São Tomé and Príncipe Recent History

On December 21, 1471, the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, the Portuguese navigators, the first Europeans to touch the equator, discovered the islands of St. Thomas and Prince. The name of the latter at the beginning was that of Sant’Antonio but then Alfonso V ordered it to be called “Prince” in honor of his son who then ascended the throne of Portugal with the name of John II.

According to Abbreviationfinder, the merit of this discovery was of Joao De Santarem and Pedro Escobar, who had already explored the Gold Coast the year before.

In 1475 the Catholic kings of Castile sent thirty ships to the Gulf of Guinea to trade there. When the news came, the king of Portugal sent his fleet to fight them. In 1479 another attempt was always repeated by the Castilian fleet and Prince John returned to the counterattack and defeated it. Then in 1480 the two contenders signed a peace treaty by which it was established that trade in the Gulf of Guinea and on the Gold Coast would be an exclusive right of Portugal.

The first Portuguese colonists arrived in San Tommaso in 1483, commanded by Alvaro de Caminha, gentleman of King John II. They settled in the bay of Anna Chaves in the north-east of the island and founded the city of San Tommaso there. They began immediately with the sugar and timber trade. Twice the cities were destroyed by volcanic eruptions, in 1510 and 1585.

In the mid-16th century a ship laden with slaves, which left Angola and headed for America, wrecked on the coast of the island of San Tommaso. The slaves settled in the south and remained there, multiplying to the point that already in 1574 their number far exceeded that of the colonists to whom they rebelled. When all the riots ceased, many whites embarked with all their properties and went to Brazil.

In the seventeenth century the French corsairs arrived and practiced a systematic looting on the island. Many, however, found death there by drinking the river water poisoned by the natives. Then, in 1640, the Dutch arrived who, after winning a war against Spain, which in turn had subdued Portugal, seized the island. However, they were forced to leave it again to the Portuguese after only 4 years.

But San Tommaso, left abandoned by the Portuguese colonists who fled many years earlier, following the revolt of the Negroes, was going through a period of great decline, especially in the agricultural sector. And the government also had to change its location and settle on the island of Principe in 1753.

At the beginning of the 19th century, misery was at the highest level. After 1825, however, the colonists devoted themselves with all their energy to the cultivation of coffee and cocoa and wealth returned. And in 1852 San Tommaso was again the capital of the archipelago and the seat of the central government.

The first Portuguese political order occurred in the years from 1883 to 1890 and the colony experienced a long peaceful period, not at all scratched by the events of the two world wars, and represented an important military stopover for the Allies. But in September 1975 the first independence movement also arose here, which joined other liberation organizations in Portuguese Africa. And the new government of Lisbon, after the rise of Salazar, recognized the popular will of the islanders and on July 12, 1975, as an effect of the Algiers agreements of the previous year, granted independence.

Sao Tome and Principe Recent History

Pinto da Costa, elected president of the new state, immediately opted for a policy of non-alignment. The state of Sao Tome became part of the United Nations. In 1976 economic agreements were made with popular China and other eastern countries.
To improve the economy of the country, based essentially on the production of cocoa, subject to the decline in prices on world markets, a transformation of the crops was immediately carried out in order to achieve a certain food independence. This is also due to the poor performance of cattle breeding and the almost total absence of industries. Furthermore, there were also very few communication routes and only the capital represented the port and air center of the whole archipelago, for the connections with Cameroon, Angola and Gabon.

But political stability was threatened by several coups, foiled in 1978, 1980 and 1988. Various reforms were made to the government, mainly of socialist ideology, in 1985/86. Statism was eliminated in many sectors of the economy, tourism opened up and foreign capital was solicited.

In 1985 a military assistance agreement was signed with the United States and the same was done with Portugal in 1987. In 1988 President M. Pinto da Costa restored the position of head of government, previously canceled, and entrusted it to C. Rocha da Costa.

As a result of the abandonment of the Marxist ideology, a broader democratization of the state was announced, through the modification of the Constitution and in 1990, after a referendum, multiparty was sanctioned. Until then the National Assembly had been elected on the list of the “Freedom Movement of Sao Tome and Principe”, which, however, in the parliamentary elections of January 1991 was clearly beaten. And in the presidential elections of March 1991 the majority went to M. Trogoada who was therefore the new president.

Trogoada, leader of the “Democratic Convergence Party”, had previously been prime minister from 1975 to 1979. But having fallen out of favor, he was first imprisoned and then forced into exile, and remained out of the country for ten years. M. Pinto da Costa, after the defeat of his party, did not want to compete in the 1991 elections.

The change of government did not bring about improvements in the economy which instead caused, among many union disputes and unrest, a serious collapse of the balance of payments, mostly due to the reduction of the international price of cocoa which remained, despite everything, the main resource of the economy of the island.

In 1993 the state practiced substantial democratic openings so that it could quickly establish a solid government of national unity.

The subsequent political elections, held in 1994, won by the Freedom Movement of Sao Tome and Principe – Democratic Socialist Party, decreed Premier Graça. The economic crisis of the island, however, did not resolve itself and on the contrary increased due to the collapse of the world cocoa price, and to controversy over the austerity measures implemented by the new government.

In August 1995 a military coup was foiled, with the help of Angola as well. In December of the same year the President replaced the premier in office with A. Vaz d’Almeida, belonging to the same Movement.

In January 1996, in order to better stabilize the political situation of the island, he wanted to form a government of national unity, but in this sense he was clearly denied by the Democratic Convergence Party – Reflection Group.

Things got worse and worse until in September 1996 by this executive, deemed incompetent, corrupt and inefficient, the majority party withdrew. The crisis that followed led to the formation of another government whose majority was given by the Democratic Convergence Party-Reflection Group and the Freedom Movement of Sao Tome and Principe – Democratic Socialist Party. The leader of the latter, R. Wagner da Conceiçao Bracança Neto was appointed Prime Minister.

In the meantime, relations between the President and the Prime Minister had deteriorated, so that the possibility of amending the Constitution and introducing a law limiting the President’s powers, which in the meantime had been confirmed in July 1996, began to appear. The starting point for the definitive break between him and the executive came when, in July 1997, Trovoada proposed to re-establish the interrupted diplomatic relations with Taiwan. This brought considerable concern to the ranks of the government which feared economic retaliation by Popular China, on which Sao Tome depended.

But in October of the same year Trovoada had won it and after fierce clashes the diplomatic restoration took place.

The internal situation became more and more difficult, so much so that in March 1998 public sector employees staged a general strike demanding the payment of wages, many of which arrears. The military also joined this strike, also penalized by the failure to increase wages, as agreed on several occasions. And for three days all the island’s activities were completely blocked.

In November of the same year, the legislative elections were held and the majority movement once again dominated and G. Posser da Costa, his greatest exponent, was Premier. Meanwhile, tensions between the President and the Premier continued and the political life of the country suffered all the consequences.