U.S. Department of State Background Note
Sao Tome and Principe
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The islands of Sao Tome and Principe, situated in the equatorial Atlantic about 300 and 250 kilometers (200 mi. and 150 mi.), respectively, off the northwest coast of Gabon, constitute Africa's smallest country. 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 50 kilometers (31 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 30 kilometers (19 mi.) long and 6 kilometers (4 mi.) wide. Swift streams radiating down the mountains through lush forest and cropland to the sea cross both islands.
At sea level, the climate is tropical--hot and humid with average yearly temperatures of about 27oC (80oF) and little daily variation. At the interior's higher altitudes, the average yearly temperature is 20oC (68oF), 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.
Of Sao Tome and Principe's total population, about 137,500 live on Sao Tome and 6,000 on Principe. All are descended from various ethnic groups that have migrated to the islands since 1485. Six groups are identifiable:
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.
The islands were first discovered by Portuguese navigators between 1469 and 1472. The first successful settlement of Sao Tome was established in 1493 by Alvaro 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 1900s, 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 the government officially observes its anniversary.
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 Salazar and 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. Changes to the constitution, including the legalization of opposition political parties, led to nonviolent, free, and transparent elections in 1991. 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 Sao Tome'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 Sao Tome 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 held in March 2002 led to a coalition government after no party gained a majority of seats. An attempted coup d'etat in July 2003 by a few members of the military and the Christian Democratic Front (mostly representative of former Sao Tomean volunteers from the apartheid-era Republic of South African Army) was reversed by international, including American, mediation without bloodshed. In September 2004, President de Menezes dismissed the Prime Minister and appointed a new cabinet, which was accepted by the majority party. In June 2005, following public discontent with oil exploration licenses granted in the Joint Development Zone (JDZ) with Nigeria, the MLSTP, the party with the largest number of seats in the National Assembly, and its coalition partners threatened to resign from government and force early parliamentary elections. After several days of negotiations, the President and the MLSTP agreed to form a new government and to avoid early elections. The new government included Maria Silveira, the well-respected head of the Central Bank, who served concurrently as Prime Minister and Finance Minister.
The March 2006 legislative elections went forward without a hitch, with President Menezes' party, the Movement for the Democratic Force of Change (MDFM), winning 23 seats and taking an unexpected lead ahead of MLSTP. MLSTP came in second with 19 seats, and the Independent Democratic Alliance (ADI) came in third with 12 seats. Amidst negotiations to form a new coalition government, President Menezes nominated a new prime minister and cabinet.
July 30, 2006 marked Sao Tome and Principe's fourth democratic, multiparty presidential elections. The elections were regarded by both local, and international observers as being free and fair and Incumbent Fradique de Menezes was announced the winner with approximately 60 % of the vote. Voter turnout was relatively high with 63% of the 91, 000 registered voters casting ballots.
Following the promulgation of a new constitution in 1990, 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. Independent candidates also were permitted to participate in the January 1991 legislative elections. The 55-member National Assembly is the supreme organ of the state and the highest legislative body. Its members are elected for a 4-year term and meet semiannually.
The president of the republic is elected to a 5-year term by direct universal suffrage and a secret ballot, and may hold office up to two consecutive terms. 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 round 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.
Justice is administered at the highest level by the Supreme Court. Formerly responsible to the National Assembly, the judiciary is now independent under the current 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 5 years.
Principal Government Officials
The Sao Tome and Principe Mission to the United Nations, which also is the Sao Tomean Embassy to the United States, is located at 400 Park Avenue, 7th floor, New York, NY 10022 (tel. 212-317-0580; email firstname.lastname@example.org).
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 and 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. A number of political parties actively participate in government and openly express their views. Freedom of the press is respected, and there are several independent newspapers in addition to the government bulletin. 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.
Since the 1800s, 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, which have since been privatized. The dominant crop on Sao Tome is cocoa, representing about 95% of exports. Other export crops include copra, palm kernels, and coffee.
Domestic food-crop production is inadequate to meet local consumption, so 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 11% of employment.
Following independence, the country had a centrally directed economy with most means of production owned and controlled by the state. The original constitution guaranteed a 'mixed economy,' with privately owned cooperatives combined with publicly owned property and means of production. In the 1980s and 1990s, the economy of Sao Tome encountered major difficulties. Economic growth stagnated, and cocoa exports dropped in both value and volume, creating large balance-of-payments deficits. Efforts to redistribute plantation land resulted in decreased cocoa production. At the same time, the international price of cocoa slumped.
In response to its economic downturn, the government undertook a series of far-reaching economic reforms. In 1987, the government implemented an International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment program, and invited greater private participation in management of the parastatals, as well as in the agricultural, commercial, banking, and tourism sectors. The focus of economic reform since the early 1990s has been widespread privatization, especially of the state-run agricultural and industrial sectors.
The Sao Tomean Government has traditionally been reliant on foreign assistance from various donors, including the UN Development Program, the World Bank, the European Union (EU), Portugal, Taiwan, and the African Development Bank. Sao Tome qualified for debt relief when it reached decision point under the IMF's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) in December 2000, but went off track on its poverty reduction program in early 2001. After four years and satisfactory performance on an interim staff-monitored program, the IMF approved a new three-year $4.3 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) program for Sao Tome in September 2005. The ambitious new program aims to reduce inflation to a single-digit number, address the country's macroeconomic imbalances, and substantially reduce poverty.
In 2001, Sao Tome and Nigeria reached agreement on joint exploration for petroleum in waters claimed by the two countries. After a lengthy series of negotiations, in April 2003 the joint development zone (JDZ) was opened for bids by international oil firms. The JDZ was divided into 9 blocks; the winning bids for block one, ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil, and the Norwegian firm Equity Energy, were announced in April 2004, with Sao Tome to take in 40% of the $123 million bid, and Nigeria the other 60%. Blocks 2 through 6 were allocated in June 2005. Nigeria and Sao Tome signed production sharing contracts with the winning bidders in November 2005. Chevron became the first firm to start exploratory drilling in January 2006.
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.
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 Gabon and the Republic of the Congo, also are good. In December 2000, Sao Tome signed the African Union treaty; the National Assembly later ratified it.
The Sao Tomean Government has generally maintained a foreign policy based on nonalignment and cooperation with any country willing to assist in its economic development. In recent years, it also has increasingly emphasized ties to the United States 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 George H.W. Bush.
U.S. relations with Sao Tome are excellent. In 1992, the Voice of America (VOA) and the Government of Sao Tome signed a long-term agreement for the establishment of a relay transmitter station in Sao Tome; VOA currently broadcasts to much of Africa from this facility. 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
The U.S. Embassy accredited to Sao Tome and Principe is located on the Boulevard de la Mer, B.P. 4000, Libreville, Gabon (tel: 241-762-003; fax: 241-745-507).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
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Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
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Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jun. 2007