All these extremely fragile and underdeveloped economies have either recently been through a civil war or are suffering from ongoing sectarian or ethnic conflicts. 

Author: Luca Ventura
Project Coordinator: Pham Binh

Mumbai, India's Dharavi slums.

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.


10. Madagascar

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.

9. Comoros

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.

7. Liberia

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.

6. Mozambique

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.

5. Niger

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.

4. Malawi

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.

1. Burundi

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.




1 Burundi 727
2 Central African Republic  746
3 Democratic Republic of the Congo 791
4 Malawi 1,234
5 Niger 1,280
6 Mozambique 1,331
7 Liberia 1,331
8 South Sudan 1,613
9 Comoros 1,662
10 Madagascar 1,698
11 Sierra Leone 1,701
12 Eritrea 1,718
13 Togo 1,820
14 Haiti 1,903
15 Guinea-Bissau 2,025
16 Afghanistan 2,086
17 Burkina Faso 1,996
18 Kiribati 2,134
19 Solomon Islands 2,297
20 Yemen 2,404
21 Guinea 2,429
22 Rwanda 2,444
23 Mali 2,474
24 Chad 2,505
25 Ethiopia 2,517
26 Benin 2,562
27 Zimbabwe 2,620
28 Uganda 2,622
29 The Gambia 2,903
30 Vantuatu 2,932
31 Nepal 3,115
32 Sao Tomè and Prìncipe 3,441
33 Lesotho 3,564
34 Tanzania 3,573
35 Tajikistan 3,578
36 Micronesia 3,584
37 Marshall Islands 3,788
38 Papua New Guinea 3,789
39 Senegal 3,864
40 Kenya 3,863
41 Cameroon 3,965
42 Kyrgyz Republic 3,979
43 Djibouti 3,999
44 Sudan 4,089
45 Zambia 4,177
46 Mauritania 4,201
47 Tuvalu 4,275
48 Còte d'Ivoire 4,454
49 Cambodia 4,643
50 Bangladesh 4,993
51 Honduras 5,390
52 Nicaragua 5,433
53 Timor-Leste 5,561
54 Pakistan 5,839
55 Nigeria 6,098
56 Samoa 6,135
57 Tonga 6,496
58 Angola 6,763
59 Ghana 6,998
60 Myanmar 7,029
61 Republic of Congo 7,119
62 Moldova 7,727
63 Cabo Verde 7,790
64 Bolivia 8,063
65 Vietnam 8,063
66 Uzbekistan 8,065
67 El Salvador 8,313
68 India 8,484
69 Lao P.D.R. 8,485
70 Belize 8,642
71 Guatemala 8,709
72 Guyana 8,974
73 Morocco 9,284
74 Philippines 9,494
75 Jordan 9,651
76 Jamaica 9,729
77 Ukraine 9,743
78 Bhutan 10,015
79 Fiji 10,710
80 Armenia 10,828
81 Dominica 10,866
82 Eswatini 11,089
83 Namibia 11,516
84 Ecuador 11,700
85 Libya 12,051
86 Kosovo 12,154
87 Georgia 12,282
88 St. Vincent and the Grenadines 12,431
89 Nauru 12,433
90 Tunisia 12,801
91 South Africa 13,865
92 Paraguay 13,913
93 Sri Lanka 13,954
94 Indonesia 14,019
95 Egypt 14,028
96 Albania 14,102
97 Bosnia and Herzegovina 14,164
98 Mongolia 14,270
99 Peru 14,892
100 St. Lucia 15,001
101 Lebanon 15,526
102 Palau 15,576
103 Suriname 15,526
104 Colombia 15,576
105 Algeria 15,765
106 North Macedonia 16,455
107 Brazil 16,662
108 Grenada 17,071
109 Iraq 18,008
110 Costa Rica 18,183
111 Iran 18,505
112 Serbia 18,567
113 Botswana 18,654
114 Azerbaijan 18,794
115 Barbados 18,798
116 Gabon 19,159
117 Dominican Republic 19,516
118 China 19,520
119 Montenegro 19,098
120 Turkmenistan 20,409
121 Argentina 20,425
122 Thailand 20,474
123 Belarus 20,820
124 Mexico 21,107
125 Equatorial Guinea 21,441
126 Maldives 23,154
127 Uruguay 24,052
128 Bulgaria 24,485
129 Mauritius 25,059
130 Chile 27,059
131 Panama 27,305
132 Turkey 27,391
133 Croatia 27,580
134 Romania 27,753
135 Kazakhstan 28,515
136 Antigua and Barbuda 29,298
137 Russia 30,284
138 Greece 30,506
139 St. Kitts and Nevis 31,095
140 Latvia 31,491
141 Seychelles 31,809
142 Malaysia 32,455
143 Trinidad and Tobago 32,684
144 Portugal 33,166
145 Hungary 33,708
146 Poland 33,747
147 The Bahamas 34,421
148 Estonia 35,718
149 Lithuania 36,997
150 Slovak Republic 35,099
151 Slovenia 38,364
152 Czech Republic 39,088
153 Israel 39,160
154 Aruba 40,160
155 Italy 40,206
156 Puerto Rico 40,796
157 New Zealand 41,179
158 Spain 41,538
159 Cyprus 41,416
160 South Korea 41,416
161 Japan 45,565
162 Oman 46,782
163 United Kingdom 46,782
164 France 46,978
165 Finland 48,006
166 Malta 48,246
167 Belgium 49,480
168 Canada 50,626
169 Bahrain 50,868
170 Denmark 53,552
171 Australia 53,559
172 Austria 53,716
173 Sweden 54,071
174 Germany 53,854
175 Taiwan Province of China 55,244
176 Iceland 56,530
177 Saudi Arabia 56,817
178 Netherlands 58,255
179 San Marino 61,5552
180 United States 64,767
181 Switzerland 65,707
182 Hong Kong SAR 66,517
183 Kuwait 67,969
184 United Arab Emirates 70,474
185 Norway 77,738
186 Ireland 82,439
187 Brunei Darussalam 83,777
188 Singapore 103,717
189 Luxembourg 108,813
190 Macao 122,201
191 Qatar 134,623

Source: International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook April 2019.