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Sao Tome and Principe

Photos of Sao Tome and Principe

Introduction

Background

Portugal discovered and colonized the uninhabited islands in the late 15th century, setting up a sugar-based economy that gave way to coffee and cocoa in the 19th century - all grown with African plantation slave labor, a form of which lingered into the 20th century. While independence was achieved in 1975, democratic reforms were not instituted until the late 1980s. The country held its first free elections in 1991, but frequent internal wrangling between the various political parties precipitated repeated changes in leadership and four failed, non-violent coup attempts in 1995, 1998, 2003, and 2009. In 2012, three opposition parties combined in a no confidence vote to bring down the majority government of former Prime Minister Patrice TROVOADA, but in 2014, legislative elections returned him to the office. President Evaristo CARVALHO, of the same political party as Prime Minister TROVOADA, was elected in September 2016, marking a rare instance in which the positions of president and prime minister are held by the same party. Prime Minister TROVOADA resigned at the end of 2018 and was replaced by Jorge BOM JESUS. New oil discoveries in the Gulf of Guinea may attract increased attention to the small island nation.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

Central Africa, islands in the Gulf of Guinea, just north of the Equator, west of Gabon

Area

total: 964 sq km

land: 964 sq km

water: 0 sq km

country comparison to the world: 184

Area - comparative

more than five times the size of Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

209 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

measured from claimed archipelagic baselines

Climate

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

Terrain

volcanic, mountainous

Elevation

lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m

highest point: Pico de Sao Tome 2,024 m

Natural resources

fish, hydropower

Land use

agricultural land: 50.7% (2018 est.)

arable land: 9.1% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 40.6% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 1% (2018 est.)

forest: 28.1% (2018 est.)

other: 21.2% (2018 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 as shown in this population distribution map

Geography - note

the second-smallest African country (after the Seychelles); the two main islands form part of a chain of extinct volcanoes and both are mountainous

People and Society

Nationality

noun: Sao Tomean(s)

adjective: Sao Tomean

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)

Languages

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% (2012 est.)

note: shares sum to more than 100% because some respondents gave more than one answer on the census

Religions

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.)

Demographic profile

Sao Tome and Principe’s youthful age structure – more than 60% of the population is under the age of 25 – and high fertility rate ensure 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 have 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.

Age structure

0-14 years: 39.77% (male 42,690/female 41,277)

15-24 years: 21.59% (male 23,088/female 22,487)

25-54 years: 31.61% (male 32,900/female 33,834)

55-64 years: 4.17% (male 4,095/female 4,700)

65 years and over: 2.87% (male 2,631/female 3,420) (2020 est.)

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 81

youth dependency ratio: 75.6

elderly dependency ratio: 5.4

potential support ratio: 18.4 (2020 est.)

Median age

total: 19.3 years

male: 18.9 years

female: 19.7 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 204

Birth rate

28.94 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 33

Death rate

6.33 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 141

Net migration rate

-7.57 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 216

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 as shown in this population distribution map

Urbanization

urban population: 74.4% of total population (2020)

rate of urbanization: 3.33% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)

Major urban areas - population

80,000 SAO TOME (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.03 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 1.03 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 0.97 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 0.87 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.77 male(s)/female

total population: 1 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Mother's mean age at first birth

19.4 years (2008/09 est.)

note: median age at first birth among women 25-29

Maternal mortality rate

130 deaths/100,000 live births (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 62

Infant mortality rate

total: 45.3 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 48.72 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 41.77 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 32

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 66.72 years

male: 65.14 years

female: 68.36 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 190

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 100% of population

rural: 88.4% of population

total: 96.8% of population

unimproved: urban: 0% of population

rural: 11.6% of population

total: 3.2% of population (2017 est.)

