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A Short History of Sao Tome and Principe




The second smallest African state of Sao Tome and Principe came to life only after the Portuguese set soil and claimed the land at around 1470. The Portuguese saw the commercial potential of the islands and so they inhabited and made a base out of it. Originally, the island was named as Santo Antäo but was later renamed Ilha do Principe.in honor of the crowned prince who happens to be the beneficiary of the duties from Portugal’s offshore sugar plantations.

The first settlement was erected by Alvaro Caminha in what is now the island of Sao Tome through a grant from the crown in 1493. The island of Principe was also later populated in a similar arrangement at around 1950. The desolation of the island proved to be the primary difficulty in attracting settlers and so the first wave of inhabitants of the islands were mostly convicts from the mainland or the undesirables as they call them. These unwanted segment of society also consisted of Jews as Catholicism in Portugal back then was in a fever pitch. Soon thereafter, the settlers found the volcanic soil to be good for growing sugar and so it wasn’t long before that sugar was cultivated. By the middle of the 16th century, the island became Africa’s top sugar exporter. Because the economy of the two islands became so large, Sao Tome and Principe’s administration were turned over to the Portuguese crown in 1522 and 1573 respectively.

Sao Tome and Principe’s sugar economy however was challenged heavily by other colonies from the Western Hemisphere leading to its gradual decline for the next 100 years. Because sugar was no longer that profitable, the Portuguese transformed the island into a slave trade hub during the 17th century. By the 19th century, coffee and cocoa became the new cash crops. By 1908, Sao Tome became the undisputed largest producer of cocoa in the world.

Although slavery was abolished in 1876, Sao Tome and Principe’s plantations were still using slaves. Just like any culture that pushed their slaves too hard, riots erupted here and there until in 1953 a major outbreak happened. The slaves were unsuccessful though but this gave rise to the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (MLSTP).

In 1974, the liberation of Sao Tome and Principe became a near reality as politics in Portugal changed color as a result of the ouster of Caetano in power. Quickly, the new government met with the MLSTP to work out the transfer of sovereignty as the new government was committed in dissolving its offshore colonies.

In 1975, Sao Tome and Principe finally got their taste of independence as the first president got elected in the person of Manuel Pinto de Costa. Currently, the country is under the leadership of Fradique de Menezes who has been president since 2001.

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