São Tomé and Príncipe

Central West Africa

Capital City:
Sao Tome

total: 964 sq km
land: 964 sq km
water: 0 sq km

Land boundaries:
Total: 0km

209 km

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

volcanic, mountainous

mean elevation: NA
elevation extremes: lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Pico de Sao Tome 2,024 m

Natural resources:

Land use:
agricultural land: 50.7%
arable land 9.1%; permanent crops 40.6%; permanent pasture 1%
forest: 28.1%
other: 21.2% (2011 est.)

Irrigated land:
100 sq km (2012)

Population – distribution:
Sao Tome, the capital city, has roughly a quarter of the nation’s population; Santo Antonio is the largest town on Principe; the northern areas of both islands have the highest population densities.

Natural hazards:

People and Society

Sao Tome and Principe’s youthful age structure – more than 60% of the population is under the age of 25 – and high fertility rate ensures future population growth. Although Sao Tome has a net negative international migration rate, emigration is not a sufficient safety valve to reduce already high levels of unemployment and poverty. While literacy and primary school attendance has improved in recent years, Sao Tome still struggles to improve its educational quality and to increase its secondary school completion rate. Despite some improvements in education and access to healthcare, Sao Tome and Principe has much to do to decrease its high poverty rate, create jobs, and increase its economic growth.

The population of Sao Tome and Principe descends primarily from the islands’ colonial Portuguese settlers, who first arrived in the late 15th century, and the much larger number of African slaves brought in for sugar production and the slave trade. For about 100 years after the abolition of slavery in 1876, the population was further shaped by the widespread use of imported unskilled contract laborers from Portugal’s other African colonies, who worked on coffee and cocoa plantations. In the first decades after abolition, most workers were brought from Angola under a system similar to slavery. While Angolan laborers were technically free, they were forced or coerced into long contracts that were automatically renewed and extended to their children. Other contract workers from Mozambique and famine-stricken Cape Verde first arrived in the early 20th century under short-term contracts and had the option of repatriation, although some chose to remain in Sao Tome and Principe.

Today’s Sao Tomean population consists of Mesticos (creole descendants of the European immigrants and African slaves that first inhabited the islands), Forros (descendants of freed African slaves), Angolares (descendants of runaway African slaves that formed a community in the south of Sao Tome Island and today are fishermen), Servicais (contract laborers from Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde), tongas (locally born children of contract laborers), and lesser numbers of Europeans and Asians.

201,025 (July 2017 est.)

Sao Tomean(s)

Ethnic groups:
Mestico, Angolares (descendants of Angolan slaves), Forros (descendants of freed slaves), Servicais (contract laborers from Angola, Mozambique, and Cabo Verde), tongas (children of Servicais born on the islands), Europeans (primarily Portuguese), Asians (mostly Chinese)

Portuguese 98.4% (official), Forro 36.2%, Cabo Verdian 8.5%, French 6.8%, Angolar 6.6%, English 4.9%, Lunguie 1%, other (including sign language) 2.4%

Catholic 55.7%, Adventist 4.1%, Assembly of God 3.4%, New Apostolic 2.9%, Mana 2.3%, Universal Kingdom of God 2%, Jehovah’s Witness 1.2%, other 6.2%, none 21.2%, unspecified 1% (2012 est.)

Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

Of São Tomé and Príncipe’s total population, about 201,025 live on São Tomé and 90,000 on Príncipe. All are descended from various ethnic groups that have migrated to the islands since 1485. Six groups are identifiable: Mestiços, or mixed-blood, descendants of Portuguese colonists and African slaves brought to the islands during the early years of settlement from Benin, Gabon, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola (these people also are known as filhos da terra or “children 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 when slavery was abolished; Serviçais, 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.

Portuguese is the official and the de facto national language of São Tomé and Príncipe, with about 98.4% speaking it in the country, a significant share of it as their native language, and it has been spoken in the islands since the end of the 15th century. In addition, three Portuguese-based creoles are spoken: Sãotomense, spoken by the Forros and having by far the largest number of speakers; Angolar, the language of the Angolares, spoken on the southern tip of São Tomé; and Principense, spoken by only a few hundred individuals on Príncipe. Restructured variants of Portuguese or Portuguese creoles are also spoken: Forro, a creole language (36.2%), Cape Verdean Creole (8.5%), Angolar (6.6%) and Principense (1%). French (6.8%) and English (4.9%) are foreign languages taught in schools.

