All these extremely fragile and underdeveloped economies have either recently been through a civil war or are suffering from ongoing sectarian or ethnic conflicts.
The world has enough wealth and resources to ensure that the entire human race enjoys a basic standard of living. Yet people living in countries like the Central African Republic, Burundi or the Democratic Republic of the Congo—the three poorest in the world—continue to live in desperate poverty.
Poverty, mathematician Eli Khamarov said, is like punishment for a crime you didn't commit. Dictatorial and corrupt governments can make what could be a very rich nation into a poor one. And so does a history of exploitative colonization, weak rule of law, war and social unrest, severe climate conditions or hostile, aggressive neighbors. It is often hard to pinpoint a single cause of long-term poverty, hence why economists often refer to “cycles” of poverty. For example, a country in debt will not be able to afford good schools, and a poorly educated workforce will be less capable of fixing problems and creating conditions that will attract foreign investment.
It is sadly unsurprising that all 10 of the world's poorest countries are found in Africa. Three of them are within the Sahel region, where persistent and widespread droughts cause food shortages and associated medical and social problems. Five of them are landlocked, putting them at a considerable disadvantage relative to those with access to maritime trade. The decline in commodity prices in recent years has torpedoed their better chances for progress. All have experienced political instability, disputed elections, and ethnic or religious strife.
GDP per capita is the standard metric for measuring how poor or wealthy a given nation is compared to another. To compensate for differences in living costs and rates of inflation, purchasing power parity (PPP) assess an individual’s buying power in a particular country. The current average in the top 10 poorest nations is $1,275.
Values are expressed in current international dollars, reflecting a single year's (the current year) currency exchange rates and PPP adjustments. Data source: International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, April 2019.
THE 10 POOREST COUNTRIESIN THE WORLD
Current International Dollars: 1,699 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data
Situated 400 kilometers off the coast of East Africa, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Known for its astonishing wildlife, the flourishing tourism industry has not been able to lift the country out of poverty. The majority of the population is still dependent upon agriculture for their livelihoods, leaving the country’s economy especially vulnerable to weather-related disasters. Since becoming independence from France in 1960, Madagascar has experienced bouts of political instability, violent coups and disputed elections. In 2013, former finance minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina won free and fair elections and as president made poverty reduction and infrastructure development major priorities. During his time in power, growth increased steadily, rising from 2.2% to over 5%. However, the 2018 election was beset by allegations of fraud, raising the risk of renewed political instability. Controversial businessman Andry Rajoelina, who already held the presidency between 2009 and 2014, returned to power. Hopefully, he will not jeopardize the progress made under his predecessor.
Current International Dollars: 1,662 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data
This volcanic archipelago in the Indian Ocean, north of the Mozambique Channel, is a natural paradise with pristine beaches and incredible forest vegetation. Economically speaking, however, it is a nightmare. Unemployment amongst the generally under-educated low-skill workforce is high, as is dependence on foreign aid and technical assistance. Although the country’s lava-encrusted soil is unsuited to agriculture, most the young and rapidly increasing population of about 800,000 make their living from subsistence farming with tourism, fishing and forestry being some of the other backbones of the economy.
After gaining independence from France in 1974, Comoros went through a prolonged period of political instability that hobbled economic activity and forced many to leave the country. Current President Azali Assoumani—who returned to power for the third time in 2016—introduced a number of structural reforms and poverty-reduction programs. However, political uncertainty persists, fiscal accounts are in dire straits and extended power outages that make running a business impossible are the norm.
8. South Sudan
Current International Dollars: 1,613 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data
South Sudan is the newest nation in the world. It was born on July 9, 2011, six years after the agreement that ended the conflict with Sudan, Africa's longest-running civil war. However, violence has continued to ravage this land-locked state of 12.5 million. Formed by the 10 southern-most territories of Sudan and home to around 60 indigenous ethnic groups, a new conflict broke out in 2013 when president Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, rebel leader Riek Machar, of staging a coup. As a result, it is estimated that nearly 400,000 people were killed in clashes and more than 4,3 million have been displaced.
