Africa and the Middle East



Sub-Saharan Africa

Map: Africa

Map: Electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa

Map: Language Groups in Africa

Country List (48) and Charts: Sub-Saharan Africa


A.  West Africa - largest region in Sub-Saharan, including Nigeria and 16 other countries.

B.  Central Africa - dominated by D. R. Congo (former Zaire), has the lowest average income, but Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are relatively wealthy exceptions.

C.  Southern Africa - with mineral wealth and unique polity,  this is the wealthiest region of Sub-Saharan Africa, led by Botswana, Republic of South Africa, and Namibia.

D.   East Africa - many troubled countries, some showing new signs of stability and growth. Kenya, for example, was a leader in adption of cell phone technology in Africa

Sub-Saharan African HDI Ranking in 2019

Human Development Index (HDI)  Life expectancy at birth Expected years of schooling Mean years of schooling Gross national income (GNI) per capita
HDI rank Country Value (years) (years) (years) (2017 PPP $)

2019 2019 2019 2019 2019
100 Botswana 0.735 69.6 12.8 9.6 16,437
114 South Africa 0.709 64.1 13.8 10.2 12,129
119 Gabon 0.703 66.5 13.0 8.7 13,930
130 Namibia 0.646 63.7 12.6 7.0 9,357
138 Eswatini 0.611 60.2 11.8 6.9 7,919
138 Ghana 0.611 64.1 11.5 7.3 5,269
143 Kenya 0.601 66.7 11.3 6.6 4,244
145 Equ Guinea 0.592 58.7 9.7 5.9 13,944
146 Zambia 0.584 63.9 11.5 7.2 3,326
148 Angola 0.581 61.2 11.8 5.2 6,104
149 Congo 0.574 64.6 11.7 6.5 2,879
150 Zimbabwe 0.571 61.5 11.0 8.5 2,666
153 Cameroon 0.563 59.3 12.1 6.3 3,581
157 Mauritania 0.546 64.9 8.6 4.7 5,135
158 Benin 0.545 61.8 12.6 3.8 3,254
159 Uganda 0.544 63.4 11.4 6.2 2,123
160 Rwanda 0.543 69.0 11.2 4.4 2,155
161 Nigeria 0.539 54.7 10.0 6.7 4,910
162 Côte d'Ivoire 0.538 57.8 10.0 5.3 5,069
163 Tanzania  0.529 65.5 8.1 6.1 2,600
164 Madagascar 0.528 67.0 10.2 6.1 1,596
165 Lesotho 0.527 54.3 11.3 6.5 3,151
166 Djibouti 0.524 67.1 6.8 4.1 5,689
167 Togo 0.515 61.0 12.7 4.9 1,602
168 Senegal 0.512 67.9 8.6 3.2 3,309
170 Sudan 0.510 65.3 7.9 3.8 3,829
172 Gambia 0.496 62.1 9.9 3.9 2,168
173 Ethiopia 0.485 66.6 8.8 2.9 2,207
174 Malawi 0.483 64.3 11.2 4.7 1,035
175 Congo 0.480 60.7 9.7 6.8 1,063
175 Guinea-Bissau 0.480 58.3 10.6 3.6 1,996
175 Liberia 0.480 64.1 9.6 4.8 1,258
178 Guinea 0.477 61.6 9.4 2.8 2,405
180 Eritrea 0.459 66.3 5.0 3.9 2,793
181 Mozambique 0.456 60.9 10.0 3.5 1,250
182 Burkina Faso 0.452 61.6 9.3 1.6 2,133
182 Sierra Leone 0.452 54.7 10.2 3.7 1,668
184 Mali 0.434 59.3 7.5 2.4 2,269
185 Burundi 0.433 61.6 11.1 3.3 754
185 South Sudan 0.433 57.9 5.3 4.8 2,003
187 Chad 0.398 54.2 7.3 2.5 1,555
188 Central Af Rep 0.397 53.3 7.6 4.3 993
189 Niger 0.394 62.4 6.5 2.1 1,201

Somalia .. 57.4 .. .. ..

African and South Asian GDP

Global Population

African Growth Rates


A.  Early History

1.   Rise of the Humans:  The first hominids (great apes) that used tools appeared in Southern, Eastern, and Central Africa about 4 million years ago, and the first Homo sapiens appeared in the fossil record in about 350,000 years ago. Evidence of long-distance trade begins about 320,000 years ago.

2.   Desertification: The Sahara region alternates between desert and savanna grassland in a long cycle caused by changes in the Earth's axis as it rotates around the sun, moving the locations of monsoons. In around 5000 BC, the Sahara entered a dry phase (that should reverse itself about 15,000 years from now), forcing much of the population to move north to the Nile valley and others to move south.