Christianity is the dominant religion, with Roman Catholics constituting about 80% of the total population and Protestants constituting about 15%. The primary Protestant groups are Evangelicals (about 3.4% of the population), New Apostolic (2%), and Seventh-Day Adventists (1.8%). Approximately 3% of the population is Muslim. About 2% are atheist. A very small number of people practice forms of witchcraft, but this is considered more of a custom than a religion and practitioners are often adherents of one of the other major religions. Certain Christian holidays are celebrated as national holidays. The constitution provides for religious freedom.


Education in Sao Tome and Principe has seen drastic changes due to increased funding from the World Bank, other foreign aid and a revised government budget. In the past, the government paid little attention to the education system, illustrated by the small budget for compulsory education, limited to the primary level. The education system is heavily dependent on foreign aid to cover the costs of books, curriculum development, and teacher salaries. In addition, teachers are underpaid. Teachers must rely on the Minister of Education to enhance their skills, learn the modern curriculum and earn decent wages.

However, the biggest problem is low enrollment in secondary and tertiary schools. Although the first six years in primary school are free, there is a huge drop in enrollment into secondary school and tertiary institutions. In 2001, there were only 183 college students enrolled, ranking Sao Tome 196 out of 200 in college enrollment in world rankings. The government proposed an education sector plan and an Educational Policy Charter for 2012-2020, outlining future plans. The main objective is to provide 12 years of free, quality education to all students. Further goals are to develop quality higher education facilities, integrate the needs of the labor market into higher education, offer high-level training for teachers and ensure effective management of the sector.

Currently, almost every child is enrolled in primary school, and with a new grant from the International Development Association, 267 primary teachers have received training, covering almost every unqualified primary education teacher in the country. In the past, education in Sao Tome and Principe was never a priority. But, the implementation of several new education plans and foreign funding has put education front and center.


The economy of Sao Tome and Principe is small, based mainly on agricultural production, and, since independence in 1975, increasingly dependent on the export of cocoa beans. Cocoa production has substantially declined in recent years because of drought and mismanagement. Sao Tome depends heavily on imports of food, fuels, most manufactured goods, and consumer goods, and changes in commodity prices affect the country’s inflation rate. Maintaining control of inflation, fiscal discipline, and increasing flows of foreign direct investment into the nascent oil sector are major economic problems facing the country. In recent years the government has attempted to reduce price controls and subsidies. In 2017, several business-related laws have enacted that aim to improve the business climate.

Sao Tome and Principe face challenges that are typical of small states and affect its ability to deal with shocks and achieve a balanced budget. The limited number of people and workers in the country often prevent the efficient production of goods and services at the scale needed to meet the demand of both local and export markets. Its remoteness and insularity increase export costs and the limited availability of land and small workforce prevent the country from diversifying its economy, making it more vulnerable to terms-of-trade shocks. The indivisibility in the production of public goods and the difficulty of providing services to a scattered population imply a high cost of public goods and a high level of public expenditures.

Gross domestic product (GDP) growth has been relatively steady since 2009, but growth is heavily reliant on government spending and has not significantly contributed to poverty alleviation. GDP grew at an average rate of 4.5% between 2009 to 2016, with a mild deceleration since 2014. Agriculture production has declined since independence in 1975 and is no longer the main driver of economic growth. However, agricultural goods, especially cocoa, constitute the bulk of the country’s exports. Also, tourism is a natural comparative advantage for STP and already constitutes an important economic activity, although the country is far from becoming a tourism-dependent economy.

Considerable potential exists for the development of tourism, and the government has taken steps to expand tourist facilities in recent years. Potential also exists for the development of petroleum resources in Sao Tom andPrincipe’ss territorial waters in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, some of which are being jointly developed in a 60-40 split with Nigeria, but production is at least several years off. Volatile aid and investment inflows have limited growth, and poverty remains high. Restricted capacity at the main port increases the periodic risk of shortages of consumer goods. Contract enforcement in the country’s judicial system is difficult. The IMF in late 2016 expressed concern about vulnerabilities in the country’s banking sector, although the country plans some austerity measures in line with IMF recommendations under their three years extended credit facility. Deforestation, coastal erosion, poor waste management, and misuse of natural resources also are challenging issues.

GDP (purchasing power parity):
$676 million (2017 est.)
$649.4 million (2016 est.)
$624.6 million (2015 est.)
note: data are in 2017 dollars

GDP (official exchange rate):
$379 million (2017 est.)

GDP – real growth rate:
4% (2017 est.)
4.1% (2016 est.)
4% (2015 est.)

