The Poorest Countries In The World

While it is undeniable that the world as a whole is growing wealthier, the distribution of this wealth is problematic.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the total sum of the monetary value of all goods and services produced strictly within a country’s borders for a given time period (usually a year). This figure doesn’t take into account foreign investments, thereby differentiating GDP from Gross National Income (GNI). While most comparisons of wealth have typically used nominal GDP figures, this fails to tell the story of how well people on average are faring in dollar-for-dollar wealth comparisons. To gain a clearer perspective of what it is to live at the lowest rungs of the wealth ladder, and how people get there, we have listed the countries with GDP per Capita of less than $500 USD.

Corruption in Malawi

Malawi is a landlocked African country on the south-eastern edge of the continent. With well over 85% of the country's population of 16 million people living in rural areas and dependent on subsistence farming, the country's economy is fragile and very dependent on foreign aid. In 2000, however, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stopped its aid disbursements to Malawi, citing widespread corruption and mishandling of the funds by the government there. In 2013 President Joyce Banda sold the presidential jet and a fleet of 60 luxury cars to feed the poor and grow crops to fight malnutrition. Only to be embroiled in a financial scandal involving looting, theft and corruption within the government, that went public the next month. While Banda greatly improved diplomatic relations with other countries when she became president, due to scandal Norway, Britain, and the EU suspended approximately 150 million in aid and she lost heavily in the next election. The proceeds from the sale of the jet failed to be accounted for. Malawi continues to grapple with massive problems in its economic system including the scourge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, a rudimentary market economy, and a dysfunctional education system. In January of 2015, Malawi was in the news for another negative reason, as devastating floods left almost a quarter of a million people homeless and destroyed well over 64,000 hectares of cropland, furthering their economic woes.

Political Unrest in Burundi

Burundi is also a landlocked African country with an overwhelming majority of its population depending on subsistence agriculture. Located in the Great Lakes region of Africa, Burundi has a history checkered with ethnic strife and military coupes that have consistently derailed its long-term prospects for development. According to IMF data, well over 80% of the country's population lives under the poverty line. Political unrest has once again rocked the country throughout 2015, despite the progress made over the past few years.

Central African Republic's Diamond Market

The Central African Republic is also a landlocked African country with a high proportion of its population living in rural areas where subsistence farming is the most important occupational activity. The economy of Central African Republic is largely dependent on the export of diamonds, which brings in between 40-55% of the country's export revenues. However, it is estimated that up to a half of those diamonds are sold on the black market, denying the government of tax revenue and undercutting honest, hardworking businesspeople trying to do things the right way.

Climate Change in Niger

While Niger is the largest country in West Africa, most of its territory is covered by the Sahara Desert, limiting the economic activities which the country's populace can engage in. Moreover, the country is completely landlocked, and very resource poor. Even the 20% of the country not covered by the desert experiences periodic draughts, climate change is amplifying the effects of the combined threats of desertification of arable land and salinization of drinking water.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo's Military Conflict

There is perhaps no other country which represents an economic system that is seriously dysfunctional than the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Though the DRC sits on some of the most extensive natural resources including diamonds and other precious stones in the world, decades of ethnic strife and runaway militias have depleted these resources and limited access to them among the ‘everyman’ there. Some semblance of proper governance in recent years has increased export revenues but, as the extensive country has a very rudimentary infrastructure system, there is a lot remaining to be done before the economy can make a serious name for the nation on the global market.

Strife in Madagascar

Madagascar is unique as being among the only island nations in this list of countries with substantially low levels of economic activity. The island country, located just off the coast of southern Africa, is comprised of the island of Madagascar, which is the fourth largest island in the world, as well as a large number of much smaller islands in the surrounding waters of the Indian Ocean. The economy is largely dependent on agriculture, with chief products being rice, tea, cotton, and dairy. Madagascar has had a bad history of political strife and coups, issues which have had devastating effects on its economic productivity.

Looking Towards a Better Future

While the details outlined above may make for a depressing reading, hope still thrives in the minds and hearts of innovators and entrepreneurs within the poverty-stricken locales. What is even more encouraging is that most of the countries listed above are enjoying a period of relative calm from political and ethnic strife, a trend that will hopefully continue in years yet to come. Such times of comparative peace will likely give many of these nations excellent opportunities to not only increase their wealth and prosperity aggregately but, possibly more important still, foster socioeconomic equality within and throughout their respective populaces.

Countries With The Lowest GDP per Capita

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RankCountryGDP per capita (current US$)
3Central African Republic358.54
5Congo, Dem. Rep.442.34
8Gambia, The484.10
19Burkina Faso713.06
21Sierra Leone765.96

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