São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé was named after Saint Thomas the Apostle by the Portuguese who discovered the island on December 21, 1470 -- the saint's feast day. Príncipe is a shortening of the original Portuguese name meaning "Isle of the Prince", referring to the Prince of Portugal.

Year:  2017

Area: 964 sq km

Population: 197,541 -- 186th in World

Flag: There are three horizontal bands of green, yellow, and green with two black stars placed side by side in the center of the yellow band and a red triangle based on the hoist side. Green stands for the country's rich vegetation, red recalls the struggle for independence, and yellow represents cocoa, one of the country's main agricultural products. The two stars symbolize the two main islands.

The islands were first discovered by Portuguese navigators between 1469 and 1472. The first successful settlement of São Tomé was in 1493 by Alvaro Caminha, who received the land as a grant from the Portuguese Crown. Príncipe was settled in 1500 under a similar arrangement. By the mid-1500s, with the help of slave labor, the Portuguese settlers had turned the islands into Africa's foremost exporter of sugar.

Sugar cultivation declined over the next 100 years, and by the mid-1600s, São Tomé was little more than a port of call for supplying ships. In the early 1800s, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced. The rich volcanic soils proved well-suited to the new crops, and soon extensive plantations owned by Portuguese companies or absentee landlords occupied almost all of the good farmland. By 1908, São Tomé had become the world's largest producer of cocoa, still the country's most important crop.

The plantation system gave the managers a high degree of authority and led to abuses against the African farm workers. Although Portugal officially abolished slavery in 1876, the practice of forced - though paid - labor continued.

Sporadic labor unrest and dissatisfaction continued well into the 20th century, culminating in an outbreak of riots in 1953 in which several hundred African laborers were killed in a clash with their Portuguese rulers. This "Batepá Massacre" remains a major event in the colonial history of the islands, and the government officially observes its anniversary.

By the late 1950s, when other emerging nations across the African Continent were demanding independence, a small group of São Toméans had formed the Movimento de Libertação de São Tomé e Príncipe (MLSTP), which eventually established its base in nearby Gabón. Gaining momentum in the 1960s, events moved quickly after the overthrow of the Salazar and Caetano dictatorship in Portugal in April, 1974.

The new Portuguese regime was committed to the dissolution of its overseas colonies. In November, 1974, their representatives met with the MLSTP in Algiers and worked out an agreement for the transfer of sovereignty. After a period of transitional government, São Tomé and Príncipe achieved independence on July 12, 1975, choosing as its first President the MLSTP Secretary General, Manuel Pinto da Costa.

In 1990, São Tomé became one of the first African countries to embrace democratic reform. Changes to the constitution and legalization of opposition parties led to non-violent, free, transparent elections in 1991.

The discovery of oil in 2005 in the Gulf of Guinea has given a large boost to the economy of the islands. The future looks bright for this former Portuguese colony.

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