Africa is the most resource-rich continent on the planet. This article explores the richest countries in Africa by GDP and their strengths and weaknesses.
Despite its image as the world’s most undeveloped continent, Africa is, without a doubt, the most resource-rich territory on the planet. While no nation on the continent is among the world’s 30 largest economies, it is essential to explore the richest countries in Africa.
South Africa and the nations of the Maghreb are richer than those of Central and West Africa, with regional discrepancies so great that sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb are sometimes analysed individually.
A wealthy pauper
Most of Africa’s natural resources are exported unprocessed via poorly negotiated contracts that are not particularly lucrative for Africans, resulting in a barely beneficial contribution to the economic position of these nations.
Properly exploiting all these resources, implementing sound economic policies, and equitable profit distribution will undoubtedly alleviate Africa’s poverty.
Considering GDP statistics from the IMF, the universally approved regulator of the world’s monetary system, the following are the richest countries in Africa:
GDP: $504.2 billion
richest country in West Africa
richest country in Sahel region
With a nominal GDP of $504.2 billion, Nigeria is the richest country in Africa due to its human potential, abundance of natural resources, and its GDP in purchasing power parity of $1.3 billion, which is the second largest on the continent.
Despite a per capita gross domestic product far below pre-independence levels, Nigeria remains the continent’s most populous and main oil producer.
Although Nigeria is Africa’s strongest economic power, its economic structure is akin to that of many other nations on the continent. Two-thirds of the population now live below the absolute poverty level of $1 per day, up from 43% in 1985.
Most of Nigeria’s economic advancement is concentrated in the south, while the centre and north are less developed, with the majority of economic activity occurring in the coastal zone, particularly around Lagos.
Did you know?
Nigeria is so wealthy that it’s richest state and economic capital, Lagos, would have been Africa’s 5th largest economy had it been a sovereign nation.
Since 2008, the government has shown a readiness to embrace the economic changes advised by the International Monetary Fund, of which Nigeria is a member, in order to preserve its position as the richest country in West Africa and the Sahel region.
These changes include modernising the financial system, regulating salary demands to reduce inflation, and addressing regional conflicts over ownership of the clothing industry’s revenues.
Nigeria is a member of OPEC and the World Bank, but its 121st ranking out of 180 nations on Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index severely tarnishes its reputation as Africa’s first superpower.
GDP: $469.1 billion
richest country in North Africa
Occupying northeast Africa and divided by the lush Nile River Valley, Egypt is the leading economic force on the African continent in terms of GDP PPP and the second richest country in Africa. Its economy was largely centralised under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, but it was liberalised under Presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak due to tough reforms.
Egypt’s reform and economic openness program, undertaken between 2006 and 2008 to attract international investment and drive development, helped the country attain record-high annual growth rates of 7%, catapulting it into the ranks of Africa’s richest nations.
This seismic boom may have lasted longer if not for the global financial crisis of the late 2000s, which lowered growth to 4.7% and negatively impacted export-driven industries, notably manufacturing and tourism.
Considering the country’s arid environment, the majority of human and economic activity is centred near the Nile, and its economy, unlike that of many African nations, is diverse and the largest in North Africa. In 2015, 16% of Egypt’s GDP was attributable to the manufacturing sector, 13% to wholesale and retail commerce, etc.
Despite Egypt’s rapid rise to the pinnacle of Africa’s richest north African nation, the fact that a substantial 40% of the population lives below the poverty line has triggered instability in the political and civic spheres, as well as a revolution.
GDP: $411.5 billion
richest country in Southern Africa
South Africa, the most industrialised and technologically sophisticated nation on the continent, is the third richest country in Africa. It features a two-speed economy, with one sector on par with industrialised nations and another in severe need of basic infrastructure.
Although the natural resource extraction industry (particularly chromium, manganese, gold, and platinum) remains one of the largest in the country, contributing 13.5 billion dollars annually to the country’s gross domestic product, South Africa’s economy has diversified since the end of apartheid, particularly in the services sector.
Being the richest country in Southern Africa, South Africa accounts for 25 per cent of the continent’s economy and plays a significant role in the region’s growth.
In 2019, the financial sector of South Africa contributed $41.4 billion to the country’s gross domestic product, and by 2021, South African financial institutions were handling more than $1.41 trillion in assets.
South Africa is a growing market economy with enormous natural resources and well-developed legal, communication, energy, and transport sectors, as well as the major stock exchange in Africa, which ranks sixteenth in the world.
Despite its modern infrastructure and status as one of the richest countries in Africa, South Africa’s economic development is hampered by its inability to enable effective delivery of commodities to big hubs and its inconsistent power supply.