3.   Egyptians of the Old Kingdom: 2700-2200 BC, the "Age of the Pyramids," hieroglyphic writing, broad education, developed mathematics, plotted movement of stars and planets, prepared 365-day calendar.

4.   Kingdom of Kush - In part of what is now Sudan, there were wealthy merchants of ebony, ivory, perfume, and gold. During the 8th century B.C., conquered Egypt and controlled N.E. Africa. Discovered how to make iron; developed a major industry and spread technology to other regions of Africa.

Fun Fact: In Acts 8:27 (NRSV), "[Philip] got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship..."
"Candace" was the name given by Greco-Romans to the female rulers of Kush.  "Ethiopian" was a Greek term for Blacks more generally. The Biblical eunuch evidently was not from the land now known as Ethiopia, which corresponds to the ancient Kingdom of Aksum (below).

5.   Aksum - In the region that is now Ethiopia and Eritrea, a wealthy kingdom arose in the 5th century BC, based on trade links between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, accessing Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Rome, and reaching to India and China. Aksum exported ivory, hippopotamus hides, gold dust, spices, and live elephants, and it manufactured glass crystal, brass, and copper for export. A Christian church was recently discovered in Aksum that was built in the fourth century A.D., about the same time when Roman Emperor Constantine I legalized Christianty and then converted on his deathbed.

3.   Kingdom of Ghana- First major power of West Africa, based in modern Mauritania and Mali during 5th - 8th C., A.D. Most people were farmers, but wealth derived from gold mining and iron production. Iron production supported military power, tribute from neighbors.

4.   Mali Empire - Replaced Ghana during 13th C; gaining control of the gold-salt trade. Led confederation of 3 states and 12 provinces.

5.   Songhai Kingdom - Based on Niger River, gained control of gold-salt trade from Malis in late 1300s. By end of 15th C., built largest empire known in W. Africa. Established efficient  provincial government and enforced system of weights and measures. Timbuktu became center of Islamic learning.

B.  Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

1.   Slavery (usually of conquered people/tribes) was practiced within several regions of Africa before the Europeans arrived, and was conducted with Europe and the Middle East for many years, but grew enormously after Americas were discovered in 1492, revealing a huge labor shortage in the Western Hemisphere. Native populations were decimated, creating labor shortages. Slaves first exported from Africa to the West Indies in 1510. Continued more than three centuries.

2.   Africa lost 23 million to the slave trade, including many of the healthiest, strongest, and most skilled workers and craftsmen.

3.   The trade was abolished in England, the U.S., Holland, and France during the early 1800s. Sierra Leone and Liberia provided settlements for returning slaves.

UPDATE: Nunn (2012) argues that the slave trade caused long-term and continuing harm to economic development, because it damaged trust within and between tribal groups, reducing cooperation and the effectiveness of local governments.
Recent Afrobarometer surveys indicate that trust levels are still very low. When asked, "Can most people be trusted" in 2019-2021, only 14%
in 34 countries said "Yes." Most said , "I must be very careful." Many of the major countries, including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya, and Botswana, had even lower levels of trust.

C.  The Colonial Period

1.   Short period of "legitimate" commerce between Africa and Europe during mid-1800s.

2.   During 1870s-1890s, all African territories except Ethiopia and Liberia divided into 23 colonial possessions, held by 7 European countries. Africans adopted languages and legal systems colonizers.

3.   Results of colonialism:

a.   Focus on low-cost extraction of primary products. Each colony became dependent on exports of a small number of commodities.

b.   Transport routes were built for a single purpose—to move the products of mines and plantations to their external destinations.

c.   Dual pattern of export enclaves in the center, migrant labor in periphery.

d.   Political boundaries ignored African ethnicities; interrupted indigenous nation-building.

e.   Little attention devoted to education of Africans.

f.    Little infrastructure built in rural areas where most of the population lived.

D.                         Independence, State Ownership, and Import Substitution
Independence movements started soon after WWII, but continued in many countries until the 1960s, and many countries followed the Latin American models of import substitution.

E.                              Socialism, Capitalism, and Authoritarianism
While the East-West Cold War continued, some countries were influenced by the Soviet Union, which had supported their independence movements. In some cases, though, such as in Ghana, initial socialist programs led to economic instability, leading to military takeovers.

Cultural Norms

Hofstede Culture

School enrollment rates have improved enormously in most African countries during the past 20 years, especially at the primary level, so "expected years of schooling" is now much higher than "mean years of schooling" in the HDI table above. Still, all of the numbers are low by global standards. Schooling opportunities tend to be much lower in rural regions, especially at secondary levels and above.

