West African Nations - 2012

This two-island nation is the smallest country in Africa. It is composed of ancient volcanoes that have risen from the Atlantic Ocean in the Gulf of Guinea. The country comprises only 372 square miles or about 5 times the area of Washington, D C. It was discovered by the Portuguese in the late 15th century and remained a colony of that country until 1975 when it gained its independence. The country had been operated as a slave labor sugar plantation in the earliest days of colonization; gradually the sugar plantations gave way to coffee and cacao (chocolate) production. When the Portuguese angrily left the islands, they neglected to teach the former slaves and employees how to run the factories which produced the coffee and the chocolate. Consequently, since that time, the factories and processing buildings have become more and more dilapidated. Now only a small amount of coffee is produced and it is more of a tourist item than an exportable product. The remaining chocolate processing plant produces a very tiny amount of high grade chocolate which is largely exported to the EU. Today there is no real industry on either island. Fishing and tourism are the largest areas of employment for the Sao Tomeans. In this hot, tropical and humid climate live 183,176 people whose existence since independence from Portugal has been plagued by governmental instability, though the people have adopted a democratic system. Two coups have been attempted in the past, one in 1995 and another in 2003. At present the government has been elected through free and open voting and seems to be pretty clearly in control and dedicated to improving the lives of the citizens. There may be some economic hope for this small group of people because oil has recently been discovered in the Gulf of Guinea. However, one of our fellow passengers (who works in the oil industry) told us no significant petroleum can exist in or around these two volcanic islands since geologically speaking such formations do not harbor oil deposits. Since oil and diamonds have been the ruination of some African countries (Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire & Liberia) perhaps it is a “consummation devoutly to be wished” that Sao Tome & Principe will not discover oil in its waters. SAO TOME Our local guide on Sao Tome was a Peace Corps volunteer from Massachusetts who had been on the island about 8 months. He told us that while food is plentiful for all on the island, there is little variety of food items. The diet consists chiefly of fish, bananas, fruits, veggies and chicken for special occasions. No beef is available but sometimes goat is. On this restricted diet, Kevin has lost 45 lbs. since arriving. He has enjoyed his stay here so much that he plans to offer English lessons when his stint with the Peace Corps ends in June. (The official language of the country is Portuguese.)

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