Poverty rate: 66.2%
GDP: $248 million (5th lowest)
GDP per capita: $1,473 (48th lowest)
Sao Tome and Principe, a country of fewer than 200,000 people off the western coast of Africa, has relied heavily on cocoa production since it became an independent state in 1975. However, production has declined substantially due to drought and mismanagement. While the country stands to benefit from the recent discovery of oil from the Gulf of Guinea, the World Factbook notes that production is likely several years away. Unlike most of the countries on this list, Sao Tome and Principe has a primary school enrollment of 98.3%, which is substantially above the world rate of 88.8%.
9. Sierra Leone
Poverty rate: 66.4%
GDP: $2.24 billion (36th lowest)
GDP per capita: $374 (4th lowest)
Sierra Leone has significant mineral, agricultural and fishery resources that could lead the country to economic growth. Political stability is slowly helping to improve the fortunes of the country as it recovers from the civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002. But while the military has been in charge of the country ever since the war, issues such as corruption still exist. The country has to rely on international aid from organizations such as the International Monetary Fund in order to remain financially solvent, and inflation of 18% in Sierra Leone is a serious problem. Sierra Leone has the highest rate of infant mortality in the world, with 113.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births. Sierra Leone’s life expectancy of just 47.4 years old is the second lowest in the world.
Poverty rate: 66.9%
GDP: $2.33 billion (38th lowest)
GDP per capita: $271 (2nd lowest)
In 1993, political differences between Burundi’s two largest ethnic groups, the Hutu and Tutsi, triggered widespread ethnic violence that lasted almost a dozen years. Although this civil war has ended, ethnic conflicts in the region continue. The prolonged conflict, however, is not the only factor keeping Burundians in poverty. Although the country also has limited natural resources and agriculture accounts for just 31% of GDP, more than 90% of the working population is employed in the sector. According to the World Bank, Burundi remains one of the world’s poorer countries on a per capita basis — only one country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, had a GDP per capita figure lower than Burundi’s $271. Burundi’s infant mortality rate of 87.8 deaths per 1,000 live births is more than double the rate worldwide.
Poverty rate: 68.7%
GDP: $9.95 billion (73rd lowest)
GDP per capita: $467 (7th lowest)
Located in the Indian Ocean east of continental Africa, Madagascar is an island nation of more than a 350,000 square miles in size. Until the mid-1990s, Madagascar was a socialist nation. Though it has since embraced World Bank- and IMF-endorsed economic programs for privatization and participated in the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, the nation has had difficulties meeting the standards expected by these organizations and programs. Despite these programs, the nation’s economy remains largely dependent on agriculture for employment, with 80% of all employed persons working in the sector. In 2011, the country’s GDP per capita was just $467, making Madagascar one of 11 nations with a figure below $500.
Poverty rate: 69.0%
GDP: $2.61 billion (40th lowest)
GDP per capita: $482 (8th lowest)
While hopes for economic growth rest on several international mining projects, 80% of Eritrea’s labor force is employed in the agricultural sector. However, agriculture only represents 11% of the nation’s GDP, with industry comprising 34% and services making up 55%. The country’s only political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, has implemented policies that rigidly control the use of foreign currency and favors party-owned businesses in the economy. Making matters more difficult for Eritrea, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on the country in 2009, accusing the government of supporting anti-Ethiopian insurgents in Somalia. Eritrea’s primary school enrollment is only about 33.5%, which is the third-lowest rate in the entire world.