Sao Tome and Principe History

Sao Tome and Principe History

The two islands were discovered by Portuguese seafarers in 1470, and were probably uninhabited until then. The larger of the two islands was later named after the day of the landing (December 21) and its patron saint, St. Thomas, while the island of Pr¨ªncipe was named after the title of the Portuguese throne prince.

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Shortly after their discovery, both islands were used as convict islands. Around 20 years later, the Portuguese began to plant sugar cane plantations with the help of convicts and black slaves. Large parts of the tropical rainforest, which almost completely covered both islands, was cut down for this.

In the 16th century, the islands of São Tom¨¦ and Pr¨ªncipe were important stopovers for the Portuguese slave ships on their way to Central and South America. In the 17th century, the islands fell briefly into the hands of the Netherlands, but were retaken by Portugal in 1645. At the beginning of the 19th century, the cultivation of sugar cane was stopped. Instead, they started growing coffee. After the official ban on slavery (on São Tom¨¦ and Pr¨ªncipe in 1876), cocoa was cultivated in addition to coffee. At the turn of the century, the islands were the largest cocoa producer in the world.

Despite the abolition of slavery, the working conditions for the black workers (contract workers) on the plantations changed little, which led to social tensions. In the 1950s, there were several uprisings by plantation workers against the Portuguese landlords, which were put down by them. In 1951 São Tom¨¦ and Pr¨ªncipe, as well as the other Portuguese colonies, were declared overseas territories, which included limited internal self-government. The descendants of the black African slaves, who made up the majority of the population, still had no civil rights. In 1954 a so-called “native statute” came into force, which allowed black Africans under certain conditions (regular income, knowledge of Portuguese), to acquire civil rights and thereby the status of “Assimilados”.

In 1961, forced labor on São Tom¨¦ and Pr¨ªncipe was abolished and all citizens were granted Portuguese civil rights. According to AbbreviationFinder, due to the high proportion of illiterates, a large part of the population was still excluded from the right to vote. In 1972 Manuel Pinto da Costa founded the independence movement “Movimento de Libertação de São Tom¨¦ e Pr¨ªncipe” (MLSTP). The islands received full internal self-government a year later, and after the “Carnation Revolution” in Portugal in 1974 and the fall of the government there, the two islands gained independence in July 1975 as the “Rep¨²blica Democr¨¢tica de São Tom¨¦ e Pr¨ªncipe” .

President Manuel Pinto da Costa, head of the Miguel Trovoada government, became the head of state. The socialist-oriented MLSTP was declared a unity party and the plantations nationalized, after which most Europeans left the islands. In 1978, Prime Minister Miguel Trovoada was deposed and arrested on charges of attempting a coup. After his release in 1981, he went into exile in Portugal.

Due to the emigration of the Europeans, the islands lost a large part of their skilled workers. Production on the now nationalized plantations decreased, which led to a deterioration in the economic situation of the population. Accordingly, calls for more democracy increased and there were a number of failed attempts at coup d’¨¦tat against the government of Costa in the 1980s.

In 1990 there was a referendum for a new constitution, in which a multi-party system was laid down. In the first free elections in April 1991, Miguel Trovoada, who had returned from exile in Portugal, was elected President. The “Partido de Converg¨ºncia Democr¨¢tica” (PCD, Democratic Rapprochement Party) won the parliamentary elections. Its leader, Daniel Daio, was appointed head of government by the President of the Republic (from May 1992 Noberto Costa Alegr¨¦, PCD). The reprivatization of cocoa plantations was one of the first measures taken by the new government. In 1996, President Miguel Trovoado was reaffirmed. In the same year, the island of Principe received its own regional parliament.

The country’s economy continued to focus on the cultivation of cocoa, which accounted for almost 90% of the export volume. The island nation was heavily dependent on financial aid and food deliveries from abroad (around 80% of food needs had to be imported). The government’s external debt was correspondingly high.

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Presidential elections were held in São Tom¨¦ and Principe in July 2001. After Miguel Trovoado was unable to stand for election after two terms, the former head of state Manuel Pinto da Costa (president from 1975 to 1991) and the candidate of the opposition party ADI, Fradique de Menezes, competed against each other. In September 2001, Fradique de Menezes was sworn in as the new President of São Tom¨¦ and Pr¨ªncipe.

In January 2002, São Tom¨¦ and Pr¨ªncipe and Nigeria signed an agreement to jointly exploit oil reserves in a previously contested area in the Gulf of Guinea (Nigeria is to receive 60%, São Tom¨¦ and Pr¨ªncipe 40% of the income).

A military coup led by Major Fernando Pereira took place in July 2003 while President Fradique de Menezes was on a state visit. The coup ended without blood after eight days under pressure from the international community. The population was then given greater involvement in government decisions and the government was restructured. In the 2006 presidential election, incumbent de Menezes was confirmed in office. In August 2011, Manuel Pinto da Costa, the first president after independence in 1974, finally prevailed in the presidential elections. The start of oil production has always been postponed. Until then at least, the country will continue to depend on the support of the international donor community and must implement rigid austerity measures. Last but not least, the very frequent changes of government are to blame for the country.

Sao Tome and Principe President