World : Africa : Sao_Tomé_&_Prìncipe

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, and changes to the constitution--the legalization of opposition political parties--led to elections in 1991 that were nonviolent, free, and transparent. 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 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) in July 2003 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.


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 obtained foreign assistance from various donors, including the UN Development Program, the World Bank, the European Union (EU), Portugal, Taiwan, and the African Development Bank. In April 2000, the IMF approved a poverty reduction and growth facility for Sao Tome aimed at reducing inflation to 3% for 2001, raising ideal growth to 4%, and reducing the fiscal deficit. In late 2000, Sao Tome qualified for significant debt reduction under the IMF-World Bank’s heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative. The reduction is currently being reevaluated by the IMF, due to the attempted coup d’etat in July 2003 and subsequent emergency spending. Following the truce, the IMF decided to send a mission to Sao Tome to evaluate the macroeconomic state of the country. This evaluation is ongoing, reportedly pending oil legislation to determine how the government will manage incoming oil revenues.

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%. Bids on other blocks were still under consideration in October 2004. Sao Tome stands to gain significant revenue both from the bidding process and from follow-on production, should reserves in the area match expectations.

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.


The crime rate in Sao Tome & Principe is low compared to industrialized countries. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. In the UN reports, murders are referred to as "intentional homicides." Aggravated assaults are referred to as "major assaults," and larcenies are referred to as "thefts. According to the United Nations Seventh Annual Survey on Crime, crime recorded in police statistics shows the crime rate for the combined total of all Index crimes in Sao Tome & Principe to be 344.32, per 100,000 inhabitants in 1994. For intentional homicides, the rate in 1994 was 6.22 for Sao Tome & Principe. For major assaults, the rate in 1994 was 321.78 for Sao Tome & Principe. For rapes, the rate in 1994 was not reported for Sao Tome & Principe. For robberies, the rate in 1994 was not reported for Sao Tome Principe. For automobile theft, the rate in 1994 was not reported for Sao Tome Principe. The rate of burglaries for 1994 was 4.66 for Sao Tome & Principe. The rate for thefts in 1994 was 11.66. for Sao Tome &Principe.


Between 1990 and 1994 (Sixth Annual Survey) the rate for all recorded Index offenses decreased from 382.62 to 344.32 per 100,000 in Sao Tome & Principe, a decrease of 10.0%. The rate of intentional homicide decreased from 6.96 to 6.22, a decrease of 10.6%. The rate for major assaults decreased from 347.83 to 321.78, a decrease of 7.5%. The rate of burglaries decreased from 5.22 to 4.66, a decrease of 10.7%. Thefts decreased from 22.61 to 11.66, a decrease of 48.4%.


The Minister of National Defense and Internal Affairs supervises and controls the military services, the police, and immigration. In July, the Government raised military salaries 30 percent as part of a continuing effort to improve soldiers' living conditions and benefits following the 2003 coup attempt. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of security forces. There were no reports that security forces committed human rights abuses.

The police force, under the Ministry of Defense, was ineffective and widely viewed as corrupt. Efforts to reform the Criminal Investigation Police, a separate agency under the Ministry of Justice, were hampered during the year by a lack of financial and human resources.


The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained demonstrators.


The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judicial system at times was subject to political influence or manipulation. The Government set judicial salaries, which remained low, and suspicion persisted that judges may be tempted to accept bribes. During the year, the Government took steps to strengthen the judiciary.

The legal system was based on the Portuguese model. The court system had two levels: Circuit courts and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court was the appellate court of last resort. The Constitution provides for the right to fair public trial, the right of appeal, and the right to legal representation; however, in practice, the judicial infrastructure suffered from severe budgetary constraints, inadequate facilities, and a shortage of trained judges and lawyers, which caused delays from 3 to 9 months in bringing cases to court and greatly hindered investigations in criminal cases. There were no reports of political prisoners.


The Constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of punishment. However, there have been reports in the past that security forces at times beat and abused detainees in custody. There were no reports that police beat detainees during the year. Prison conditions were harsh but not life threatening. Facilities were overcrowded, and food was inadequate. Women and men were held separately, and juveniles were separated from adults. Because of overcrowding, some pretrial prisoners were held with convicted prisoners. The Government permitted human rights monitors to make prison visits; however, no visits were made during the year.


While the extent of the problem was unknown, domestic violence against women occurred, including rape. Although women have the right to legal recourse-–including against spouses–-many were reluctant to bring legal action or were ignorant of their rights under the law. Tradition inhibited women from taking domestic disputes outside the family.

The Constitution stipulates that women and men have equal political, economic, and social rights. While many women have access to opportunities in education, business, and government, in practice, women still encountered significant societal discrimination. Traditional beliefs left women with most child-rearing responsibilities and with less access to education and to professions; a high teenage pregnancy rate further reduced economic opportunities for women, an estimated 70 percent of households were headed by women.


A number of government and donor-funded programs operated to improve conditions for children, notably an ongoing malaria control project and acquisition of school and medical equipment.Education was universal, compulsory through the 6th grade, and tuition-free to the age of 15. In practice, some rural students stopped attending school after the 4th grade. Students were responsible for buying books and uniforms; however, the Government provided both free to children from poor families. Enrollment in primary school was estimated at 74 percent. After grade 6 or age 15, whichever comes first, education is no longer free; transportation and tuition costs prevented some poor or rural-based students from attending secondary school. There were no differences between the treatment of girls and boys in regard to education.

Nutrition, maternity and infant care, and access to basic health services have improved, especially in urban areas. Mistreatment of children was not widespread; however, there were few protections for orphans and abandoned children. During the year, a social-services program tried to collect street children in three centers where they received classes and training. Conditions at the center were good; however, because of overcrowding, some children were sent back to their families at night, and these children frequently ran away. Children who stayed full time at the center did not run away.

There is Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment. Employers in the formal wage sector generally respected the legally mandated minimum employment age of 18; however, child labor was a problem. The law prohibits minors from working more than 7 hours a day and 35 hours a week. Children were engaged in labor in subsistence agriculture, on plantations, and in informal commerce, sometimes from an early age. Although no cases of child labor abuses have been prosecuted, the law states that employers of underage workers can be fined


The law prohibits trafficking in persons, and there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.


Internet research assisted by Anabel Becerril and Susie Watkins

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