The wealthiest 1% of the South African population owns 70.9% of the country’s total wealth, while the poorest 60% hold just 7%. Nonetheless, the South African rand is the most valued currency in Southern Africa and one of the strongest legal tenders in Africa.
The fact that many Africans travel to South Africa to make more money than in their native countries is one of the country’s claims to fame as one of Africa’s richest nations.
GDP: $187.1 billion
richest country in the Maghreb
Algeria is one of the continent’s primary oil and gas producers, the continent’s third economic power in terms of GDP PPP, and the fourth richest country in Africa. Like many OPEC countries, Algeria is extremely reliant on its oil exports and worldwide market volatility.
Since gaining independence in 1962, Algeria has established a dense industrial base through significant economic initiatives. Notwithstanding enormous accomplishments in the form of roads, highways, colleges, hospitals, industries, housing, metros, tramways, etc., which now cements its position as one of the richest countries in Africa, the Algerian economy has gone through a number of turbulent phases.
Throughout the 1980s, the Algerian economy had enormous challenges, particularly in 1986, during the anti-shortage and stabilisation plan, when the oil counter-shock struck a severe blow to its virtually rentier economy. Algeria initiated structural changes in the early 1990s, concretising the shift to a market economy.
In 2001, the administration of Abdelaziz Bouteflika proposed changes to liberalise several industries and open the nation to investors. The transition from a planned to a market economy is still ongoing, with many sectors and services still controlled by the government.
Although Algeria is the richest country in the Maghreb, its economy remains extremely reliant on oil and gas earnings, which are the country’s primary source of income. The nation has been unsuccessful in diversifying its economy and creating a globally competitive manufacturing base.
Despite this shortcoming, Algeria has a decent infrastructure and an adequate standard of living thanks to its oil and gas income.
In 2013, the Algerian government demonstrated its financial prowess by cancelling $902 million in debts it owned on behalf of 14 African Union member states.
GDP: $142.9 billion
The Kingdom of Morocco is a market economy that has developed at an average annual rate of 4% over the previous decade, with a projected GDP of $142.9 billion in 2022, making it the fifth richest country in Africa.
The automobile industry (28.5%), the agricultural and agri-food sector (21.8%), and phosphates, of which Morocco owns the world’s largest deposits, are the country’s three primary export industries.
Tourism, which accounts for 7% of the country’s GDP, contributes significantly to Morocco’s status as one of the richest countries in Africa. It is the source of around 550 thousand direct jobs, which support several million people. In August 2022, tourists to Morocco generated an all-time high of $1.5 billion in income.
The European Union is Morocco’s largest commercial partner, accounting for 53.1% of imports and 66.7% of exports. Spain (15.6%), France (12.0%), and China (10.0%) are the top three nations that supply Morocco.
The country’s main reforms and programmes have had positive outcomes, as seen by the country’s continued growth in GDP. Despite this, vulnerability persists, as evidenced by the disastrous agricultural seasons caused by severe drought.
In addition to its grand reputation as one of the richest African countries, Morocco has the unpleasant distinction of being one of the continent’s most unequal nations, with extremely poor social mobility and assets dependent mostly on inheritance.
Some statistics indicate that the son of a top Moroccan executive is far more likely to belong to the same socioeconomic class as his father than the son of a labourer.
The economy of Morocco is that of a developing nation with a diversified economic structure. Since 1993, the government has pursued a program of privatising state corporations and liberalising several economic sectors.
While in recent years several administrations have pursued a strategy of economic diversification, agriculture still employs 43% of Morocco’s active population despite accounting for just 14% of GDP.
In 2009, weathering the global economic crisis, Morocco’s economy grew by 5.0%, due in part to the over-protectionism of Moroccan banks and the success of the agricultural sector.
In addition to being one of the richest countries in Africa, Morocco is among the world’s top 30 countries for the offshore industry’s growth, owing in part to its geographical and cultural proximity and, to a greater degree, the time zone.
Morocco has signed multiple trade agreements with other nations, including the Morocco-US Free Trade Agreement, the Morocco-Turkey Free Trade Agreement, GAFTA, the Morocco-Canada Free Trade Agreement, and the Advanced Trade Agreement with the European Union.
GDP: $124.8 billion
richest country in Central Africa
With an economy highly reliant on the extraction and sale of natural commodities such as oil and minerals, Angola is the sixth richest country in Africa. Despite four decades of independence and civil conflicts, economic development skyrocketed between 2002 and 2016, averaging 9% in the period leading up to 2008.
