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The Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe is an island country in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Central Africa. The country is made up of two archipelagos, about 200 miles and 150 miles, respectively, of the northwest coast of Gabon.

After Seychelles, São Tomé and Príncipe is the second least populous country in Africa, with a population under 200,000 and a land area of less than 400 square miles, approximately one-third the size of the US state of Rhode Island.

São Tomé is 31 miles long and 20 miles wide, and the most mountainous of the two main islands. Principe is about 19 miles long and 4 miles wide. On both islands, swift streams run down the mountains, through rich forests, emptying into the sea. At sea level, temperatures are tropical, averaging about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and with little seasonal variation. On its higher mountains, temperatures fall to an average of 68 degrees, and cooler at night.

The islands were uninhabited when they were discovered by the Portuguese in the late 1400s, and its people are descended from those who migrated to the islands since it was settled in 1485, as well as from slaves who were freed when slavery was abolished.

After settling the islands in the late 1400s and early 1500s, the Portuguese were soon exporting sugar, worked by African slave labor. After sugar cultivation declined in about a century, the islands were used for little more than a refueling point until the early 1800s, when coffee and cocoa production were introduced. Soon São Tomé became the world's largest cocoa producer, as Portuguese companies and absent landlords cultivate most of the usable farmland. Even after slave labor was officially abolished in 1876, forced labor continued until the mid-1900s. Labor unrest led to the massacre of several hundred African laborers in 1953 by the Portuguese.

An independence movement resulted. Unable to safely remain on the islands, the liberation movement was carried out from Gabon. The independence movement grew during the 1960s and, after the overthrow of the dictatorship in Portugal in 1974, the new Portuguese government was willing to let them go. After a brief transitional government, São Tomé and Príncipe became independent in 1975.

São Tomé and Príncipe's first elected president established a one-party state and served until 1990, upon which the country established a democratic system, legalizing opposition parties, and holding free elections. An attempted coup in 2003 was reversed through international mediation without bloodshed. Although there has been political discontent, including early resignations, and a collapse of the government in 2008, presidents have succeeded one another without bloodshed. In 2009, there was an attempted coup. The plotters were imprisoned, but later pardoned by the president.

Under the São Tomé and Príncipe constitution, its 55-member National Assembly is the supreme organ of the state, whose members are elected for a 4-year term. The President is elected to a 5-year term and is limited to two consecutive terms. The party that wins a majority in the legislature names the prime minister, subject to the approval of the president. Cabinet members are named by the prime minister. Its judiciary system is independent, and the Supreme Court is the highest court. There are five municipal districts on São Tomé and one on Principe.

The economy of the country is dominated by cocoa production, which represents about 95% of its exports, others including copra, palm kernels, and coffee. Given that 90% of its cultivated areas are used to grow export crops, the people of the island cannot grow enough food to meet their needs, so there is a need for food imports. Fishing and light manufacturing, processing locally grown agricultural products, are also part of the country's economy. Although the islands have a potential for tourism, it has been largely untapped.

Portugal continues to be a major trading partner, and particularly a source of imports. The official language of the islands is Portuguese, and it is spoken by more than 98% of islanders, although many also speak Cape Verde Creole. French and English are taught in schools on the islands. Most islanders are Roman Catholic, but there are also Seventh-day Adventists and evangelical Protestants. The Muslim population is small but growing.

Education is compulsory for only four years, and there is a shortage of teachers and classrooms on the islands. Nevertheless, almost 90% of the population is literate.

The vast majority of the country's population are on São Tomé. Principe has a population of only about 6,000, who largely inhabit the northern half of the island, while the southern part is heavily forested. The island has only one town, Santo Antonio, as well as some small villages, few of which are connected to its road network.

 

 

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