Many of the world's poorest nations are in Africa. Numerous African economies are unstable, poverty is widespread, and poor access to vaccines is slowing the entire continent's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, many African countries, including Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, and Somalia, are currently at war with either terrorist insurgencies or one another, which puts further strain on their economies.
Despite these challenges, Africa's 54 countries include some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The African economy is expected to reach a GDP of $29 trillion by 2050, powered by its agriculture, trade, and natural resources sectors. The region has an eager and expanding workforce, with 20 million new job seekers a year in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Africans are starting to catch up with the rest of the world technologically as well: Every day, more than 90,000 residents of sub-Saharan Africa log on to the internet for the first time. Africa may be the least developed of the major continents—even the richest African countries lag far behind the wealthiest countries in the world—but its potential is both substantial and undeniable.
Using gross domestic product (GDP) to measure the wealth of African countries
While there are several ways to compare various nations' wealth, one of the best methods is to evaluate each country's gross domestic product, or GDP. This is the value of all the goods and services produced by a nation in a given year. To make country-to-country comparisons more precise, GDP is often first adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), which modifies each country's GDP relative to local prices, and expressed in a fictional currency called international dollars (INT).
According to the International Monetary Fund, the four top African countries posted GDPs of more than $500 billion (INT) in 2020:
Top 10 Richest African Countries by Overall GDP (INT$ at PPP — International Monetary Fund 2021)
- Egypt - $1.38 trillion
- Nigeria - $1.14 trillion
- South Africa - $861.93 billion
- Algeria - $532.57 billion
- Morocco - $302.77 billion
- Ethiopia - $298.57 billion
- Kenya - $269.29 billion
- Angola - $217.97 billion
- Ghana - $193.63 billion
- Sudan - $189.87 billion
In terms of total GDP (PPP INT$), Egypt wins out as the richest country in Africa for 2021. With 104 million people, Egypt is Africa's third-most populous country. Egypt is also a mixed economy strong in tourism, agriculture, and fossil fuels, with an emerging information and communications technology sector.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with 211 million residents—nearly twice the population of Egypt—contributing to its GDP. Nigeria is a lower-middle-income, mixed economy focused upon petroleum and (to a lesser extent) agriculture. It is also an emerging market with growing financial, service, communications, and technology sectors.
GDP per capita offers additional insight into African economies
Although GDP is an extremely valuable metric, it is also quite broad. For example, it disregards the number of citizens contributing to a country's GDP, which means a country with a vast, but less effective workforce can post a higher GDP than a country with a smaller, but efficient workforce. To get a more granular look at this and other factors, economists often turn to GDP per capita, which divides gross domestic product by the number of people in the country.
Richest African Countries by GDP per Capita (INT$ at PPP — World Bank 2021)
- Seychelles - $30,898
- Mauritius - $23,841
- Equatorial Guinea - $18,625
- Botswana - $18,507
- Libya - $15,816
- Gabon - $15,582
- South Africa - $13,010
- Egypt - $12,261
- Algeria - $11,997
- Tunisia - $11,096
Switching the measurement to GDP per capita has a significant impact on the list of Africa's richest countries. Seychelles is the richest country when using this metric. The Seychelles economy is primarily driven by fishing, tourism, boat building, processing coconuts and vanilla, and agriculture, especially cinnamon, sweet potatoes, tuna, and bananas. Its public sector contributes the most employment and gross revenue, employing two-thirds of the total labor force.
Although Egypt has the highest total GDP of any African country, it ranks only eighth in terms of GDP per capita. What's more, Nigeria doesn't even make the new list—in fact, it's in 22nd place.
Gross national income (GNI) of African economies
A final metric often used by economists to compare the wealth of different countries is gross national income, or GNI. While GDP measures the value of the goods and services a country creates, GNI measures the total income obtained through those goods and services. GNI also tracks money that enters or exits a country's economy as part of international business activities. This makes GNI a bit better at avoiding the artificially inflated totals that can distort the GDPs of countries that are known international tax shelters.
Richest African Countries by GNI per Capita (Atlas method, current US$ — World Bank 2021)
- Seychelles - $12,720
- Mauritius - $10,230
- Gabon - $6,970
- Botswana - $6,640
- Equatorial Guinea - $5,810
- South Africa - $5,410
- Libya - $4,850
- Namibia - $4,520
- Eswatini - $3,580
- Algeria - $3,550
Once again, Seychelles ranks first, with Mauritius close behind and countries including Botswana, Libya, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon slotting in underneath. However, Egypt, which had the highest overall GDP in all of Africa, has fallen completely out of the top 10 (it's actually 15th).
Viewed on a global scale, even Africa's richest nations pale in comparison to those on most other continents. The average GNI per capita in North America is $62,367 (US$), and the European Union's average GNI per capita is $34,081 (US). However, Seychelles is ahead of the global average of $11,057 (US$), and several other African countries have the potential to meet and exceed that goal as well.