We look at which will be the most impoverished countries in the world in 2026. All of the top 5 are from Sub-Saharan Africa. This region continues to be held back by problems such as institutional weakness, corruption, poor infrastructure and a lack of human capital. That said, Sub-Saharan Africa is also incredibly diverse: While it is home to the world’s poorest countries, it also boasts some of the most dynamic economies. For instance, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are forecast to be among the world’s fastest-growing economies over the next few years.
1. Somalia: GDP per capita of USD 303 in 2026
Somalia—located in the Horn of Africa—has been wracked by violence for decades. Currently, the government’s main security challenge is combating the Islamist insurgency group Al-Shabab, which aims to establish an independent state within the country. This violence and vulnerability to drought are likely to continue to weigh on growth ahead, meaning that Somalia will be the poorest country in the world in 2026. That said, there have been some positive signs in the last few years. Al-Shabab has been pushed back from major population centers. A new president assumed office in May 2022 in a smooth transfer of power. Moreover, in the quasi-independent Republic of Somaliland, the Emirati firm DP World recently opened a new container terminal at the Berbera port, supporting trade.
“The economy will remain weak against a backdrop of political instability, jihadi-related violence, drought conditions, rising inflation, a poor business environment and a low vaccination rate, which will depress investor and consumer confidence. […] Somaliland will continue to fail to reach its economic potential owing to a lack of official recognition of the territory’s de facto sovereignty.” – The Economist Intelligence Unit
2. South Sudan: GDP per capita of USD 441 in 2026
The South Sudan economy has remained fragile since a tenuous peace agreement was reached in 2018 to end several years of civil war. According to the UN, the vast majority of the population is currently facing severe food insecurity due to high levels of violence, currency depreciation, the fallout from the war in Ukraine, and supply disruptions. Intense flooding has also held back activity. A key factor to watch will be the country’s first election, which was recently pushed back to late 2024. Moreover, tensions between President Kiir and Vice President Machar—who fought on opposite sides in the civil war—could spill over into conflict. Finally, a projected fall in oil prices over the next few years will weigh on government revenue.
“South Sudan remains highly dependent on oil, which accounts for nearly all of exports and 90 percent of government revenue. This leaves the country exceptionally exposed to oil price fluctuations. Moreover, the population is critically reliant on international humanitarian aid. Off-budget support from international donors provides for most of South Sudan’s social spending but is set to decline amid shrinking aid budgets and the rising cost of providing such aid.” – The International Monetary Fund
3. Sierra Leone: GDP per capita of USD 532 in 2026
After a prolonged civil war that ended in 2002, in the mid-2010s, the Ebola epidemic rocked the economy, impacting employment and trade. This year, the conflict in Ukraine has caused import prices to rise sharply, hitting purchasing power and spurring violent anti-government protests in August. The economy is held back by a narrow export base—chiefly consisting of base metals, wood, diamonds and cocoa—poor governance and limited fiscal space. Over the next several years, growth is seen only slightly above the average for Sub-Saharan Africa, leaving Sierra Leone as the third poorest country in the world in 2026. The outcome of the 2023 elections will be an important factor to watch.
“Sierra Leone is highly vulnerable to climate change, particularly extreme events including high temperatures, inconsistent weather patterns, recurrent storms, floods, mudslides, and a rising sea level. It was 86 on the 2019 Climate Risk Index. Sierra Leone has adopted a National Climate Change Policy, while its Medium-Term National Development Plan 2019–23 underscores the need for aligning environmental, climate, and economic development plans to mitigate the causes of global warming and help citizens adapt.” – The African Development Bank
4. Malawi: GDP per capita of USD 606 in 2026
Malawi’s economy is constrained by a reliance on subsistence agriculture and a single cash crop, tobacco. Moreover, relatively high public debt is likely crowding out private investment, while electricity blackouts will be denting business activity. Huge fiscal and current account imbalances, a fragmented Parliament, reliance on international financing and a vulnerability to extreme weather events are additional risks. In the country’s favor, it has had a functioning multi-party democracy since the early 1990s. Moreover, the decriminalization of cannabis in 2020 could lead to the establishment of a cannabis industry in the coming years, which, together with greater mining investment, will broaden the export base.
“Malawi’s economy will record modest growth in 2022-26, but major challenges persist, including weather shocks that affect the country’s rain-fed agriculture sector, limited concessional financing and a poor business environment that erodes investor confidence. In the light of slowing global growth, the shock to commodity prices posed by the Russia-Ukraine war and a large rise in local interest rates in the face of soaring inflation, growth is expected to slow in 2022. Intermittent disruption to electricity supply has intensified in recent months and a tariff increase is looming.” – The Economist Intelligence Unit
5. Central African Republic: GDP per capita of USD 624 in 2026
The Central African Republic suffers from a weak central government, with armed rebel groups operating freely in the country and enjoying control over large swathes of the national territory. Moreover, the government’s use of Russian mercenaries to maintain order alienates Western powers. Persistent violence means that GDP growth over our forecast horizon to 2026 is expected to be notably below the average for Sub-Saharan Africa. The drafting of a new constitution, likely to cement the president’s power, will be an essential factor to watch going forward, as will the uptake of bitcoin, which was adopted as legal tender earlier this year.
“The Central African Republic is at a critical crossroads. Despite its significant natural resources’ wealth, it remains one of the poorest and most fragile countries in the world. Cycles of political instability and a heavy reliance on natural resources have left the economy poorly diversified and with a small private sector. Almost a decade after the 2013 civil war, the country remains caught in a fragility trap, facing episodes of renewed insecurity and a substantial state-citizen divide. […] the pace of growth has been below that of other countries in the region that have had civil wars.” – The World Bank
Originally published in December 2017, updated in November 2022