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Mauritius is Africa's top ranked economy for global competitiveness.
Reuters/Jacky Naegelen
The pinnacle of competitiveness in Africa.

Africa is growing fast—and yet it’s still wildly uncompetitive

By Lily Kuo

Sub-Saharan Africa may be one of the fastest growing regions in the world, but few African economies are expanding in a way that will lead to sustainable, widespread prosperity, according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) latest ranking of countries by a wide measure of productivity.

In the annual global competitiveness list (pdf), released this week, 15 out of the 20 lowest ranked economies were in sub-Saharan Africa. Only three countries—Mauritius, South Africa, and Rwanda—were ranked above 70th place, out of 140 countries. The index looks at factors including progress on infrastructure, financial markets, ease of doing business, and technological gains.

Top 10 countries for global competitiveness
Switzerland 1
Singapore 2
United States 3
Germany 4
Netherlands 5
Japan 6
Hong Kong 7
Finland 8
Sweden 9
United Kingdom 10
Lowest 10 countries for global competitiveness
Myanmar 131
Venezuela 132
Mozambique 133
Haiti 134
Malawi 135
Burundi 136
Sierra Leone 137
Mauritania 138
Chad 139
Guinea 140

The region averaged over 5% yearly growth over the past 15 years, but much of that has been driven by selling off its natural resources—Africa is home to a third of the world’s minerals as well as a tenth of its oil. So far, this kind of growth hasn’t translated into a healthier, more educated work force, better productivity, or more reliable government institutions—all factors that affect an economy’s competitiveness, according to the WEF.

The report, which combines over 100 indicators measuring productivity, attributes this year’s poor performance to inadequate infrastructure, weak government institutions, and lagging health and education sectors. Falling commodity prices and growing investor caution toward emerging markets also haven’t helped.

It isn’t all bad news. The region is still expected to expand 4.2% this year and commodities are playing less of a role in some of its largest economies, like Nigeria, where services now account for 60% of GDP. Mauritius ranks 28th on the World Bank’s ranking of countries according to ease of doing business there, which also noted that no region had done more to improve regulation than sub-Saharan Africa.

Several countries are instituting structural reforms that are paying off. Côte d’Ivoire’s remarkable recovery after two civil wars has helped it jump 24 places to 91st rank, while Ethiopia also moved up nine spots. Chad and Guinea, this year’s lowest ranked, also moved up four rankings from last year.

Here is how the rankings look across the continent.

Country Africa Global competitiveness ranking 2015
Mauritius 46
South Africa 49
Rwanda 68
Botswana 71
Namibia 85
Côte d’Ivoire 91
Zambia 96
Seychelles 97
Kenya 99
Gabon 103
Ethiopia 109
Senegal 110
Cape Verde 112
Lesotho 113
Cameroon 114
Egypt 116
Ghana 119
Tanzania 120
Benin 122
Gambia 123
Nigeria 124
Zimbabwe 125
Mali 127
Swaziland 128
Liberia 129
Madagascar 130
Mozambique 133
Malawi 135
Burundi 136
Sierra Leone 137
Chad 139
Guinea 140