Physicians density

0.05 physicians/1,000 population (2017)

Hospital bed density

2.9 beds/1,000 population (2011)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 54.4% of population

rural: 35.3% of population

total: 49.1% of population

unimproved: urban: 45.6% of population

rural: 64.7% of population

total: 50.9% of population (2017 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: high (2020)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever

vectorborne diseases: malaria and dengue fever

water contact diseases: schistosomiasis

Literacy

definition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 92.8%

male: 96.2%

female: 89.5% (2018)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 12 years

male: 12 years

female: 13 years (2015)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe

conventional short form: Sao Tome and Principe

local long form: Republica Democratica de Sao Tome e Principe

local short form: Sao Tome e Principe

etymology: Sao Tome was named after Saint THOMAS the Apostle by the Portuguese who discovered the island on 21 December 1470 (or 1471), the saint's feast day; Principe is a shortening of the original Portuguese name of "Ilha do Principe" (Isle of the Prince) referring to the Prince of Portugal to whom duties on the island's sugar crop were paid

Government type

semi-presidential republic

Capital

name: Sao Tome

geographic coordinates: 0 20 N, 6 44 E

time difference: UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: named after Saint Thomas the Apostle

Administrative divisions

6 districts (distritos, singular - distrito), 1 autonomous region* (regiao autonoma); Agua Grande, Cantagalo, Caue, Lemba, Lobata, Me-Zochi, Principe*

Independence

12 July 1975 (from Portugal)

National holiday

Independence Day, 12 July (1975)

Constitution

history: approved 5 November 1975

amendments: proposed by the National Assembly; passage requires two-thirds majority vote by the Assembly; the Assembly can propose to the president of the republic that an amendment be submitted to a referendum; revised several times, last in 2006

Legal system

mixed legal system of civil law based on the Portuguese model and customary law

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt

Citizenship

citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only: at least one parent must be a citizen of Sao Tome and Principe

dual citizenship recognized: no

residency requirement for naturalization: 5 years

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: President Evaristo CARVALHO (since 3 September 2016)

head of government: Prime Minister Jorge Bom JESUS (since 3 December 2018)

cabinet: Council of Ministers proposed by the prime minister, appointed by the president

elections/appointments: president directly elected by absolute majority popular vote in 2 rounds if needed for a 5-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 7 July 2016 and 7 August 2016 (next to be held in July 2021); prime minister chosen by the National Assembly and approved by the president

election results: Evaristo CARVALHO elected president; percent of vote - Evaristo CARVALHO (ADI) 49.8%, Manuel Pinto DA COSTA (independent) 24.8%, Maria DAS NEVES (MLSTP-PSD) 24.1%; note - first round results for CARVALHO were revised downward from just over 50%, prompting the 7 August runoff; however, on 1 August 2016 DA COSTA withdrew from the runoff, citing voting irregularities, and CARVALHO was declared the winner

Legislative branch

description: unicameral National Assembly or Assembleia Nacional (55 seats; members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by closed party-list proportional representation vote to serve 4-year terms)

elections: last held on 7 October 2018 (next to be held in October 2022)

election results: percent of vote by party - ADI 41.8%, MLSTP/PSD 40.3%, PCD-GR 9.5%, MCISTP 2.1%, other 6.3%; seats by party - ADI 25, MLSTP-PSD 23, PCD-MDFM-UDD 5, MCISTP 2; composition - men 45, women 10, percent of women 18.2%

Judicial branch

highest courts: Supreme Court or Supremo Tribunal Justica (consists of 5 judges); Constitutional Court or Tribunal Constitucional (consists of 5 judges, 3 of whom are from the Supreme Court)

judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court judges appointed by the National Assembly; judge tenure NA; Constitutional Court judges nominated by the president and elected by the National Assembly for 5-year terms

subordinate courts: Court of First Instance; Audit Court

Political parties and leaders

Force for Democratic Change Movement or MDFM [Fradique Bandeira Melo DE MENEZES]
Independent Democratic Action or ADI [vacant]
Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe-Social Democratic Party or MLSTP-PSD [Aurelio MARTINS]
Party for Democratic Convergence-Reflection Group or PCD-GR [Leonel Mario D'ALVA]
other small parties

