Reaching the Nations International Church Growth Almanac

Country reports on the LDS Church around the world from a landmark almanac. Includes detailed analysis of history, context, culture, needs, challenges and opportunities for church growth.

Sao Tome and Principe

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Area: 964 square km.  Consisting of two main mountainous islands in the Gulf of Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe is one of Africa's smallest countries.  Extinct volcanoes formed both islands of Sao Tome and Principe.  Tropical, hot climate prevails throughout the year with a rainy season from October to May.  Environmental issues include deforestation, soil erosion, and overuse of the limited number of agricultural lands.  Sao Tome and Principe is divided into two administrative regions; one for each island.  Principe has autonomy.

Population: 175,808 (July 2010)

Annual Growth Rate: 2.112% (2010)

Fertility Rate: 5.21 children born per woman (2010)

Life Expectancy: 61.58 male, 63.91 female (2010)


Six different ethnic groups inhabit Sao Tome and Principe: Mestico (mixed Portuguese and African), Angolares (descendents of Angolan slaves), Forros (descendants of freed slaves), Servicais (contract laborers from Portuguese-speaking African nations), Tongas (children of Servicais born in Sao Tome and Principe), and Europeans (mainly Portuguese).  Slaves have historically originated from West and Central Africa.

Languages:  Portuguese and Portuguese-based creoles (95%), other (5%).  Portuguese is the official language.  Sãotomense and Principense are recognized Portuguese creoles.

Literacy: 84.9% (2001)


The Portuguese discovered and colonized the previously uninhabited islands of Sao Tome and Principe in the late fifteenth century.  African slaves were brought to the islands to staff sugar plantations followed by cocoa and coffee plantations in the 1800s.  Due to its position in the Gulf of Guinea, the islands became a transit point for the slave trade.  Slavery and the recruitment of contract labor workers from mainland Africa continued into the mid-20th century.  Independence movements began in the 1950s.  Independence from Portugal occurred in 1975, but democratic reforms and free elections did not occur until the late 1980s and early 1990s.  At independence, 20 Portuguese families owned 93% of the total land area.[1]  Political instability has threatened the integrity of the government and frequently changed leadership in the past two decades.  Greater correspondence has occurred with Angola and other Portuguese-speaking African nations due to common language and colonial past.  


Sao Tome and Principe experiences a fusion of cultural practices and attitudes borrowed from mainland Africa and Portugal.  Each ethnic group possesses unique cultural customs and beliefs.  The islands are known for their music.  Unlike many African nations, Polygamy is not socially accepted nor widely practiced.  Alcohol consumption rates are moderate and rank average for the region.  Cuisine draws upon African and Portuguese influences.  


GDP per capita: $1,700 (2009) [3.66% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.651

Corruption Index: 2.8

Sao Tome and Principe depends heavily on cocoa revenues to drive the economy.  The small population and little land area challenge greater economic development and attracting foreign investment.  There is a shortage of skilled labor.  The discovery of oil in the Gulf of Guinea in recent years provides opportunity for increased revenues and greater diversification of the economy, but prospects in extracting this resource have been delayed due to negotiations with Nigeria over oil rights.  A tourist industry may develop due to the islands tropical climate and scenery.  54% of the population in 2004 lived below the poverty line.  71% of the GDP is produced from Services, 15% from industry, and 14% from agriculture.  Most of the population depends on fishing and subsistence agriculture for work.  Primary crops include cocoa, coconuts, palm kernels, copra, fish, and fruit whereas primary industries include construction, textiles, soap, and fishing.  Portugal, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Belgium are major trade partners. 

The prevalence of corruption compares to most Sub-Saharan nations and is widespread.  Bribery, embezzlement, and mismanagement of public funds are serious concerns.  Few government regulations have contributed to corruption.  Many claim elections have tended to initiate an increase corruption due to political candidates using money and other means to gain votes.  The government appears to have made some improvements addressing corruption.[2]


Christian: 97%

Muslim: 2%

Other: 1%


Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  149,437

Evangelical  5,977

New Apostolic  3,516

Seventh Day Adventists  2,087  13

Jehovah's Witnesses  541  10

Latter-day Saints  less than 20


Catholics account for 85% of the population.  Protestants constitute 12% of the population and have grown rapidly due to missionary activity.  Muslims have arrived more recently and consist primarily of Nigerian and Cameroonian immigrants.  There is some syncretism between indigenous African beliefs, Christianity, and Islam.[3]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by government laws and policies.  There have been no reported instances of abuse of religious freedom.  To operate in the country, a religious group must send a letter to the Ministry of Justice and Parliamentary Affairs requesting authorization.  Once authorization is granted, the religious group must register its name and charter at the national registrar's office.  The government has not rejected any past requests from religious groups desiring authorization and unregistered groups report meeting without opposition.  Many Christian and Catholic holidays are national holidays.[4]

Largest Cities

Urban: 61%

Sao Tome, Trindade, Santo Amaro, Neves, Santana.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregation.