GDP – per capita (PPP):
$3,200 (2017 est.)
$3,100 (2016 est.)
$3,100 (2015 est.)

Gross national saving:
19.3% of GDP (2017 est.)
21.8% of GDP (2016 est.)
19.5% of GDP (2015 est.)

GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
agriculture: 11.8%
industry: 14.8%
services: 73.4% (2017 est.)

Agriculture – products:
cocoa, coconuts, palm kernels, copra, cinnamon, pepper, coffee, bananas, papayas, beans; poultry; fish.

light construction, textiles, soap, beer, fish processing, timber

Population below poverty line:
66.2% (2009 est.)

revenues: $152.7 million
expenditures: $152.7 million (2017 est.


The agricultural sector in São Tomé and Príncipe is small, but expanded agricultural production, especially organic coffee and cocoa, is expected to be the main driver of economic growth over the near term. The economy is based on agriculture, with cocoa production accounting for a large percentage of total exports. There is currently one company exporting chocolate to the United States. A small amount of tropical flowers is also produced in the country and exported to Europe.

Since the late 1980s, the World Bank introduced and implemented projects in Sao Tome and Principe to help strengthen the country’s agriculture and production. Though most of these projects have been met with limited success, the World Bank has invested over 20 million in Sao Tome and Principe’s agriculture over the years. Most projects still being implemented by the World Bank are now dedicated to financials and budgeting; however, the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) has taken over improving and developing agriculture within the nation.

In November 2010, AfDB introduced the Infrastructure Rehabilitation for Food Security Support Project (PRIASA). The aims of this project are to increase appropriate infrastructure and support rural communities in creating sustainable agriculture in Sao Tome and Principe. These efforts will increase crop production in these areas as well as create more jobs thus decreasing unemployment. Sao Tome and Principe have already reaped benefits from the project in the last seven years. The nation has integrated gravity-fed irrigation systems, built greenhouses and created and installed solar dryers. All of these improvements can hopefully lead to the continued presence of sustainable agriculture in Sao Tome and Principe.

High transport costs remain a significant barrier to increased agricultural exports. However, there is great potential in the agricultural products market because the land is fertile and the weather conducive to the harvesting of tropical products including fruits, vegetables, flowers, and tree seedlings. Most of São Tomé and Príncipe’s farming opportunities are still untapped. There is no precedent for mass production, but gourmet and high-market value produce thrive in STP.

Electricity access:
population without electricity: 100,000
electrification – total population: 59%
electrification – urban areas: 70%
electrification – rural areas: 40% (2013)

Electricity – production:
66 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
61.38 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
0 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
0 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
20,000 kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
80% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)

Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 5,569
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 3 (2017 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
total subscriptions: 173,646
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 86 (2017 est.)
Internet country code:
total: 50,000
percent of population: 25.8% (July 2016 est.)

São Tomé and Príncipe Energy Potential

São Tomé and Príncipe are exploring for oil in two different zones under different jurisdictions: The Joint Development Zone (JDZ) with Nigeria, and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). So far oil has not been discovered in commercially viable quantities. With the downturn, in the price of oil, the government is looking at how to make the zone more competitive and attract new investors to continue exploration. The EITI is helping to inform the dialogue on rethinking how both the EEZ and the JDZ could attract investment while being managed in line with international best practice. EITI Reports have reviewed the legal, contractual and fiscal frameworks applicable to the oil sector.

São Tomé and Principe have for the past decade prepared itself for oil production and explored oil offshore. So far, no commercially viable oil discoveries have been made. São Tome and Príncipe received roughly USD 300 million in oil exploration revenue between 2003 and 2013, mainly from signature bonuses. Companies signed agreements to explore in the Exclusive Economic Zone. As the results have been disappointing, fewer companies are exploring offshore and revenues have decreased significantly. The latest report notes that the Joint Development Authority (JDA) received, in 2015, as a signature bonus, the amount of 1,656,250 USD being the only revenue for that year.

All revenue from oil exploration is deposited into the national oil account, from which a maximum of 20% of the balance can annually be transferred to the state budget. At the end of 2015, there was roughly USD 10 million left in the account. The National Petroleum Agency (ANP) collects administration fees. In accordance with the Contract celebrated between Nigeria and São Tomé and Príncipe, the revenues received by the JDA from the JDZ operators should be distributed in a 60%/40% ratio to the Federal Government of Nigeria and to São Tomé and Príncipe, respectively.