South Sudan could be a very rich nation, but with oil accounting for almost all of its exports, falling commodity prices and rising security-related costs hammered the country's economy. Outside the oil sector, the majority of the population is employed in small-scale subsistence farming. In August 2018, Kiir and Machar signed a ceasefire and a power-sharing agreement. Months later, they were hosted at the Vatican, where Pope Francis kneeled and kissed their feet in a plea to maintain peace. If they succeed, people of South Sudan may finally have a shot at living more prosperous lives.
Current International Dollars: 1,413 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data
Africa’s oldest republic has also ranked amongst the poorest nations for the longest time. While the country has enjoyed peace and stability since the ending of the civil war in 2003, its governments failed to adequately address serious systemic problems and structural challenges. To add to the difficulties, this country of just 4.7 million struggled to recover from the decline in commodity prices and the major Ebola epidemic that hit West Africa in 2014.
Things seem to be looking up. Growth and per person GDP figures have shown substantial improvement, with the IMF forecasting favorable trends for years to come. What has changed? For one thing, the president: George Weah, at one time named the world's best footballer, was elected in the 2017 general election. His administration has focused on job creation, economic diversification and critical infrastructure needs and so far, his scorecard shows some positive results.
Current International Dollars: 1,331 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data
The former Portuguese colony has plenty of arable land and water, and ample energy and mineral resources. On top of that, a recently discovered natural gas offshore field could add an estimated $40 billion to its economy by 2035. Mozambique is also strategically located, as four of the six countries it borders are landlocked and depend on it as a conduit to global trade, and over the past 10 years has posted average GDP growth rates of over 5%. Yet, it remains among the top 10 poorest countries in the world, with large sectors of the population continuing to live well below the poverty line. While a 15-year long civil war ended in 1992, severe climate conditions, corruption and political instability never went away. In October 2019, the country will elect its next president and Congress, but with the eternal rivals of Mozambican politics expected to compete—Frelimo, the ruling party since 1994, and Renamo, the largest opposition party—few believe that anything will really change.
Current International Dollars: 1,280 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data
With 80% of its this landlocked territory covered by the Sahara desert and a rapidly growing population largely dependent upon small scale agriculture, Niger is under threat from desertification and climate change. Food insecurity is high, as are disease and mortality rates, and the army’s recurrent clashes with jihadist group and Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate Boko Haram have displaced thousands of people. One of the main driver of the economy—the extraction of valuable natural resources such as gold and uranium—has also suffered from volatility and low commodity prices.
Nevertheless, the largest nation in West Africa seems to have finally entered a new political and economic transition phase. Wracked by political coups since its independence from France in 1960, in 2011 Niger declared veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou winner of the presidential polls. Since then, the adoption of a new investment code, improved access to credit and somewhat faster access to water have contributed to a sharp increase in foreign direct investment.
Current International Dollars: 1,234 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data
One of Africa’s smallest nations, in recent years Malawi has made strides in improving economic growth and implementing crucial structural reforms. Its per capita GDP, which went from about $975 in 2010 to $1,200 in 2018, is now projected to reach $1,580 by 2024. This improved outlook has been overseen by a stable and democratic government which has received considerable financial support from both the IMF and the World Bank. Nevertheless, poverty is still widespread, and the nation’s economy—largely dependent upon rain-fed crops—remains vulnerable to weather-related shocks. As a result, while living standards in urban areas are generally improving, food insecurity in rural areas is extremely high.
General elections will be held on May 21, 2019, with current president Peter Mutharika, who took the post in 2014, facing strong opposition. Malawi is a generally peaceful country that has had stable governments since gaining independence from Britain in 1964. However, disputed polls results are far from being an anomaly.
3. Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Current International Dollars: 791 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data
Since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960, the Congo has suffered decades of rapacious dictatorship, political instability and constant violence. Now the country is ready to turn a page: on 24 January 2019, Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo—the son of legendary opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi—was elected as the new president.
