The country’s economy is currently too dependent on foreign aid. The main export product is cacao, and although income from tourism and the export of other agricultural products (such as coffee, vanilla and tropical flowers) is increasing, it only does little to improve the country’s balance of payments.
The location of the islands in the Gulf of Guinea suggests that its economic zone could contain oil and gas. Although exploration takes place, it is not clear to what extent the reserves are sufficiently large for exploitation.
However, there are a number of opportunities that could improve the country’s economy. Tourism is still in its infancy, and although it is understood that the country should not (and cannot) develop in a mass tourism destination, it should be possible to expand its tourist facilities and infrastructure, focussing on added value tourism (ecological, gastronomic, scientific and cultural).
Even if it is not possible to exploit its own oil and gas reserves, the islands could function as a service centre for the region, such as financial and corporate services, and as a transport hub for regional shipping and airline connections. The fact that the country’s means of communication have been improved significantly due to its connection to mainland Africa by optical fibre, will make it easier to perform this function.
Agriculture, horticulture, floriculture and fisheries are other sectors that can be developed further. Farmers have traditionally not used pesticides and similar products, so that a large part of the country’s production (and territory) can be classified as ecological. Fishing is also still done artisanally and therefore in a sustainable manner.
However, in order to develop the aforementioned areas, significant investment will be required in (material and immaterial) infrastructure, such as airport and port facilities, roads, energy (wind, solar or hydro-power), education and healthcare. Unless it is able to generate income from its potential oil and gas resources, the government will itself not be able to finance the infrastructure and will therefore need foreign aid or public – private partnership initiatives to develop this infrastructure.