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 $29 trillion by 2050, powered by its agriculture, trade, and natural resources sectors. The region has an eager and expanding workforce, with 20 million new job seekers a year in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Africans are starting to catch up with the rest of the world technologically as well: Every day, more than 90,000 residents of sub-Saharan Africa log on to the internet for the first time. Africa may be the least developed of the major continents—even the richest African countries lag far behind the wealthiest countries in the world—but its potential is both substantial and undeniable.
Using gross domestic product (GDP) to measure the wealth of African countries
While there are several ways to compare various nations' wealth, one of the best methods is to evaluate each country's gross domestic product, or GDP. This is the value of all the goods and services produced by a nation in a given year. GDP is typically expressed in one of two ways. The first is in current US dollars (USD or US$). The second method is slightly more complex, but designed to make country-to-country comparisons more precise. In the second method, GDP is first adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), which modifies each country's GDP in relation to its local cost of living, then expressed in a fictional currency called international dollars (INT). Results and rankings may differ depending upon which of the two methods is used.
Top 10 Richest African Countries by Overall GDP (current US$ - World Bank)*:
- Nigeria — $440,834 million
- South Africa — $419,015 million
- Egypt — $404,143 million
- Algeria — 163,044 million
- Morocco — $142,866 million
- Ethiopia — $111,271 million
- Kenya — $110,347 million
- Ghana — $77,594 million
- Ivory Coast — $70,043 million
- Tanzania — $67,404 million
* Data year 2021 (applies to all tables marked with *)
Top 10 Richest African Countries by Overall GDP (current PPP INT$ - World Bank)*:
- Egypt — $1.39 trillion
- Nigeria — $1.15 trillion
- South Africa — $868.58 billion
- Algeria — $535.80 billion
- Morocco — $333.24 billion
- Ethiopia — $306.45 billion
- Kenya — $276.22 billion
- Angola — $223.97 billion
- Ghana — $196.05 billion
- Sudan — $185.64 billion
Ranked by GDP in current USD, Nigeria comes out as the richest country in Africa during the year 2021. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with 211 million residents—nearly twice the population of Egypt—contributing to its GDP. Nigeria is a lower-middle-income, mixed economy focused upon petroleum and (to a lesser extent) agriculture. It is also an emerging market with growing financial, service, communications, and technology sectors.
However, in terms of total GDP by PPP-adjusted international dollars (PPP INT$), Egypt ranks 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.
Shortcomings of GDP and strengths of GDP per capita and GNI per capita
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 more efficient workforce. GDP can also be distorted by the financial sector in tax haven countries (though this is a much greater concern in Europe than in Africa).
To overcome these shortcomings, economists often turn to GDP per capita, which divides gross domestic product by the number of people in the country, and to gross national income (GNI) per capita, which does the same and is less impacted by tax haven activity.
Richest African Countries by GDP per Capita (current US$ - World Bank)*:
- Seychelles — $14,653.3
- Mauritius — $9,106.2
- Gabon — $8,635.3
- Equatorial Guinea — $7,506.7
- South Africa — $7,055.0
- Botswana — $6,805.2
- Libya — $6,357.2
- Namibia — $4,856.6
- Eswatini — $3,978.4
- Tunisia — $3,807.1
Switching the measurement to GDP per capita has a significant impact on the list of Africa's richest countries. Seychelles is the richest country when using this metric. The Seychelles economy is primarily driven by fishing, tourism, boat building, processing coconuts and vanilla, and agriculture, especially cinnamon, sweet potatoes, tuna, and bananas. Its public sector contributes the most employment and gross revenue, employing two-thirds of the total labor force.
Although Egypt has the highest total GDP of any African country, it ranks only eighth in terms of GDP per capita. What's more, Nigeria doesn't even make the new list—in fact, it's in 22nd place.
Gross national income (GNI) per capita of African economies
A final metric often used by economists to compare the wealth of different countries is gross national income, or GNI. While GDP measures the value of the goods and services a country creates, GNI measures the total income obtained through those goods and services. GNI also tracks money that enters or exits a country's economy as part of international business activities. This makes GNI a bit better at avoiding the artificially inflated totals that can distort the GDPs of countries that are known international tax shelters.
Richest African Countries by GNI per Capita (Atlas method, current US$ — World Bank)*:
- Seychelles — $14,540
- Mauritius — $9,920
- Libya — $8,700
- South Africa — $6,530
- Gabon — $6,440
- Botswana — $6,430
- Equatorial Guinea — $5,150
- Namibia — $4,650
- Algeria — $3,660
- Eswatini — $3,650
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 was actually 13th in 2021).
How do Africa's richest countries compare to the richest countries on other continents?
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 was $68,599 USD in 2021, and the European Union's average GNI per capita was $37,779. However, Seychelles is ahead of the 2021 global average of $12,023 USD, and several other African countries have the potential to meet and exceed that goal as well.