Along with enrollment in education, equally important are problems related to the quality of education. In a recent World Bank survey of fourth-graders in 9 Sub-Saharan African countries, less than half of children in public schools could correctly read a simple sentence out loud, and less than 40 percent could correctly perform single-digit multiplications. The problem is larger for students who are taught in an official language that's different from the language spoken at home (which may be a tribal language). Another problem is related to the presence and quality of teachers. "On average, 22 percent of teachers are absent from school during a surprise visit. If teachers who are not in the classroom during this visit are also counted, the teacher absence rate rises to 38 percent."  "Teacher knowledge and pedagogical skills are also low in this SDI sample. The average teacher in any of the countries cannot correctly answer more than 80 percent of the math and 65 percent of the language knowledge assessment questions." Teacher competence was especially low in Niger where only a small fraction of the teachers tested have the minimum level of knowledge to teach French and mathematics at the primary education level. Still another problem in some countries is the scarcity of educational infrastructure: blackboards, functioning toilets divided by gender (important for giving access to female students), textbooks, desks, etc. 

Linguistic Divisions
In the discussion of education above, we noted the difficulties caused by teaching in official languages rather than the languages spoken at home. An enormous number of national, tribal, and colonial languages are spoken throughout Africa (see map). In Chad alone, 135 languages are spoken. This may be explained, in part, by the geography of the continent and by historically limited transportation, but also by other tribal practices. Research by several scholars, looking across a broad cross-section of countries, has found a negative relationship between linguistic heterogeneity and economic development: "In our data, the 10% most diverse countries had an average per capita growth rate of a meager 0.54% over the period 1960–2004, whereas the 10% least diverse countries posted a much more sturdy figure of 2.59%." (Source: Klaus Desmet, Ignacio Ortuño-Ortín, and Romain Wacziarg, “The political economy of linguistic cleavages,” Journal of Development Economics, 2012).  Extreme linguistic diversity seems to stand in the way of cooperation, trade, and higher productivity.

Sub-Saharan Africa has more than 25% of the world's arable land, and, in 2019, about 53%% of the African labor force was engaged in agriculture, compared with 43% in India, 25% in China, 9% in Brazil, and 1% in the United States.  However, it produces only about 8% of the world's food, and crisis countries, such as Somalia and South Sudan, are facing famine.

Today, about 85% of Africa’s farms are smaller than two hectares (5 acres), compared with only 11% at that scale in the U.S. and Brazil.

Africa Irrigation
Sources: This and the following charts/tables on agriculture are taken from Tavneet Suri and Christopher Udry,
"Agricultural Technology in Africa," Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 36, Number 1, Winter 2022, Pages 33–56.

Africa Ferilizer Use

Africa Ferilizer Prices

Africa Agriculture Research

A.  Historical Farming Practices

1.   Shifting cultivation - nomadic lifestyles

2.   Settled cultivation - made possible by crop rotation techniques

3.   Colonial cash-crop production

B.  Land Tenure Systems

1.   Tribal communalism - insecure property rights with no legal title or protection. Continues to be a major system of tenure in many countries.

2.   European private ownership

3.   Gradual transition to African private ownership and to titling and protection of communal lands (see this chart)
UPDATE: Many studies have demonstrated that effective land reforms can contribute to agricultural productivity and economic development. Unfortunately, in Zimbabwe and other African countries, land has been redistributed to political cronies, and has reduced access to skill and investment.  See this article.

From World Bank 2014 report: At the end of apartheid in 1994, 86 percent of all farmland was held by the white minority (10.9 percent of the population). Although a land reform program was launched in 1994 to reduce land ownership inequality by transferring land from white South Africans to the majority and poor black population, as of March 2013, nearly 80 percent of the land was still owned by white minorities. In Kenya, three powerful political families were estimated to own more than 1 million acres of rural land, while at least 4 million rural Kenyan citizens were landless and at least 11 million owned less than 1 hectare.

According to Freedom House assessments, only 5 African countries were free or partly free in 1990, and that number rose to 30 in 2009. Progress on that front has apparently stalled, because the number still stood at 30 in the 2021 data.

Lack of power and transportation infrastructure is a major impediment to growth in most of Sub-Saharan Africa. Mexico generates 14 times more power per person than Nigeria, and inadequacy of roads and other transport facilities hamper both internal and international trade. (Illustration: In Benin, you have to include replacement of a generator in your business plan to get a bank loan).

Health and Development
Research by Bhattacharyya (2008) indicates that malaria, AIDS, and other infectious diseases have a stronger negative influence on African development than the lingering effects of slave trade or colonialism. Disease, morbidity, and mortality reduces the level and growth of income by (1) directly reducing labor productivity and its growth, and (2) reducing saving and investment (including education) by reducing the expected life span.

