San Thomé and Principe


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. San Thomé and Principe is Number 119 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Located in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of West Africa, the islands of Sao Tome and Principe were discovered and claimed by Portuguese navigators around 1470. They were uninhabited at the time. In 1493 the Portuguese began the colonization of Sao Tome, introducing the cultivation of sugar cane based on slave labor imported from the nearby African mainland. The earliest Portuguese settlers were mainly convicts and Jewish boys taken from their parents. Sugar cane production began on Principe in around 1520. For a time during the 16th century the islands were the largest producers of sugar in the world, but production later declined as a result of competition from Brazil. The book covers physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. The total population of the islands was 58,907 (1914), the vast majority of which (53,969) was concentrated on Sao Tome. With the sugar industry having long since disappeared, the main staple crop was cocoa. Sao Tome and Principe were estimated to have produced about a sixth of the world’s cocoa in 1913. Exports of the crop totaled a record 43,495 metric tons, accounting for 97 percent of all island exports. In concluding remarks the study notes that the “islands suffer a serious handicap in the fact that so much of their surplus revenue, which might be applied to local purposes, is appropriated to make good the deficits in other Portuguese colonies, such as Angola.” The colony became the independent Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe on July 12, 1975.

Last updated: February 4, 2016