São Tomé and Príncipe were found to have achieved meaningful progress in implementing the EITI Standard. View more information under the Validation section of this page or go to the Board’s decision in full. Previously, the country was compliant under the 2011 Rules. The EITI process is supported by all stakeholders and reports are creating debate especially about the management of the JDZ and social payments. In February 2016 the Board approved STP’s request for adapted implementation related to revenue reconciliation and contextual information related to the Joint Development Zone (JDZ) with Nigeria.

Banking and Finance

São Tomé and Príncipe have a small financial system with money supply (M2) around US$90 million at the end of 2015. 2 Similar to other small financial systems, the concentration of assets and operating costs are high, coupled with relatively low asset quality and lower profitability. However, recent trends show further deterioration in key areas—increasing NPLs and large and growing excess liquidity—from averages in other small financial systems. Private sector credit (as a percent of GDP) is low yet comparable to other small states, including sub-Saharan African (SSA) small states, at 28.3 percent in 2014. Commercial banks account for approximately 98 percent of financial sector assets, and a large majority of these banks (6 out of 7) are foreign-owned; in addition, there are two insurance companies and four small consumer lenders operating in São Tomé and Príncipe. The banking sector is highly concentrated, with the largest bank holding almost 50 percent of total assets, and the largest three banks holding almost 75 percent of total assets. The analysis in this paper will, therefore, focus on the banking sector.

The size of the banking sector expanded rapidly following its liberalization in the early 2000s. The Banco Internacional de São Tomé e Príncipe (BISTP) was the only commercial bank since 1993 until three new entrants in 2004 after the liberalization. The number of banks increased to eight by 2008, in anticipation of increased economic activity in relation to commercial oil production. With the uncertainty of commercial oil production, the central bank of São Tomé and Príncipe (BCSTP) has had to put three banks under administration within a decade of granting their license, underscoring weak regulatory and supervisory environment that could not cope with the rapid increase in the number of banks.

There has, however, been notable progress in banking supervision since 2012. The BCSTP began a full cycle of on-site inspections in 2012, which was completed in 2015; a new cycle of inspections commenced in 2016. Improvements in BCSTP’s banking supervision framework have helped identify banks with inadequate capital, obtain more reliable and realistic estimates of NPLs and provisions. Both the use of supervisory instruments and the monitoring of banks’ adherence to the prudential standards have also improved.

The two main concerns from a financial sector stability standpoint are excess liquidity and deterioration in asset quality. São Toméan banks started to experience excess liquidity, increasingly over the last three years. Consolidated banks’ balance sheet (Table 1) illustrates the feeble growth in loans as well as a substantial increase in liquid assets in cash and treasury bills. The slow credit growth is indicative of banks’ risk-averse stance, particularly, given an increase in non-performing loans and uncertainties surrounding delays in addressing collateral enforcement and default risks through the judiciary system. In 2015, the ratio of liquid assets to total assets reached 52 percent. Despite the stagnation in credit growth, deposits have been increasing steadily and grew by more than 20 percent in 2015. Of total deposits, almost 70 percent are in demand deposits (versus time deposits) and around 40 percent are in foreign currency.


The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe are well situated across the western equatorial coast in Central Africa and make up one singular island nation. Also known for its soothing mood for relaxation, the island nation anchors its atmosphere on its relaxed vibes and Portuguese creole flavor. Sao Tome and Principe are blessed with natural attractions and long ending sandy beaches. The Islands also boast emerald forest vegetation full of wildlife with soaring volcanic peaks that promises many thrills on end. In true Afro Tourism style, we combed the islands and we are proud to present the very best 10 fantastic reasons to visit São Tomé and Príncipe.

Sao Tome and Principe are situated near the Equator. The country fascinating history dominated by the slave trade and plantations has left several historical landmarks. The different plantation houses and “Roca’s” that was used during the era of colonization. There are a lot of beaches to discover on this island. Also, there are quite a large number of resorts and accommodations which are as famous as São Tomé and Príncipe.

Place of Attraction

Bom Bom Island; This beautiful little island, which lies just off the northern coast of Principe, is home to just 15 people, and covered in lush vegetation and boasts a tourist resort that lies between two beaches. It’s a great place to go deep sea fishing. If you’re lucky and there at the right time of year, you might just get to see a pod of humpback whales swimming nearby. Bom Bom Island is a tourist resort and an ideal location to go deep sea fishing and is perfect for viewing beautiful humpback whales in all their glory. You are guaranteed the time of your life.

