principe

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São Tomé and Principe

São Tomé and Principe (souN to͝omĕˈ,) (prēnˈsēpə), 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. The ADI won a narrow plurality in the Oct., 2018, parliamentary elections.


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

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

São Tomé and Principe


(São Tomé e Príncipe, Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe), a state located on several islands in the Gulf of Guinea, off the west coast of Africa. The main islands are São Tomé (836 sq km) and Príncipe (128 sq km). Area, 964 sq km. Population, 80,000 (1974). The capital is São Tomé.

Constitution and government. São Tomé and Príncipe is a republic. The president of the republic is head of state and government. The Constituent Assembly has legislative power.

Natural features. The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, composed mainly of basalts, have volcanic cones reaching a maximum elevation of 2,024 m on São Tomé. There are small lakes in the craters. Whereas Príncipe has an equatorial humid climate throughout the year, São Tomé’s climate is intermediate between equatorial and tropical, with a rainy season (October to May) and a dry season (June to September). The mean monthly temperature is 23°–27°C, and the annual precipitation ranges from 1,000 mm to 2,000–3,000 mm. The natural vegetation consists of dense, humid equatorial forests and, at the mouths of rivers, mangrove thickets.

Population. Most of the people are descendants of the some 1,200 Africans brought here in the 15th and 16th centuries from Angola, Mozambique, and the Cape Verde Islands to work on European, mainly Portuguese, plantations. In 1970 urban dwellers constituted about 10 percent of the population. Portuguese is the official language, and Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion. The Gregorian calendar is used.

Historical survey. The islands were discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century and became a Portuguese possession. Large numbers of African slaves were brought here to work on sugar plantations. In the 16th and 17th centuries São Tomé was an important entrepôt in the slave trade between Africa, the West Indies, and Brazil. Every year the Portuguese authorities, who used forced African labor on the islands on a large scale, recruited under contract thousands of workers from Angola and Mozambique. The struggle of the people of São Tomé and Príncipe against the Portuguese colonialists began in the early 16th century. An uprising broke out on São Tomé in 1517 and on both islands in the late 16th century.

The largest rebellion in the 20th century was the uprising of 1953. The liberation struggle was headed by the Committee for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe, founded in 1960 and reorganized in 1972 as the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe. In November 1974 delegates from the Movement and representatives of the Portuguese government that had assumed power after the revolutionary coup of 1974 signed an agreement granting independence to São Tomé and Príncipe. A transitional government that included representatives of both the Movement and Portugal was formed in December 1974. On July 12, 1975, the day after the parliamentary elections, the National Assembly proclaimed São Tomé and Príncipe an independent democratic republic.

Economy. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy. About one-third of the country’s territory is under cultivation. The chief crops, grown for export, are cocoa (33,000 hectares, 10,000 tons in 1972), coffee (500 ha, 140 tons in 1972), palm kernels (2,500 tons of kernels, 1,000 tons of oil), coconuts (49,000 tons of nuts, 6,500 tons of copra), bananas, and cinchona. Millet, manioc, corn, and yams are also grown. Animal husbandry is poorly developed. In 1972 the livestock population included 3,000 head of cattle, 3,000 pigs, 2,000 sheep, 1,000 goats, 5,000 chickens, and 1,000 turkeys. The fish catch totaled 900 tons in 1972. Turtles and octopuses are also caught.

Industry is represented mainly by enterprises that process agricultural raw materials, including flour mills and factories producing soap and palm oil. The electric power output was 5.4 million kilowatt-hours in 1972. There are 340 km of highways (1972). The country exports agricultural raw materials and imports manufactured goods, petroleum products, and cement. Portugal is the main trading partner. The monetary unit is the São Tomé escudo.

Health and social welfare. In 1970 the birth rate was 53.7 and the death rate 15.1 per 1,000 population; the infant mortality rate was 35.1 per 1,000 live births. Infectious and parasitic diseases are widespread. More than 7,000 cases of malaria were recorded in 1968. In 1969 the islands had 18 doctors (one per 3,300 inhabitants), 13 of whom worked for the state health service, and about 100 medical assistants. There are 50 hospitals with 1,900 beds (30 beds per 1,000 population), including 427 beds in 14 state hospitals. Outpatient care is provided by polyclinics attached to the hospitals, a dispensary, 21 medical stations, and a mobile medical team. The country has a school for training nurses. In 1970 public health appropriations amounted to 11.4 percent of the state budget.

Education. More than 85 percent of the inhabitants are illiterate. Compulsory education has been instituted for children between the ages of six and 12, but in the mid-1960’s fewer than 25 percent of the children attended school. More than half of the schools belong to private individuals or to Catholic missions. At the age of seven, children are enrolled in a four-year primary school. The five-year secondary school consists of two cycles of two and three years each. Portuguese is the language of instruction. In the 1971–72 school year there were 44 primary schools with more than 9,000 pupils and two secondary schools with about 1,460 pupils. Those who have completed the primary school or primary school plus the first two years of secondary school may enroll in a vocational school. In the 1971–72 school year the country’s four vocational schools had an enrollment of 112 students. Primary school teachers are trained at teachers colleges, which are open to graduates of the first cycle of the secondary school.

Press and radio. In 1974 two weeklies were published: Boletin oficial, founded in 1836, and A Voz de São Tomé. Radio broadcasting was initiated in 1958.


Sheinis, V. L. Portugal’skii imperializm ν Afrike posle vtoroi mirovoi voiny. Moscow, 1969.
Green, L. Ostrova, ne tronutve vremenem. Moscow, 1972. (Translated from English.)
Portuguese Colonies: Victory or Death. Havana, 1971.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

São Tomé and Príncipe

Official name: Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe

Capital city: São Tomé

Internet country code: .st

Flag description: Three horizontal bands of green (top), yellow (double width), and green with two black five-pointed stars placed side by side in the center of the yel­low band and a red isosceles triangle based on the hoist side; uses the popular pan-African colors of Ethiopia

Geographical description: Western Africa, islands in the Gulf of Guinea, straddling the Equator, west of Gabon

Total area: 386 sq. mi. (1,001 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical; hot, humid; one rainy season (October to May)

Nationality: noun: Sao Tomean (s); adjective: Sao Tomean

Population: 199,579 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: mestico (mixed African Europeanz), ango­lares (descendants of Angolan slaves), forros (descendants of freed slaves), servicais (contract laborers from Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde), tongas (children of servi­cais born on the islands), Europeans (primarily Por­tuguese)

Languages spoken: Portuguese (official)

Religions: Catholic 70.3%, Evangelical 3.4%, New Apos­tolic 2%, Adventist 1.8%, other 3.1%, none 19.4%

Legal Holidays:

Agricultural Reform DaySep 30
Armed Forces DaySep 6
Christmas DayDec 25
Independence DayJul 12
Labor DayMay 1
Martyrs' DayFeb 3
New Year's DayJan 1
Sao Tome DayDec 21
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.