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Country Profile

Area: Total area 1,001 sq km
Population: 179, 000 (World Fact Book est. 2011)
Capital city: São Tomé
Languages: Portuguese, and Creole dialects, of which Lungwa Santome, is the main lingua franca; others are Angolar and Lungwiye (on Principe).
Religion: Catholic 70.3%; Evangelical 3.4%; New Apostolic 2%; Adventist 1.8% (2001 census)
Currency: 1 Dobra = 100 Centimos
Major political parties: Acção Democratic Independent (ADI) - 26 seats; followed by Movimento de Libertacao de São Tomé e Príncipe (MLSTP) - 21 seats; Partido Convergencia Democratica (PCD) - 7 seats; Movimento Democratico Força da Mundança (MDFM) - 1 seat.
Head of State: President Fradique de Menezes (elected July 2006). President de Menezes will step down on 3 September 2011 to be replaced by President-elect Manuel Pinto da Costa
Prime Minister: Patrice Emery Trovoada, (appointed August 2010)
Foreign Affairs Minister: Manuel Salvador dos Ramos (appointed August 2010)
Membership of international organisations: UN, African Union, Community of Portuguese speaking countries (CPLP) and African Countries with Portuguese as the Official Language (PALOP), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the overlapping Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), and the Guinea Gulf Commission.

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GDP: US$196 million (est. 31 December 2010)
GDP per capita: US$1,800 (est. 2010)
Annual growth: 4.5% (est 2010)
Inflation: 13% (World Fact Book est. 2010)
Major industries: Cocoa, copra, palm oil. Possibility of future hydrocarbon exploitation. Increased investment in tourism.

The economy of this micro-state is still dominated by the export of cocoa which represents 95% of exports by value. The plantations, nationalised at independence, have since been re-privatised as part of economic reforms introduced in the late 1980s. There are hopes that the economy could change dramatically due to possible hydrocarbon exploitation. Several exploration blocks were awarded in 2004 and 2005, but oil production is not likely to being until 2014.
The oil fields are developed jointly with Nigeria in a Joint Development Zone (JDZ) and managed by a Joint Development Authority (JDA) under an agreement between the two countries signed in 2001 that settled a long-standing maritime boundary dispute. Under the agreement, Nigeria will take 60% of any profits and São Tomé 40%. Oil licensing has been controversial. Certain companies (Exxon Mobil and ERHC) were given preferential rights several years ago. The government has since renegotiated more favourable terms to other companies but alleged irregularities in the adjudication process for awarding the licences delayed the final award of the blocks.

Apart from managing future oil revenues, São Tomé’s economic policy is tied to its National Poverty Reduction Strategy 2003-2010. This will require external funding of some $30.5 million per annum.

The Paris Club forgave São Tomé and Principe $24.5 million of debt in May 2007. This was additional to previous substantial debt write-offs by the World Bank and African Development Fund. The country’s ratio of debt to exports of goods and services remains high at 337% in 2007 but is vastly improved from a figure of 1,655% in 2002-4. The Government is hopeful that its remaining debt commitments of around $80 million - owed to bilateral creditors – will also be forgiven.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) (

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São Tomé was part of Portugal’s African possessions for 500 years. It was developed as a plantation economy, initially for sugar and later for cocoa, taking advantage of the fertile volcanic soils. By 1908, São Tomé had become the largest producer of cocoa in the world. Uninhabited when the first Portuguese settlers came, the islands were populated by the introduction of slave labour from Angola and neighbouring countries. Following the abolition of slavery in 1876, Portugal used forced contract labour from its other African colonies to work on the plantations. The makeup of the country’s population reflects that history: many are mixed-blood or mestico, while others are direct descendants of African slaves.

The population had agitated for independence from Portugal from 1960, mainly through the activities of the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Principe (originally known as CLSTP in 1960, becoming MLSTP in 1972). But it was not until a military coup in Portugal in 1974 that the principle of independence was conceded. A transitional government was set up, elections were held for a 16-member constituent assembly (for which all seats were won by the MLSTP) leading to independence on 12 July 1975.

The constitution subsequently adopted in November 1975 vested absolute authority in the President and the Polit Bureau of the MLSTP. Radical socialist policies were introduced, all land and property was nationalised, and the economy was run on central planning doctrine. These hardline policies soon produced splits in the Party forcing a number of moderate politicians into exile. Two alleged coup attempts in 1978 and 1980, involving exiles, further underlined the ideological and personal divisions within the ruling party. In the late 1980s, the MLSTP changed direction, initiating a series of economic reforms together with liberalisation within the Party itself. This paved the way for the return of the exiles. But there were further coup attempts in 1995 and July 2003, the latter over disagreements concerning the government’s handling of oil exploration licensing.