Baía das Agulhas; The spectacular Bay of Spires is not just Príncipe’s top attraction, but STP’s as well. It’s best seen from the water, where the postcard view of the island’s world-class skyline slowly unfolds, including phonolite towers named (for obvious reasons) the Father, the Son, and the Grandson, along with Table Mountain. You expect to hear the primordial roar of T-Rex at any moment. If you’ve flown all this way, you do not want to miss this.

Praia dos Tamarindos; One of the island’s best beaches, a beautiful white crescent facing an emerald sea, with excellent swimming. An easy drive from the capital, it’s empty during the week but crowded on weekends. Reaching Guadalupe from the capital, turn right at the monument in the middle of the road, then a further right at the primary school.

Obo Natural Park; Covering some 35% of Sao Tome, this incredible national park is home to one of the most striking geological sights in the entire world – the Pico Cao Grande. The needle-shaped volcanic plug peak rises dramatically over 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape and has a summit that’s 2,175 feet above sea level. If that isn’t enough for you to take in, then you’ll be happy to know that the park is also home to some 700 different flora and fauna species.

Principe Island; Covering some 53 square miles and home to 5,000 people, Principe Island is actually a heavily-eroded volcano that’s believed to be some 3 million years old, and its topography is pretty much unique. It’s covered in numerous other small volcanic mountains, as well as dense rainforests. If empty beaches and beautiful bathing waters sound like your idea of fun, then you should definitely consider Principe.



The Portuguese explorers João de Santarém and Pêro Escobar discovered the islands around 1470, which they found uninhabited. The São Tomé island was named by the Portuguese in honor of Saint Thomas, as they discovered the island on his feast day, while the Príncipe island (Prince’s Island) was named in honor of Afonso, Prince of Portugal, his father’s favorite. The first attempt of settlement in the islands began in 1485 when the Portuguese Crown granted to João de Paiva the São Tomé island. However, this attempt was not successful, because the settlers were unable to produce food in the specific conditions and climate that the islands offered, and because of the tropical diseases that affected the settlers.

It was only in 1493 when King John II of Portugal nominated Álvaro Caminha as captain-major of São Tomé island, that the first successful settlement was established. Among these Portuguese settlers, there was a significant portion of criminals and orphans, as well as Jewish children taken from their parents to ensure that they were raised as Christians. Settlement of the Príncipe island was initiated in 1500. In the following years, the Portuguese settlers started to import large numbers of slaves from mainland Africa to cultivate the rich volcanic soil of São Tomé island with highly profitable sugar cane. By the middle of the 16th century, São Tomé generated enormous wealth to Portugal when it became the world’s largest producer of sugar.

In the end decade of the 16th century, the competition of sugar plantations from the Portuguese colony of Brazil and the frequent slave revolts that occurred in the island, begun to slowly hurt the sugar crop cultivation, This meant the decline of the sugar production, and the shifting of the local economy towards the slave trade, who remained mostly in the hands of the local mestiço population. The notable revolt was the one that was led by Rei Amador which started on 9 July 1595 and ended with Rei Amador being captured on 4 January the year after and was later imprisoned and murdered by the Portuguese, a statue of him was erected in 2004. The geographical location of the islands made them a crucial trading post of the transatlantic slave trade, as they served as an assembly point of the slaves brought from the Gulf of Guinea and the Kingdom of Kongo and destined to the Americas.

Colonial Portuguese 

The cultivation of sugar was a labor-intensive process, in the following years, the Portuguese settlers started to import large numbers of slaves from mainland Africa to cultivate the rich volcanic soil of São Tomé island with highly profitable sugar cane. By the middle of the 16th century, São Tomé generated enormous wealth to Portugal when it became the world’s largest producer of sugar. 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.

However, superior sugar colonies in the western hemisphere began to hurt the islands. The large slave population also proved difficult to control with Portugal unable to invest many resources in the effort. As well, the Dutch captured and occupied São Tomé for seven years in 1641, razing over 70 sugar mills. 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. The Dutch occupied the São Tomé island in 1641, until 1648 when the Portuguese took back the island. The Dutch, however, did not take Príncipe island.

In the first decade of the 17th century, the competition of sugar plantations from the Portuguese colony of Brazil and the frequent slave revolts that occurred in the island, begun to slowly hurt the sugar crop cultivation, This meant the decline of the sugar production, and the shifting of the local economy towards the slave trade, who remained mostly in the hands of the local mestiço population. The notable revolt was the one that was led by Rei Amador which started on 9 July 1595 and ended with Rei Amador being captured on 4 January the year after and was later imprisoned and murdered by the Portuguese, a statue of him was erected in 2004. The geographical location of the islands made them a crucial trading post of the transatlantic slave trade, as they served as an assembly point of the slaves brought from the Gulf of Guinea and the Kingdom of Kongo and destined to the Americas.