International organization participation

ACP, AfDB, AOSIS, AU, CD, CEMAC, CPLP, EITI (candidate country), FAO, G-77, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM (observer), IPU, ITU, ITUC (NGOs), MIGA, NAM, OIF, OPCW, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, Union Latina, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO (observer)

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Carlos Filomeno Azevedo Agostinho das NEVES (since 3 December 2013)

chancery: 675 Third Avenue, Suite 1807, New York, NY 10017

telephone: [1] (212) 651-8116

FAX: [1] (212) 651-8117

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: the US does not have an embassy in Sao Tome and Principe; the US Ambassador to Gabon is accredited to Sao Tome and Principe

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; green stands for the country's rich vegetation, red recalls the struggle for independence, and yellow represents cocoa, one of the country's main agricultural products; the two stars symbolize the two main islands

note: uses the popular Pan-African colors of Ethiopia

National symbol(s)

palm tree; national colors: green, yellow, red, black

National anthem

name: "Independencia total" (Total Independence)

lyrics/music: Alda Neves DA GRACA do Espirito Santo/Manuel dos Santos Barreto de Sousa e ALMEIDA

note: adopted 1975

Economy

Economic overview

The economy of São Tomé and Príncipe 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 were enacted that aim to improve the business climate.

São Tomé and Príncipe has had difficulty servicing its external debt and has relied heavily on concessional aid and debt rescheduling. In April 2011, the country completed a Threshold Country Program with The Millennium Challenge Corporation to help increase tax revenues, reform customs, and improve the business environment. In 2016, Sao Tome and Portugal signed a five-year cooperation agreement worth approximately $64 million, some of which will be provided as loans. In 2017, China and São Tomé signed a mutual cooperation agreement in areas such as infrastructure, health, and agriculture worth approximately $146 million over five years.

Considerable potential exists for 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 São Tomé and Príncipe's 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. Restricteded 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 year extended credit facility. Deforestation, coastal erosion, poor waste management, and misuse of natural resources also are challenging issues.

Real GDP growth rate

3.9% (2017 est.)

4.2% (2016 est.)

3.8% (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 76

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

7.8% (2018 est.)

5.6% (2017 est.)

5.7% (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 198

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$853 million (2019 est.)

$842 million (2018 est.)

$818 million (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2010 dollars

country comparison to the world: 210

Real GDP per capita

$3,970 (2019 est.)

$3,993 (2018 est.)

$3,953 (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2010 dollars

country comparison to the world: 183

Gross national saving

18.7% of GDP (2017 est.)

21% of GDP (2016 est.)

19.3% of GDP (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 117

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 11.8% (2017 est.)

industry: 14.8% (2017 est.)

services: 73.4% (2017 est.)

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 81.4% (2017 est.)

government consumption: 17.6% (2017 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 33.4% (2017 est.)

investment in inventories: 0% (2017 est.)

exports of goods and services: 7.9% (2017 est.)

imports of goods and services: -40.4% (2017 est.)

Ease of Doing Business Index scores

Overall score: 45 (2020)

Starting a Business score: 78.2 (2020)

Trading score: 66 (2020)

Enforcement score: 28.8 (2020)

Agricultural products

plantains, oil palm fruit, coconuts, taro, bananas, fruit, cocoa, yams, cassava, maize

Industries

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

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 26.1%

industry: 21.4%

services: 52.5% (2014 est.)

Budget

revenues: 103 million (2017 est.)

expenditures: 112.4 million (2017 est.)

Public debt

88.4% of GDP (2017 est.)

93.1% of GDP (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 27

Fiscal year

calendar year

Current account balance

-$32 million (2017 est.)

-$23 million (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 76

Exports

$15.6 million (2017 est.)

