The CIA’s World Factbook lists the GDP per capita for 229 of the world’s countries and by these standards, Qatar is – unsurprisingly – the richest. But with the world’s wealth notoriously unequally distributed, we’ve decided to look at some of the poorest. The five poorest African countries are also, in fact, five of the poorest countries in the world, with only two countries showing up on the list below them: San Marino and Kosovo.
But, a quick look into the figures shows that these two countries fall off the list as opposed to being at the bottom, as the World Factbook doesn’t have figures on these latter two nations. San Marino, a small enclave surrounded by Italy, is one of the world’s wealthiest nations by GDP, with very little unemployment. Kosovo is not so fortunate, but the reason the CIA doesn’t have their figures is because they are not yet wholly recognized as a nation by the international community. And so, this makes our five poorest African countries the five poorest in the entire world.
What makes Africa so susceptible? One thing the countries you’ll read about have in common is a history of tribal warfare and intrusion from foreign governments: Various European nations have at times in the past almost willy-nilly handed out parcels of land, redefined borders and eventually left these countries to their own new and untested forms of government and these almost always end up being governments that take and rule by force.
Can all these countries’ problems be blamed on former European colonial “masters”? Other countries have fallen prey to the same fate and have recovered better. Hong Kong and Singapore are two compelling cases in point. So why can’t these countries recover, rebuild and conquer poverty and disease, hunger and war? For one thing, they all have harsh and unforgiving climates, poor supply infrastructures for vital things such as water delivery. Also, although one of the wars you will read about was one of the world’s largest ever in casualties, foreign help in times of conflict has not historically been as ready as it has been for regions which offer oil or other wanted resources. Economists have conflicting opinions on Africa’s poverty problem, but there’s no one clear cut reason why these five poorest of Africa’s and the world’s nations flounder so – and without a clear reason, a clear solution is difficult. These five poor countries on the world’s poorest continent are down, and circumstances seem to conspire to keep them down. We’ve ranked them, as per the World Factbook, in term of GDP per capita – which is equivalent of the country’s total wealth, divided equally by the total number of people in the country. For a sense of how harsh the circumstances are in this country; the GDP per capita in the U.S. is $51,700 as estimates dated to 2012.
5. Eritrea – $700 GDP per capita
One of Africa’s smaller countries in terms of land mass (117,600 km²), the State of Eritrea lies at the top of the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Djibouti, Sudan and Ethiopia. In a population of six million, there are nine accepted ethnic groups. The country’s rocky history has contributed to its poverty: Italy occupied the region from the late 19th Century until 1941, at which point the Italians were ousted by the British who administered things until federation with Ethiopia (as per the U.N.) in 1951. Subsequently, it became an Ethiopian province. As Eritreans were subject to substandard treatment in comparison to other citizens, an independence movement began and grew into a war that lasted 30 years. In 1993 Eritrea gained its independence. Although the country’s constitution allows for multiple parties and regular elections, only one party exists and no elections have been held. There has been one president since 1993. No human rights organizations are allowed to operate in the country, nor any independent media. An Eritrean-Ethiopian border war (1998-2000) drastically hurt the nation’s economy, with severe reductions in GDP and hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage. Although Eritrea denied the following, the U.N. accepted accusations that they were supplying arms to a Somali militant group – there have been widespread sanctions against the nation, which suffers more as a result. In recent years there has been good GDP growth, with rising percentages that are expected to continue.