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Why does Africa have so few billionaires?

This lesson explores why some countries are home to far fewer billionaires than others (and by extension why some countries and regions are much poorer than others)

Key questions

What are the challenges facing countries in generating wealth?

What factors might be responsible for the lack of billionaires in Africa?

What are the challenges facing countries in generating wealth?

In general, there are historical, environmental, socio-economic and political reasons why some countries and regions are not as wealthy as others. Historical factors include the legacy of colonialism. Environmental factors include a lack of natural resources or a climate that makes it prone to extremes of drought or flood making it hard to establish crops other or economic activity. Socio-economic factors include debt, unfair trade, and the low status of women, education and health/disease. Political factors include conflict, wars and corruption. 

What factors might be responsible for the lack of wealth in Africa?

The main historical reason is that most of the poorest African countries were until relatively recently once colonised by European countries and are still recovering from the legacies of a lack of good industry, education and skills, and often, conflict. African countries have inherited a legacy dominated by trade with their former colonial rulers rather than with each other. For example, Senegal's biggest trading partner is France, while Gambia trades extensively with the UK. Senegal surrounds Gambia but there is little trade between the two countries.

Environmental factors include the dry climate of the Sahara so that there is always danger of famine. Some countries are prone to natural disasters floods in particular. The forested or mountainous terrain also makes farming difficult in some countries. Ninety per cent of all malaria cases in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa. Three thousand children under the age of five years old die each day from malaria in Africa and 17 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have died from AIDS. The range and transmission potential of malaria could increase. The effect of this on Africa's human resources ability to work is a major factor especially where treatments are not accessible.

Although business people in Africa often face some unique and daunting challenges, it is still quite possible to achieve business success and help a country's development. This has been helped by the achievements in:

Increased political stability

The creation of the African Union to promote unity and solidarity of African countries and act as a collective voice for the continent.

Economic development

2006 was the fourth consecutive year of economic growth above four per cent in Africa. Oil and mineral exporting countries are outpacing the others by a substantial margin. Botswana and South Africa have experienced economic success. The economies of Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon and Egypt are all growing.

Africa's economic regions 

  • The big oil exporters - 27.7% of Africa's population

  • Eighteen resource-poor countries with sustained growth - 35.6% of population

  • Seventeen slow-growth economies - 36.7% of population - countries with few natural resources are conflict-prone

China is investing in African oil exploration and minerals, particularly in Sudan, Nigeria and Zambia to meet its rapidly-growing consumption. At the same time Africa is a growing market for Chinese goods. Trade has increased tenfold since 1995. The value of this has jumped 39% to £18 billion in 2005.



If wealthy regions like North America and Europe have the most billionaires, then does this mean Africa with only five billionaires is generally poorer?

Why might this be the case that some regions are poorer than others?

Look at the environmental challenges photographs.

Do you think any of these photos help to explain why some regions of the world lag behind others in the number of billionaires and wealth that they are able to create?

Think about the natural environment - climate, living things, water, other natural resources, disasters. Are there any other factors? Think historical, social and economic.

Look again at the challenges images.

These images were actually all taken in the USA - the richest country in the world with over 400 billionaires.

So although environmental factors can affect generation of wealth, it is often other political and historical factors that have the largest impact on a regions wealth and development.

Main Activity

You know from what you have studied so far that Africa has only five resident billionaires. But environmental reasons alone cannot explain the lack of wealth. In small groups choose a challenge from the following list:

  • Tsetse fly area (malaria)

  • Earthquakes and volcanoes

  • Droughts

  • Flood

  • War


  • Landlocked

  • Political corruption

Using the areas at risk from natural hazards interactive and the Africa map identify which countries face your chosen challenge and brainstorm reasons why this could prevent the country becoming wealthier.

Jargon buster. On the Risky World map tectonic hazards include earthquake and volcanoes; hydrological hazards include floods, cyclones and landslides.

Do you think these challenges can be overcome with the right leadership and / or investment and supportive policies from other nations?

To understand more detail about the challenges facing Africa and the progress its countries are making in developing see the Africa module.


If you look at the billionaires by region again you can see that Egypt and South Africa are the only countries in Africa home to billionaires.

Egypt and South Africa are "anomalies" due to their billionaires - they do not fit in with the general trend in Africa.

What factors might explains this?

What is special or unusual about these countries (including their position on the map) from what you have studied in this module so far?

Egypt's main revenues come from tourism and traffic that goes through the Suez Canal. Egypt has a developed energy market based on coal, oil, natural gas, and hydro power.

South Africa has experienced a different history from other nations in Africa because of early immigration from Europe and the strategic importance of the Cape Sea Route. 

Geographers are trained and valued to pick up on the paradoxes and contradictions in the world. Try to think of some other ‘anomalies' to geographical patterns you have studied and try understand them by your own research.

File nameFiles

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Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? Lesson 4 Africa Issues Map


73 KB

Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? Lesson 4 Challenges Pictures


1 MB

Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? Lesson 4 All Billionaires By Region


967 KB

Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? Lesson 4 All Billionaires By Region (1)


2 MB

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