$9.31 million (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 215

Exports - partners

Singapore 30%, Switzerland 24%, France 11%, Poland 7%, Belgium 7%, United States 5% (2019)

Exports - commodities

gas turbines, cocoa beans, aircraft parts, iron products, chocolate (2019)

Imports

$127.7 million (2017 est.)

$119.1 million (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 213

Imports - partners

Portugal 41%, Angola 17%, China 8% (2019 )

Imports - commodities

refined petroleum, cars, rice, flavored water, postage stamps (2019)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold

$58.95 million (31 December 2017 est.)

$61.5 million (31 December 2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 185

Debt - external

$292.9 million (31 December 2017 est.)

$308.5 million (31 December 2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 184

Exchange rates

dobras (STD) per US dollar -

22,689 (2017 est.)

21,797 (2016 est.)

22,149 (2015 est.)

22,091 (2014 est.)

18,466 (2013 est.)

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 71% (2019)

electrification - urban areas: 87% (2019)

electrification - rural areas: 25% (2019)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 4,614

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 2.22 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 205

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 160,189

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 77.08 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 188

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: local telephone network of adequate quality with most lines connected to digital switches; mobile cellular superior choice to landland; dial-up quality low; broadband expensive (2018)

domestic: fixed-line 2 per 100 and mobile-cellular teledensity 77 telephones per 100 persons (2019)

international: country code - 239; landing points for the Ultramar GE and ACE submarine cables from South Africa to over 20 West African countries and Europe; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) (2019)

note: the COVID-19 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated

Broadcast media

1 government-owned TV station; 1 government-owned radio station; 3 independent local radio stations authorized in 2005 with 2 operating at the end of 2006; transmissions of multiple international broadcasters are available

Internet users

total: 61,193

percent of population: 29.93% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 192

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 1,557

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 1 (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 190

Transportation

National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 1 (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 1

Airports - with paved runways

total: 2 (2019)

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1

914 to 1,523 m: 1

Roadways

total: 1,300 km (2018)

paved: 230 km (2018)

unpaved: 1,070 km (2018)

country comparison to the world: 177

Merchant marine

total: 17

by type: general cargo 12, other 5 (2020)

country comparison to the world: 148

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Sao Tome

Military and Security

Military and security forces

Armed Forces of Sao Tome and Principe (Forcas Armadas de Sao Tome e Principe, FASTP): Army, Coast Guard of Sao Tome e Principe (Guarda Costeira de Sao Tome e Principe, GCSTP; also called "Navy"), Presidential Guard, National Guard (2021)

Military service age and obligation

18 is the legal minimum age for compulsory military service; 17 is the legal minimum age for voluntary service (2019)

Maritime threats

the International Maritime Bureau reports the territorial and offshore waters in the Niger Delta and Gulf of Guinea remain a very high risk for piracy and armed robbery of ships; in 2020, there were 98 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea region; although a 24% decrease from the total number of incidents in 2019, it included all three hijackings and 9 of 11 ships fired upon worldwide; while boarding and attempted boarding to steal valuables from ships and crews are the most common types of incidents, almost a third of all incidents involve a hijacking and/or kidnapping; in 2020, a record 130 crew members were kidnapped in 22 separate incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, representing 95% of kidnappings worldwide; approximately 51% of all incidents of piracy and armed robbery are taking place off Nigeria, which is a decrease from the 71% in 2019 and an indication pirates are traveling further to target vessels; Nigerian pirates are well armed and very aggressive, operating as far as 200 nm offshore; the Maritime Administration of the US Department of Transportation has issued a Maritime Advisory (2021-002 - Gulf of Guinea-Piracy/Armed Robbery/Kidnapping for Ransom) effective 9 January 2021, which states in part, "Piracy, armed robbery, and kidnapping for ransom continue to serve as significant threats to US-flagged vessels transiting or operating in the Gulf of Guinea.”

Military and security service personnel strengths

the FASTP has approximately 4-500 personnel (2020)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the FASTP is lightly and poorly armed (2020)

Transnational Issues