Sizing Up Africa’s Largest Countries

Nigeria is by far Africa's most populous country, with a population of 162 million — and with almost double that number, 289 million, forecast by 2050. We wonder: Which is Africa's second most populous country?

A. South Africa
B. Sudan
C. Uganda
D. Ethiopia

A. South Africa is not correct.

Despite having Africa's largest economy, South Africa is only the continent's fifth most populous nation. With 51 million people, its population is slightly bigger than Spain's. While only about one-twentieth of sub-Saharan Africans live in South Africa, the country makes up more than a quarter of the region's GDP.

Although South Africa's economy has grown at a respectable average rate of 3.5% per year over the past decade, unemployment, currently at 24%, has remained a major problem. Twenty-seven sub-Saharan African economies grew faster than South Africa over the last ten years — albeit from a much lower base — including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Angola.

B. Sudan is not correct.

Sudan is Africa's largest country in terms of landmass, but it is only Africa's seventh most populous country, with a population of 44 million. Its population is about one-fifth larger than that of California, the most populous U.S. state.

Following a referendum on independence for Southern Sudan that passed in January 2011, Sudan will relinquish its title of Africa's largest nation by area when Southern Sudan officially splits off in July 2011.

C. Uganda is not correct.

Uganda is the tenth most populous country in Africa, with a population of 35 million. It is thus slightly smaller than Poland, which has a population of 38 million.

Since 1986, Uganda has been led by Yoweri Museveni. Benefitting from solid economic growth, he was re-elected to a fourth term with 68% of the vote in February 2011, in a ballot his opponent rejected as fraudulent.

D. Ethiopia is correct.

Although Ethiopia does not make world headlines as often as many of its smaller neighbors, it is Africa's second most populous country, with 87 million people. Ethiopia has more inhabitants than Germany, Europe's most populous country, whose population is 82 million.

Ethiopia was one of only two countries in sub-Saharan Africa not colonized by European powers in the so-called scramble for Africa in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the other being Liberia. However, like the rest of Africa, Ethiopia has suffered major developmental problems. Today, the country has an average income of less than $350, making it among the poorest countries in the world.

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