Special Report

The Richest and Poorest Countries

5. Malawi
> GNI per capita:
> 2014 GDP: $4.3 billion
> Population: 16,695,253
> Life expectancy: 55.2 years

Located in southeastern Africa, Malawi is the fifth poorest country in the world, with a GNI per capita of just $790 per year, less than 1.5% of the corresponding U.S. figure. Additionally, more than half of Malawians live in poverty, a figure that is likely to rise if the country’s foreign aid does not soon resume. In 2014, donors withdrew nearly $150 million in aid from Malawi’s government budget after British auditors reported that corruption had siphoned at least $30 million away from the government. Without the aid, President Peter Mutharika fears the country will go bankrupt.

4. Burundi
> GNI per capita:
> 2014 GDP: $3.1 billion
> Population: 10,816,860
> Life expectancy: 54.1 years

With a GNI of just $770 per capita, Burundi is the fourth poorest country in the world. It has been the setting of a violent internal conflict since 1994 that has hindered economic development and crimped the standard of living of its people. Burundi imports more than two-thirds of what it exports and finances more than one-fifth of its GDP with foreign aid, leaving it in a poverty trap similar to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. The 10.8 billion Burundians are expected to live to just 54 years old, and 66.9% of them live in poverty.

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3. Liberia
> GNI per capita:
> 2014 GDP: $2.0 billion
> Population: 4,396,554
> Life expectancy: 60.5 years

Familiar to many as the epicenter of the 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa, Liberia’s per capita GNI is just $700, the third lowest in the world. Perhaps as a result, more than 63% of Liberians live in poverty and just 37.7% of children are enrolled in primary school, both among the worst rates in the world. GDP growth slowed to 0.5% in 2014, but the African Development Bank expects growth to rise to 3.8% in 2015 as the commercial activity and public expenditure projects resume again now that Liberia has been declared Ebola-free.

2. Democratic Republic of the Congo
> GNI per capita:
> 2014 GDP: $33.0 billion
> Population: 74,877,030
> Life expectancy: 49.9 years

Since at least the 1960s, economic development in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been impeded by oppressive leadership and constant violence. From 1965 to 1997, DRC was ruled by Joseph Mobutu, who changed the country’s name to Zaire, nationalized foreign-owned companies, and amassed a fortune of roughly $5 billion from plundering the country’s natural resources. In the late 1990s, a six-country war broke out in the DRC when Uganda and Rwanda backed rebels looking to oust then-President Laurent Kabila. Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Angola sent troops to support Kabila. By 2001, an estimated 2.5 million people died in the war.

Today, DRC is led by the former president’s son Joseph Kabila, who has proposed constitutional amendments that would extend his stay in office. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 500,000 Congolese have official refugee status, and an additional 2.7 million qualify for UNHCR assistance.

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1. Central African Republic
> GNI per capita:
> 2014 GDP: $1.8 billion
> Population: 4,804,316
> Life expectancy: 50.1 years

The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the poorest country in the world with a GNI per capita of $600 and a poverty rate of 62%. Not all of the country’s residents are poor, however. CAR’s Gini coefficient, which measures how income is distributed within a country, is 0.56, the fifth least equal of all countries reviewed. Average life expectancy is just 50 years. By comparison, U.S. life expectancy has not been so low since 1901.

In the country’s most recent coup in 2013, rebels backing Michel Djotodia ousted President Francois Bozize. Djotodia’s time in office, however, did not last long. Facing opposition from Christian rebels, he stepped down in 2014. Since, Catherine Samba-Panza has been the acting CAR president, the third female leader of an African country.


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