On the one hand, Angola’s economy is characterised by its vast economic potential and, on the other, by its recovery from the lengthy civil conflict that afflicted the country from 1975 to 2002.
The economy of Angola increased by an average of 11.1% per year between 2000 and 2010, resulting in a surge in non-oil economic sectors and recognition as the richest country in Central Africa.
However, the country’s categorisation in international human development indices (148th in the global HDI and 54.8% of the population in severe poverty) remains dismal, despite the country’s positive growth indicators in recent years.
According to the available data, the oil wealth is concentrated among a few members of the political elite, while the bulk of the populace lives in abject poverty.
As a consequence of diminishing foreign currency liquidity and the economic downturn, there is a rise in bankruptcies in a financial system that is strongly reliant on the oil industry.
In 2009, Luanda, the capital of Angola, surpassed Tokyo as the most expensive city in the world, yet two-thirds of the people lived on less than two dollars per day.
GDP: $114.9 billion
richest country in East Africa
Kenya, the only lower-middle-income nation in East Africa according to the World Bank, is the seventh richest country in Africa. The government maintains an open foreign economic exchange system and a market economy with a few state-owned firms.
The primary economic sectors are agriculture, forestry, mining, manufacturing, energy, tourism, and financial services. Kenya, the richest country in East Africa, has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest economy, after only Nigeria and South Africa.
GDP: $111.2 billion
richest country in the Horn of Africa
With one of the highest GDP growth rates in the world, at over 10 per cent per year, Ethiopia is the eighth richest country in Africa. Its remarkable GDP growth has allowed a substantial section of the population to transcend severe poverty, dropping from 55.5% in 1999 to 26.7% in 2016 (threshold: $1.90).
Droughts, food shortages, and political disputes have hampered Ethiopia’s agricultural economy, but the country is rapidly moving to an industrial and exporting economy.
Despite being the richest country in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is not a member of the World Trade Organization, although a membership process was initiated in 2003.
Ethiopia has a sizable public sector, with the government privatising several state-owned enterprises and gradually moving toward a market economy. Yet, the state retains control over the banking, telecommunications, and transportation industries.
In addition to being one of the richest African countries, Ethiopia is the second-most populated nation on the continent and has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
High reliance on the energy sector (oil) and large military expenditures continue to weaken the economy, which varies greatly depending on the region of the nation in question.
GDP: $76.6 billion
A country heavily reliant on agricultural processing and certain consumer goods, Tanzania is the ninth richest country in Africa. Agriculture accounts for a quarter of the country’s gross domestic output, employs around 80% of the labour force, and accounts for approximately 85% of exports.
Although one of the richest countries in Africa, Tanzania’s economy is in many ways typical of a developing nation, with a nearly nonexistent and uncompetitive industrial base. However, tourism is an increasingly important source of foreign cash.
Tanzania’s mineral resources include gold, diamonds, iron, coal, nickel, tanzanite, uranium, natural gas, and offshore natural gas reserves.
While the government retains a presence in the telecommunications, banking, energy, and mining industries, the transition to a market economy has been almost completed.
GDP: $76 billion
Ghana, a prominent petroleum and natural gas producer with the sixth-largest crude oil reserves in Africa and the twenty-fifth-largest in the world, is the tenth-richest country in Africa.
Ghana has poultry, fish, and beef, but agriculture, particularly cocoa and gold, contributes about half of the country’s gross domestic product.
Cocoa and its derivatives, which typically account for two-thirds of exports, are farmers’ primary source of revenue. Ghana is also a producer of lumber, palm oil, coconuts and other palm goods, and shea, which is used to extract edible fat and coffee.
In addition to these traditional goods, Ghana has included other agricultural items such as pineapples, cashew nuts, black pepper, yams, cassava, and bananas, which have enhanced its position as one of the richest countries in Africa.
Manganese, bauxite, and diamonds are available in commercial amounts in Ghana, but gold is the largest commercially exploited resource, accounting for over 95% of the country’s mining earnings, hence the colonial name, “Gold Coast.”
The economic performance of Ghana is dependent on climatic conditions and international commodity prices, which may negatively impact agricultural productivity. From the middle of 1999, a serious deterioration in terms of trade has hurt the economy owing to declining cocoa and gold prices and increasing oil costs.
While one of the richest countries in Africa, Ghana’s industrial sector, which accounts for around 10% of its GDP, is undeveloped and is plagued by several inefficiencies.
Ghana’s status as one of Africa’s wealthiest nations has been bolstered by the emergence of tourism as one of the country’s primary sources of revenue in recent years, prompting the government to place a significant focus on fostering the expansion of this industry.