Tuesday 12 July 2016

Dia da Independência

With 196 (or 188 or whatever your position is wrt to the legitimacy of South Ossetia, Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh, Liberland, Bir Tawil, the Republic of Cork, or the Principality of Sealand) countries and only 365 days in the year, Independence Day ID is celebrated somewhere on our world every alternate day.  Actually, the distribution of IDs is very uneven with a peak in the Summer and a more pronounced peak on the 1st of whatever month. And of course, several countries, including Ireland and the United Kingdom of Noteurope, don't celebrate ID at all at all. Indeed most of the IDs that do exist reflect severance from the UK.  Maybe as the Island Next Door degenerates into a colour-shirt dictatorship, some goon will suggest raising the date of the Brexit Referendum as an excuse for flag-waving and book-burning.  There is good precedent for this sort of dangerous nonsense on the Twelfth of July when Ulster protestants give thanks to their angry god for the outcome of the Bottle of the Boyne [bloboprev].  The family of a good friend of mine, who grew up on a chicken farm in County Derry, would take the opportunity to go on holiday across the borrrder in Co Donegal so they didn't have to hear the chest-beating parades that go down too many streets in Northern Ireland even in the 21stC.

Today it's an ID double whammy. Two tiny nations, Kiribati (1979) and São Tomé and Príncipe (1975) became independent on the 12th July.  Let's park Kiribati so I have copy for next year and reflect a little on the diacritic-laden República Democrática de São Tomé e Príncipe which is located in the armpit of Africa [L above]. The map betrays the geological basis of the islands which are an extension of a volcanic mountain range starting in Cameroon. The Pico de São Tomé is, at 2024m, higher than anything in Ireland for example. They are indeed tiny, only 3 Irish counties have a smaller area than the archipelago and there are fewer people living there than in Metropolitan Cork.

As far as we can tell the islands were uninhabited when they were discovered on St Thomas's Day 21 Dec 1471 and St Anthony's Day 17 Jan 1472 by Portuguese explorers. For context, this is 20 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 14 hundred and 92. Volcanic islands look terrible barren when they burst from the sea but the new rock is inherently richer than depleted rocks of, say, much of Australia and South Africa.  Anything with red soils in Geoguessr seems to be located in one of those places. STeP became an early exporter of sugar until its trade was eclipsed by the islands of the West Indies. Under the Portuguese, the islands were subdivided into extensive roças [latifúndios / plantations / estates] owned by capitalists and worked by slaves indentured servants. Indeed the islands were convenient and defensible entrepôts for the slave trade for about 200 years. Now it's all cocoa, which earns 95% of the republic's foreign credit.

Oddly, STeP is bracketted by the islands of Annobón and Bioko [formerly Fernando Pó] which are part of the same volcanic chain and were formerly Portuguese but were ceded to Spain by the Treaty of El Pardo in 1778 which tidied up a lot of disputes and violations of the Treaty of Tordesillas1494. That pope-mediated agreement divided the whole world between Spain and Portugal without troubling to ask France, England or the Netherlands, let alone the people already living there. Annobón and Bioko are now part of Equatorial Guinea, formerly Territorios Españoles del Golfo de Guinea, which had such interesting stamps when I was a kid.

At the moment STeP is reasonably democratic, left-of-centre, and stable. That may all change if they start to exploit off-shore oil-reserves. The corrupting power of oil has managed to turn Nigeria into a deeply divided and unhappy country.  For today at least, let's party on for São Tomé and Príncipe.

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