Special Report

The Best and Worst Economies in the World

5. Burundi
> 2014 GDP:
$8.38 billion
> Life expectancy: 54.1 years
> Gov’t debt as % of GDP: 30.5%
> Patent applications per 1 million people: 0.0

Sharing a border with Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi is one of the seven least competitive nations located in Africa. The country gained its independence from Belgium in 1962. Currently in the earliest stage of development, Burundi’s economy is heavily dependent on unskilled labor and natural resources.

Corruption, technological limitations, and health problems are all significant impediments to the nation’s development. Corporate ethics in Burundi ranks among the worst of all the nations examined in the WEF report. Furthermore, there are only about 31 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 Burundi residents, the smallest share of any nation examined. Most striking, however, is the nation’s low life expectancy. The average Burundi resident is not expected to live to be 55 years old, one of the lowest life expectancies in the world.

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4. Sierra Leone
> 2014 GDP:
$12.63 billion
> Life expectancy: 45.6 years
> Gov’t debt as % of GDP: 38.8%
> Patent applications per 1 million people: 0.0

The quality of health care in a given nation and the life expectancy of its residents can play an important role in the country’s economic success — and Sierra Leone does poorly by both measures. Life expectancy in the country is just 45.6 years, and 107.2 infants die per every 1,000 live births, each among the worst in the world. The ebola outbreak that swept through Sierra Leone and other parts of West Africa last year can partially explain some of these health statistics. More than 15,000 Sierra Leone residents had contracted the disease, and nearly 4,000 had died as of data released in September.

The nation’s health is just one obstacle the Sierra Leone economy faces. The nation’s road, port, and air transportation infrastructure are all among the worst in the world, as are the country’s telephone and electricity networks.

3. Mauritania
> 2014 GDP:
$15.53 billion
> Life expectancy: 61.5 years
> Gov’t debt as % of GDP: 59.1%
> Patent applications per 1 million people: 0.0

Formerly under French control, Mauritania has been an independent nation for only 55 years. Still in the early stages of development, Mauritania’s economy is heavily dependent on unskilled labor and natural resources. The nation’s most fundamental impediments to development include deficient transportation infrastructure and a poorly educated workforce. Of the countries examined in the report, only three had lower quality primary education and only a handful of nations had worse infrastructure than Mauritania.

While the nation is rife with problems that hinder development, the African nation ranks as the worst in several measures. Potential investors in the country may be deterred by Mauritania’s problem with corporate ethics, and inadequate protection of minority shareholder’s interests.

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2. Chad
> 2014 GDP:
$29.53 billion
> Life expectancy: 51.2 years
> Gov’t debt as % of GDP: 25.0%
> Patent applications per 1 million people: 0.0

Despite improving somewhat in its measures of competitiveness from last year, Chad remained the second least competitive country. It ranked poorly in nearly every measure. None of the residents have mobile broadband subscriptions, an important factor in business development. Chad is highly corrupt, which can be adverse to economic progress. The worse threats facing Chad’s economic competitiveness, however, are its poor infrastructure and health of its residents. Chad has no existing railroads, and less than 40% of residents have cell phones — one of the lowest rates in the world. Life expectancy in Chad is 51.2 years, more than 25 years less than the U.S. life expectancy. For every 1,000 live births in Chad, 88.5 infants do not survive, versus a U.S. infant mortality rate of 5.9 per every 1,000 live births.

1. Guinea
> 2014 GDP:
$14.97 billion
> Life expectancy: 56.1 years
> Gov’t debt as % of GDP: 37.4%
> Patent applications per 1 million people: 0.0

Home to about 11.4 million people, Guinea is the least competitive of the countries reviewed in the WEF report. Like nearly all of the struggling African nations, Guinea only became a sovereign nation in the mid 20th century. Many of Guinea’s biggest impediments to progress are due largely to its weak institutions. Corruption, policy instability, inefficient government, and government instability all pose significant impediments to economic prosperity. Perhaps most discouraging for Guinea’s future, however, is the state of its education system. No country in the report ranked worse for quality of education.

Guinea is one of three countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that was hit hardest by the ebola outbreak last year killing more than 2,500 as of September. This may partially explain why the report lists public health as among the most problematic factors in doing business in Guinea.

Click here to see the most competitive economies in the world.

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