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.
4. Somalia: $600 GDP per capita
The Federal Republic of Somalia borders Ethiopia to the northeast. Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, is a problem area made famous by the 2001 film Black Hawk Down. This country shares aspects of its history with Eritrea – namely Italian rule and British intervention. After British involvement Northern Somalia became a protectorate of Britain, while the South was a U.N. trusteeship until the two regions were united in 1960 under a civilian government. In 1969 the Somali Democratic Republic seized power, and remained until the outbreak of civil war in 1991. The last twenty-three years have seen the loss of centralized government resulting in local methods of conflict resolution – often violent – and brief periods of government takeovers with subsequent resumption of fighting. In this anarchic atmosphere fiscal growth has been informal and mainly limited to livestock trade, money transfer companies and telecommunications. It is difficult to gauge the true figures. 80% of the population are nomadic or semi-nomadic, local forms of exchange are still widely used, and there is much (unmeasured) private investment from the Somali diaspora. It is estimated that 43% of the nation’s population lives on less than $1 USD per day.
3. Burundi: $600 GDP per capita
Directly under Rwanda and bordering, DR Congo to the west, the Republic of Burundi is a small, landlocked country in Southeast Africa. According to the World Bank this nation has a population of 9.85 million – this population in an area of 27,834 km², almost one quarter the size of Eritrea. The country’s history is checkered with European involvement and the seemingly endless redefining of borders, combined with ethnic struggles and warfare between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples, which almost prohibits a comprehensible account. A beleaguered nation, Burundi has suffered extensively from the effects of HIV and AIDS, meager access to education, corruption and warfare. Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes go unpunished here. Child soldiers are “recruited” and civilians are constant targets of violence. There’s a dense population and substantial emigration, adding to the instability. According to a global connectedness index conducted by DHL, Burundi is definitively the least globalized of all 140 countries surveyed. In addition, the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2013 Global Hunger Index lists three countries as having “extremely alarming” scores – Burundi is one (Eritrea is another). In terms of percentage, Burundi is the world’s hungriest nation.
2. Zimbabwe: $600 GDP per capita
Another landlocked nation, Zimbabwe is bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia, and is situated between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. There are sixteen official languages, of which English is one of the three most used. This country’s borders were delineated by Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company, and subsequently became the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1923. In 1965 it declared unilateral independence from Britain. The unrecognized state was called Rhodesia until 1980, when it became fully independent and acquired its present name. As with Eritrea, the current national leader, Robert Mugabe, has been the sole head of state in power since independence. He is both head of state and military commander-in-chief. An authoritarian leader, Mugabe is seen as being almost singlehandedly responsible for the country’s appalling human rights record and extreme economic decline. Agriculture, mineral exports, gold and tourism have been the main sources of economy. However extensive poaching has severely reduced wildlife, and this negatively affects tourism (and the environment). The biggest diamond find anywhere in over a century, the Marange Diamond Fields were discovered in 2006 and could spell fiscal rejuvenation… Except that almost all the revenue has thus far gone into the pockets of army officers and ruling party politicians.
1. Democratic Republic of the Congo: $400 GDP per capita
Situated in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, DR Congo is the second largest African country by land area, and the eleventh largest country in the world. It is the fourth most populous country in Africa (and nineteenth in the world), with over seventy-five million people. This country, large in both geographical size and population, is known as perhaps the world’s worst for crimes against women – including, but not limited to, sexual violence. Congo has massive mineral resources, but this potential hasn’t been realized: Failure to develop the country’s natural resources is due in large part to warfare over these resources. In 1998, the Second Congo War – sometimes called the African World War -broke out. Devastating the country, it involved twenty armed groups from nine African nations and was responsible for the killing of 5.4 million people. There have been countless additional deaths from illnesses caused by the population displacement that goes with widespread war – pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and malnutrition. Almost fifty percent of these deaths – related largely to overcrowding, poor hygiene, lack of access to water and medicine – are of children under the age of 5.
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