Special Report

The Best and Worst Economies in the World

Tribal Village in Malawi
Source: Thinkstock

5. Malawi
> 2015 GDP: $6.4 billion
> Life expectancy: 62.7 years
> Gov’t debt as % of GDP: 83.4%
> Patent applications (per million residents): 0

Malawi’s battle with governmental corruption and HIV has long hindered economic development. An estimated one in 10 Malawi residents is infected with HIV, a higher proportion than nearly anywhere else on the planet. Similarly, there are 227 cases of tuberculosis for every 100,000 Malawians, one of the highest incidences of the disease of any country.

Additional obstacles to doing business in Malawi are the minimal access to financing, high inflation, and inadequate infrastructure. Malawi has some of the lowest quality roads, ports, and air transport infrastructure in the world, and about two in every three citizens lack a mobile phone subscription. Despite economic growth in recent years, Malawi is still one of the world’s poorest countries. Malawi’s GDP per capita of just $354 is less than 150th that of the United States.

Bujumbura International Airport, main terminal Burundi
Source: Thinkstock

4. Burundi
> 2015 GDP: $2.9 billion
> Life expectancy: 56.7 years
> Gov’t debt as % of GDP: 38.4%
> Patent applications (per million residents): 0

A landlocked country in central Africa, Burundi suffered through a bloody civil war between Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups. Now, more than a decade after the end of the war, the country struggles with political violence. In addition to violence and political instability, Burundi faces serious corruption problems. The country’s president crippled press freedom in 2013 by making it illegal to report on matters that could be deemed to undermine the national economy or public order. Perhaps not surprisingly, the country ranks among the worst in transparency of government policymaking. It is also among world’s most egregious offenders of illegal diversion of public funds.

Diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis are also considerable obstacles to business in Burundi. Due in part to the effects of these diseases, life expectancy in the country is only 56.7 years.

Chad, Giraffe
Source: Thinkstock

3. Chad
> 2015 GDP: $10.9 billion
> Life expectancy: 51.6 years
> Gov’t debt as % of GDP: 39.3%
> Patent applications (per million residents): 0

The business environment in Chad, Africa’s fifth largest country, is rife with problems. The relationship between pay and productivity in the country’s workforce is the third worse of all 138 countries examined, and businesses in the country are some of the least likely to be able attain the financial services they need.

Chad is also the least technological country of all those examined. The country ranks last in the availability of the latest technologies, and only 2.7% of its population are Internet users. With extremely limited technological capabilities, the country is severely handicapped in terms of business sophistication and capacity for innovation.

Source: Thinkstock

2. Mauritania
> 2015 GDP: $4.8 billion
> Life expectancy: 63.0 years
> Gov’t debt as % of GDP: 78.1%
> Patent applications (per million residents): 0

Mauritania has the lowest quality of overall infrastructure of all 138 countries examined. The quality of the country’s roads and air transport infrastructure — a basic requirement for conducting business — is particularly poor. The country’s business and government institutions are also anything but reliable. The country ranks last in ethical behavior of firms, efficacy of corporate boards, and irregular payments and bribes. It ranks second to last in police service reliability and auditing and reporting standards.

Poor infrastructure and low confidence in public and private institutions does little to foster innovation in Mauritania. With the lowest private sector R&D spending of any country examined, Mauritania ranks last in its capacity for innovation.

Panorama of Sanaa, Yemen
Source: Thinkstock

1. Yemen
> 2015 GDP: $36.9 billion
> Life expectancy: 63.8 years
> Gov’t debt as % of GDP: 68.6%
> Patent applications (per million residents): 0

Formed in 1990, when South Yemen and North Yemen merged, Yemen is less than 30 years old. The country, which today is in the midst of a civil war, has the least competitive economy of all 138 countries examined. Located on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, terrorism has taken a greater toll on business in Yemen than in any other country. Both Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have bases within the country.

The country’s productivity is also undermined by poor infrastructure. In addition to poor quality roads and airports, Yemen has the lowest quality electricity supply of any country examined. Conditions in the country are not likely to improve as younger generations take over. Yemen’s primary school quality and enrollment rate trail nearly every other country examined.

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