He has his work cut out for him. His controversial predecessor Joseph Kabila—who had governed since succeeding his assassinated father in 2001—is credited for bringing an end to what is commonly referred to as the “Great African War,” a conflict that claimed up to 6 million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition. However, he did little to improve the lives of people who survived the war: over 60% of the country’s 77 million population still live on less than two dollars a day. With 80 million hectares of arable land and over a thousand minerals and valuable metals under its surface, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has the potential to become one of the richest African nations and a driver of growth for the entire continent according to the World Bank. Political instability and endemic corruption continue to frustrate that potential.
2. Central African Republic (CAR)
Current International Dollars: 746 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data
Rich in gold, oil, uranium and diamonds, the Central African Republic is a very wealthy country inhabited by very poor people. However, after claiming the title of poorest in the world for the best part of the decade, this nation of just 4.7 million is showing some signs of progress.
For the first time since its independence from France in 1960, in 2016 the Central African Republic has a democratically elected a president: former mathematics professor and prime minister Faustin Archange Touadéra, who campaigned as a peacemaker who could bridge the divide between the Muslim minority and the Christian majority. While his successful election has been seen as an important step towards national reconstruction, with about 75% of the population living below the poverty line the path to recovery will be very long.
Growth has already picked up, driven by the timber industry and a revival of both agricultural and mining sector. The economy is also benefitting from the partially resumed sale of diamonds, which were found to be funding inter-religious armed groups and placed under international embargo in 2013. So far, the government has struggled to restore sales and has seen only a fraction of the revenues it once did.
Current International Dollars: 727 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data
The small landlocked country of Burundi, scarred by Hutu-Tutsi ethnic conflict and civil war, has fallen two places in the ranking since last year. President Pierre Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel who won a third term last year in controversial elections boycotted by the opposition after a failed coup, has come under international pressure. In March 2016 the European Union, Burundi’s largest donor, cut funding to the government in an attempt to force Nkurunziza into talks to end the political deadlock. The political crisis pushed the country into recession and the Burundian government’s ban on trade with neighbouring Rwanda in July 2016, citing concerns over food security, has contributed to rising prices for staple foodstuffs such as potatoes. There has also been a fall in the production of coffee, the country’s main export. According to the latest UNDP Burundi survey, 82.1% of the population lives on $1.25 a day or less and 90% of the Burundian population rely on agriculture. As a result, the population is exceedingly vulnerable to price fluctuations, export restrictions, and food scarcity.
Gross domestic product (GDP) based on purchasing-power-parity (PPP) per capita.
Values are expressed in current international dollars, to the nearest whole dollar, reflecting a single year's (2018) currency exchange rates and PPP adjustments.
|2||Central African Republic||746|
|3||Democratic Republic of the Congo||791|
|32||Sao Tomè and Prìncipe||3,441|
|38||Papua New Guinea||3,789|
|61||Republic of Congo||7,119|
|88||St. Vincent and the Grenadines||12,431|
|97||Bosnia and Herzegovina||14,164|
|111||Islamic Republic of Iran||18,505|
|136||Antigua and Barbuda||29,298|
|139||St. Kitts and Nevis||31,095|
|143||Trinidad and Tobago||32,684|
|175||Taiwan Province of China||55,244|
|182||Hong Kong SAR||66,517|
|184||United Arab Emirates||70,474|
Source: International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook April 2019.
- Beyond GDP - Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress
- The World Bank Country Profiles
- Global Finance Magazine Beyond GDP - Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress
- IMF Fiscal Monitor, October 2014
- IMF’s Fiscal Monitor from October 2014
- International Monetary Fund: Homepage
- International Monetary Fund (IMF) World Economic Outlook (WEO) database, October 2014
- International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2014
- New York Times: "The Rise and Fall of the G.D.P."- are there better ways to measure a country's wealth and happiness?
- Principles of Economics, by N. Gregory Mankiw (South-Western, Div. of Thomson Learning, 2003) The measurement of Gross domestic product
- The World Bank: Classification of Countries
- WEO Database October 2014-IMF
- WEO October 2014, IMF
- WEO Press Briefing October 2014-IMF
- World Bank Homepage
- World Bank – Poverty Indicators
- World Bank's classification of countries by income group
- World Economic Outlook of the International Monetary Fund, October 2014