South Africa ends 2015 as the most prosperous country in Africa. Nigeria? Not so prosperous

A petition against South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma became popular online as thousands of people appended their signatures to say #ZumaMustFall. The state of the economy and the monthly political drama in the country had become frustrating for South Africans.

Africa’s most advanced economy has taken a dip in 2015, with unemployment rising and credit rating dropping, but the country remains Africa’s most prosperous nonetheless, overtaking Botswana on the 2015 Legatum Prosperity Index.

According to public policy think-tank, Legatum Institute, although South Africa ranked poorly in economy, education, health, safety and security, its ranking in entrepreneurship and opportunity, as well as in governance, personal freedom and social capital, were enough to make it the most prosperous country in Africa. However, the country ranks 75th on the 142-nation prosperity index, showing how poorly ranked African countries are.

“Traditionally, a nation’s prosperity has been based solely on macroeconomic indicators such as a country’s income, represented either by GDP or by average income per person (GDP per capita),” the Institute notes. “However, most people would agree that prosperity is more than just the accumulation of material wealth. It is also the joy of everyday life and the prospect of being able to build an even better life in the future.”

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy is not as prosperous as Rwanda or Cameroon, Ghana or Niger. The oil-rich country ranked low in all the sub-indexes — economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom, and social capital; coming in at 125 on the prosperity index.

Like other resource-exporting countries, Nigeria’s economy was hit by slump in global oil prices. Oil accounts for over 80 percent of government revenue. The country has, therefore, struggled to fund its budget. The way the country’s economy would fare in the coming year still remains uncertain as the fate of Africa’s largest economy is tied to oil whose prices may drop in 2016 as oversupply seems very likely to continue. The government is yet to convince investors about policy direction as much has not been seen in that area but corruption fight has gained momentum and arrests are ongoing. Insurgency by Islamist sect group Boko Haram which has led to the death of over 15,000 people meant Nigeria ranked very low on the safety and security sub-index, at 134. Hopefully, the government’s effort will yield fruits in the coming year.

The major resource exporters in Africa, such as Botswana and Namibia fell 4 places in the Prosperity Index, due to a massive 19-place fall in the Economy sub-index. Botswana (ranked 77th) is no longer the most prosperous country in Sub-Saharan Africa as a result.

Why some African states continue to drop in the Prosperity Index, Rwanda continued its strong performance since 2009. The East African nation has risen 17 places up the Prosperity Index and now ranks 101st.

War-torn Central Africa Republic is the least prosperous country in Africa, whose best rank in the sub-indexes was in personal freedom. Chad and Burundi also join CAR in the top five least prosperous countries in Africa. Others being the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

In a statement by the Legatum Institute when the index was released in November, Nathan Gamester, Director of the Prosperity Index at the Legatum Institute, said: “The Prosperity Index tells us that human progress goes beyond economics.”

He noted that countries atop the Index provide opportunity and freedom to their citizens, access to quality healthcare and education, and provide safe environments for people to flourish in.

“By contrast those countries or regions of the world where people feel unsafe, where they are forced to flee from their homes, and where the education and healthcare systems are failing do not provide prosperity to their citizens,” Gamester added.

It is hoped that beyond the Index, African leaders will look at the issues the sub-indexes are pointing at, and work towards improving the economy, access to quality and affordable healthcare, among others.