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São Tomé and Principe’s initial post-independence relationships were forged with the Soviet Bloc and Cuba, but since the mid-1980s the country has sought to widen partnerships particularly with Western donor countries and institutions as part of its economic reform programme. Its closest friendships are with the other Portuguese-speaking African countries and with Portugal itself. Angola is considered a vital partner having maintained a battalion of soldiers to guard the Presidency following an alleged coup in 1978. Recently, São Tomé and Principe’s relationship with Nigeria has grown significantly as a result of their mutual oil interests with President Obasanjo personally stepping in to prevent a military coup in mid- 2003. Despite opposition from the Government and Parliament, São Tomé recognised Taiwan in 1997. Relations with China are poor as a result.

African Union (
CEEAC-ECCAS website (

Relations with the UK

São Tomé and Principe has cordial relations with the UK. There is no resident diplomatic representation by either party. There is no DFID aid programme with the country but assistance is given through the EU. Trade is limited. UK exports were valued at £0.1 million in 2009 and UK imports amounted to under £0.1 million in the same year.

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The islands state of São Tomé and Principe is the smallest country in Africa after the Seychelles. It is located in the Gulf of Guinea just north of the Equator and 300kms west of Gabon. It comprises two islands – São Tomé (859 sq kms) and Principe (142 sq kms) and some uninhabited rocky islets. The mountainous islands are of volcanic origin, and the rugged terrain renders large parts of the islands inaccessible. The climate is tropical with 5,100 mm of rainfall on the southwest slopes falling to 1,020 mm per annum on the northern lowlands.

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São Tomé has been highly dependent on donor assistance since independence. Up to now, some 70% of its tiny budget is externally supported. The country is the recipient of one of the highest per capita amounts of development assistance in the world. The IMF and others have used this leverage to encourage economic reform. There is now concern among some that the coming oil wealth will weaken the government’s pursuit of good economic governance. With a small population of fewer than 200,000 its socio-economic indicators are much better than most African countries. It records life expectancy of 66.1 years and an 89% adult literacy rate. On the UNDP Human Development Index for 2010, Sao Tome and Principe ranked 129 out of 169 countries. An estimated 54% of the population live below the poverty line.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (
International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) (,,menuPK:3046081~pagePK:64168427~piPK:64168435~theSitePK:3046012,00.html)

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The one-party system which had prevailed since independence was abandoned in 1990 when a new constitution (amended later in 2003) providing for multipartyism was adopted following a referendum. The new constitution also introduced a limit of two terms of five years on the tenure of the President. It provided for a 55-member National Assembly together with regional assemblies. The vanguard role of the old single party, the MLSTP, was dropped accordingly. The first multi-party elections under the new constitution took place in January 1991 and were won by the newly formed opposition party, while the Presidency was won by a moderate politician newly returned from exile. In 1994, the National Assembly granted political and administrative autonomy to the island of Principe. It has a Regional Assembly which is accountable to São Tomé.

Politics is dominated by a small number of leading families. Executive power is constitutionally divided between President and Prime Minister. This has proved to be an unstable balance. Since 2001, there have been at least eight changes of government. The Army has also played a destabilising role from time to time, most recently in July 2003 when President Obasanjo of Nigeria played a key role in restoring calm.

The outgoing President, Fradique de Menezes, (MDFM/PCD coalition), was elected in July 2001, but the March 2002 parliamentary elections produced no clear majority for any of the parties. The result was a series of co-habitation governments which ended with the March 2006 legislative elections when the President’s MDFM/PCD alliance won 23 seats in Parliament, while the opposition alliance led by MLSTP/PSD won 20 seats which allowed the President to appoint a Prime Minister from his own party coalition for the first time since 2001.

The legislative elections in August 2010 resulted in the Acção Democratic Independent (ADI) party winning the largest number of seats. Its leader Patrice Emery Trovoada was subsequently appointed Prime Minister.

Presidential elections took place in August 2011. Incumbent President Fradique de Menezes had served the maximum two terms and could not constitutionally seek a third term. The election was won by former President Manuel Pinto da Costa (1975 to 1991) who was running as an independent candidate. Da Costa beat the API candidate Evaristo Carvalho by 53% to 47% in a second round runoff election. Da Costa will take office on 3 September 2011.

BBC News Country Profile: São Tomé and Principe (

BBC News: Africa (

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The country has a generally good human rights record and there is an independent press. Concerns exist about the harshness of prison conditions, police corruption and the occasional manipulation of the judiciary. The government responds to complaints by human rights groups. Working conditions on many of the cocoa plantations – the main wage employment sector - remain harsh, although land reform has given peasant farmers plots for subsistence.

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Last Updated: August 2011

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