Sao Tome and Principe profile

Map of Sao Tome and Principe

Sao Tome and Principe, once a leading cocoa producer, is poised to profit from the commercial exploitation of large offshore reserves of oil.

But arguments have arisen over how to spend the expected windfall, leading to political tension.

One of Africa's smallest countries, Sao Tome and Principe consists of two islands of volcanic origin and a number of smaller islets.

At a glance

Street scene in Sao Tome
  • Politics: Power is constitutionally split between president and prime minister, which has led to several cohabitation governments
  • Economy: Sao Tome hopes to reduce dependence on donors and cocoa exports by exploiting offshore oil. The award of exploration contracts has been controversial
  • International: Sao Tome and Nigeria share offshore oil fields which have yet to be exploited. Nigeria intervened to prevent a coup in 2003

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

From the late 1400s Portugal began settling convicts on Sao Tome and establishing sugar plantations with the help of slaves from the mainland. The island was also important in the transshipment of slaves.

The colony's aspirations for independence were recognised after the 1974 coup in Portugal and at first the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe was the country's sole political party. However, the 1990 constitution created a multi-party democracy. The island of Principe assumed autonomy in 1995.

Sao Tome and Principe is trying to shake off its dependence on the cocoa crop. Falls in production and prices left the island state heavily reliant on foreign aid. The government has been encouraging economic diversification and is set to exploit the billions of barrels of oil which are thought to lie off the country's coast.

Commercial oil production is expected to begin within a few years.

Promoters of tourism say the islands have plenty for visitors to see. But hurdles include ignorance about the country, the difficulties of getting there, and what some say is an exaggerated fear of malaria.

Street scene in Sao Tome Sao Tome's quest for independence was realised after the 1974 coup in Portugal

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