None of the five largest cities have an LDS congregation.  51% of the national population resides in the five largest cities.  The city of Sao Tome accounts for a third of the population.

LDS History

In 1998, the Africa Southeast Area administered Sao Tome and Principe.  The Mozambique Maputo Mission currently administers Sao Tome and Principe.  There has been no reported Church activity. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: less than 20 (2009)

There have been no reported Church members living on the islands.  

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0  Branches: 0

As of 2010, there were no LDS congregations reported.

Activity and Retention

No convert baptisms have occurred on the islands. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Portuguese

All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in Portuguese. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

In 2010, the Church had not conducted any past development or humanitarian work in Sao Tome and Principe.


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church faces no legal obstacles preventing the establishment of the Church and formal missionary work.  Full religious freedom, no reported instances of societal abuses of religious freedom, a Christian population, and strong growth among missionary-oriented Protestants creates a favorable environment for LDS growth.  The Church has established a presence in many other nations in which corruption is viewed as more pervasive than Sao Tome and Principe.

Cultural Issues

The Catholic Church has historically familiarized the population with Christianity.  However levels of religious participation appear low.  Poverty and low living standards are economic challenges in which the LDS Church may assist addressing through humanitarian and development work.

National Outreach

All but 6,000 reside on Sao Tome.  With such a small geographic area and centralized population, future LDS missionary activity would require few outreach centers and resources to proselyte the majority of the population.

Distance from established mission centers, few if any indigenous members, and a small population have like contributed to the lack of a formal Church presence.  Mission resources are very limited in the Mozambique Maputo Mission which in addition to all of Mozambique also administers Angola - a nation of 13 million with a severely limited Church presence but with a high potential for future growth.  Distance from mission headquarters in Maputo, Mozambique and headquarters for the Church in Angola in Luanda diminish prospects in the near future of beginning national outreach in Sao Tome and Principe.

Seeking converts among Portuguese-speaking African nations with Sao Tome and Principe natives may help establish an initial Church presence.  However, many of these individuals do not return to their home country due to poor living standards.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

There are no known converts from the islands.  Low church participation in other denominations may carry over to the LDS Church if converts due not establish a routine of weekly church attendance. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The complexity of the islands' demography creates significant challenges for LDS mission planners to address.  Common language among most of the population appear a major factor which will be favorable for growth, but differing customs and traditions for the differing ethnic groups may lead to future instability in LDS congregations. 

Language Issues

Unlike the African mainland, Sao Tome and Principe have little linguistic diversity due to the lack of an indigenous population and strong Portuguese colonial legacy for several centuries.  Informal Portuguese-based creoles offer some challenges for future missionary efforts, but the widespread use of Portuguese by almost the entire population simplifies language issues. 

Missionary Service

No missionaries have been reported to have served from Sao Tome and Principe. 


The development of indigenous leadership may take years to accomplish as there appear to be few if any LDS members in the country.  


Although not assigned to a temple district, members in Sao Tome and Principe  would most likely attend the Johannesburg South Africa Temple.

Comparative Growth

Sao Tome and Principe is one of several predominantly Christian African nations which have never had an official Church presence.  Other Christian majority nations without an official LDS presence include Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Seychelles.

The Church has made little progress over the past decade beginning missionary work on island African nations likely due to the small populations, remote locations and limited mission resources.  Not until around 1990 did the Church begin to establish a presence in Portuguese-speaking Africa.  Sao Tome and Principe shares many historical similarities with Cape Verde - the Portuguese-speaking African nation with the most Latter-day Saints - which may indicate that Sao Tome and Principe may as well be a fruitful nation for future mission outreach.  Many Pacific nations have smaller populations but have experienced strong LDS membership growth and activity.

Evangelicals appear the most successful Christian group in gaining new converts since independence.  During the 2000s, Both Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists generally added few new members year to year.  Christian churches tend to struggle with low levels of church participation.

Future Prospects

In a period of Church history with unprecedented opportunities to expand mission outreach in Africa, Sao Tome and Principe remain a lesser priority due to the lack of local members, remote location, and small Portuguese-speaking population.  The Mozambique Maputo Mission and regional Church leaders may need to conduct an exploratory trip to determine conditions and search for any members who may live on the islands.  The assignment of even one senior missionary couple may provide an impetus toward establishing a permanent presence and the opening of the islands to LDS missionary work.

[1]  "Sao Tome and Principe," Countries and Their Cultures, retrieved 7 August 2010.

[2]  "Sao Tome and Principe," 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, retrieved 7 August 2010.

[3]  "Sao Tome and Principe," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[4]  "Sao Tome and Principe," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.