Resource Curse
According to IMF analysis of exports, Africa is home to eight of the world’s 15 least-diversified economies: Algeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Libya and Nigeria (oil), Botswana (diamonds) and Eritrea (livestock). As we have seen, that can be recipe for instability of export earnings, rent-seeking behavior, and corruption of governments. See this.


Middle East and North Africa

Map: Middle East and North Africa

Sunni and Shia Muslim Regions

History & Culture: Timur Kuran's analysis: "Why the Middle East is Relatively Poor: Historical Role of Islamic Law"

Under Islamic law, businesses were based on partnerships, which have no continuity, rather than corporations. So businesses had limited lives and didn't grow.

Social services were/are provided by waqfs (trusts) with inflexible missions, set by their founders, perhaps centuries ago.

Islamic laws of inheritance caused  divisions of property, which probably was beneficial for social equality, but limited accumulations of wealth, compared to primogeniture in Europe, so Islamic businesses remained small.

Islamic lending practices, with relatively strict limits on payment of interest, hindered the development of financial institutions.

Sources of conflict in the region:

The resource curse.  Poor development of democratic institutions in oil-rich countries and the activity of foreign forces.

Conflict with Israel over failure to move forward on a two-state solution for the Palestinians (complicated by divisions in the Palestinian leadership).

Competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran for leadership of the region, magnified by sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia and by the presence of external forces (Russian, American, and others.

MENA HDI Ranking in 2019

Human Development Index (HDI)  Life expectancy at birth Expected years of schooling Mean years of schooling Gross national income (GNI) per capita
HDI rank Country Value (years) (years) (years) (2017 PPP $)

2019 2019 2019 2019 2019
19 Israel 0.919 83.0 16.2 13.0 40,187
31 United Arab Emirates 0.890 78.0 14.3 12.1 67,462
40 Saudi Arabia 0.854 75.1 16.1 10.2 47,495
42 Bahrain 0.852 77.3 16.3 9.5 42,522
45 Qatar 0.848 80.2 12.0 9.7 92,418
60 Oman 0.813 77.9 14.2 9.7 25,944
64 Kuwait 0.806 75.5 14.2 7.3 58,590
70 Iran  0.783 76.7 14.8 10.3 12,447
91 Algeria 0.748 76.9 14.6 8.0 11,174
92 Lebanon 0.744 78.9 11.3 8.7 14,655
95 Tunisia 0.740 76.7 15.1 7.2 10,414
102 Jordan 0.729 74.5 11.4 10.5 9,858
105 Libya 0.724 72.9 12.9 7.6 15,688
115 Palestinian State 0.708 74.1 13.4 9.2 6,417
116 Egypt 0.707 72.0 13.3 7.4 11,466
121 Morocco 0.686 76.7 13.7 5.6 7,368
123 Iraq 0.674 70.6 11.3 7.3 10,801
151 Syria 0.567 72.7 8.9 5.1 3,613
179 Yemen 0.470 66.1 8.8 3.2 1,594


Mena Statistics

Instability of economies that are dependent on international oil prices - see chart

On April 20, 2020, the futures price of West Texas crude fell below 0 for the first time in history, forcing Saudi Arabia and Russia to stop flooding the market in a price war as part of a broader international agreement.

MENA Organizations

The Arab League attempted to start a common market, but with little success. Serves more as a forum for security issues and to protest Israeli treatment of Palestinians. In April 2018, when Turkey invaded northern Syria, the Arab League passed a resolution calling on Turkish forces to withdraw.

OPEC is known, of course, for its attempts (sometimes successful in the past) to control global oil markets, but they have lost much of that control.

Although it includes only 6 of the 21 countries in the region, the Gulf Cooperation Council is probably the most important multilateral organization in the region. It has many of the same long-range objectives as the EU - a unified market, a customs union, a single currency, etc.

Cooperation has been damaged since 2014 when Qatar was accused by the U.S. and other members of the GCC of allowing financial supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and other Islamist groups to live in its borders. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia (emboldened by its strong relationship with the Trump administration), Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain (but not Kuwait or Oman) claimed that Qatar was supporting terrorist groups, and cut diplomatic ties, closing borders and airspace, and imposing an economic blockade. In January 2021 (just as Trump was leaving office and just before a GCC summit), relations between the countries were restored - travel and trade resumed.

During the recent war in Ukraine, most of the Middle Eastern countries have attempted to remain neutral. In April 2022, U.S. CIA Director William Burns made an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  Undoubtedly, Burns was encouraging MBS to increase Saudi oil production to ease Europe's boycott of Russian oil, along with discussions of the Iran nuclear deal and the war in Yemen.