Coffee and Cocoa

In 1753, because of the frequent attacks by pirates and corsairs, the capital of the São Tomé island was transferred to Santo António on Príncipe, and the islands started being ruled as a single colony, with only one Governor. It was only in 1852 when the capital was transferred back to São Tomé island. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Portuguese introduced coffee and cocoa in extensive large-scale plantations called roças, thus giving a great boost to the economy. The coffee production cycle ended in the late 19th century when it was replaced by cocoa as the islands’ main production. São Tomé and Príncipe then became a major global cocoa production area for several generations, and in the first decades of the 20th century, it was frequently the world’s annual number one cocoa producer.

In 1778 the Portuguese ceded the islands of Fernando Pó (Bioko) and Annobón (Pagalu), on either side of Sao Tome and Principe, to the Spaniards, who wished to develop their own African slave trade. The independence of Brazil in 1822, the suppression of the slave trade in the Portuguese territories, and the introduction of coffee and cacao (the source of cocoa beans) cultivation in the 19th century shifted the economic center of gravity back to São Tomé, and in 1852 São Tomé city once again became the capital. 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 labor continued. Cacao replaced coffee as the main cash crop in the 1890s, and during the first two decades of the 20th century, the colony was in some years the world’s largest producer of the commodity. This led to the maximum expansion of the plantations on the islands. When slavery was legally abolished in 1875, the Portuguese recruited contract workers from such places as Angola, Cape Verde, and Mozambique. However, until 1910 the living and working conditions of these indentured laborers often were little different from slavery.

Struggle for Independence 

In the early 20th century, 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 “Batepá 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 São Toméans had formed the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP), which eventually established its base in nearby Gabon.

The Committee for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe was set up in exile in 1960; It changed its name to the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (MLSTP) in 1972. However, it consisted of only a small group of exiles, who were unable to mount a guerrilla challenge to the Portuguese on the islands. During the 1967–70 secession war from Nigeria (Nigerian Civil War), São Tomé served as the major base of operations for the Biafran airlift. The airlift was an international humanitarian relief effort (the largest civilian airlift to date) that transport food and medicine to eastern Nigeria. It is estimated to have saved more than a million lives.

In 1972, a nationalist political party of Marxist ideology, the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe, was created by exiles in Equatorial Guinea with the intent of creating an independent nation. The Carnation Revolution in 1974 ended the Estado Novo dictatorship in Portugal and initiated a process of decolonization of the Portuguese colonies in Africa. On 12 July 1975, the new Portuguese regime granted independence to São Tomé and Príncipe. The government that took power in Portugal after a coup in 1974 agreed to hand over power to the MLSTP in 1975, and virtually all Portuguese colonists fled to Portugal, fearing an independent black and communist government. Independence was granted on July 12, 1975.

Independent São Tomé and Príncipe

The country’s first president, Manuel Pinto da Costa of the MLSTP, was elected in 1975. The government initially followed eastern European models of political and economic organization. Economic decline and popular dissatisfaction, however, led to a process of liberalization that started in 1985 and culminated in the establishment of a multiparty democracy in 1990. Pinto da Costa was succeeded in 1991 by Miguel Trovoada, a former prime minister who ran for the presidency unopposed in the first free elections in the country’s history. 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 (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. It regained an outright majority of seats in the November 1998 elections. The Government of São Tomé fully functions under a multiparty system. 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 September 3. Parliamentary elections were held in March 2002.

Under the terms of the constitution, de Menezes, like Trovoada before him, was prohibited from seeking a third term as president, and several candidates stood in the 2011 presidential election to succeed him. The two front-runners from the first round of voting, held in July, were former president Pinto da Costa, running as an independent candidate, and the speaker of the National Assembly, Evaristo Carvalho, who was the ADI’s candidate. When the two met again in the runoff election, held on August 7, 2011, Pinto da Costa garnered 52 percent of the vote to narrowly beat Carvalho. The two faced each other again, as well as three other candidates, in the presidential election held on July 17, 2016. This time Carvalho came out in front, narrowly winning the first round with 50.1 percent of the vote and therefore avoiding the need for a runoff election. Pinto da Costa came in second with 24.8 percent.