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Africa’s Most Populous Countries

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country by far. It has nearly double the population size of the second-largest country. Its 182 million people in 2015 make it the world’s seventh most populous nation. We wonder: After Nigeria, which is Africa’s next most populous country?

A. South Africa
B. The Democratic Republic of Congo
C. Kenya
D. Ethiopia

A. South Africa … is not correct.

South Africa is the only African nation that is part of the Group of Twenty (G-20) countries, but it is not the second most populous African country.

South Africa’s 54 million people give it the fifth-largest population in Africa – and the 24th largest population worldwide. Its population is slightly larger than Tanzania, Africa’s sixth-largest.

South Africa does have the second-largest economy in all of sub-Saharan Africa – at $723.5 billion (in purchasing-power-adjusted terms). On the African continent as a whole, Egypt ranks ahead of it as the second-largest economy.

The African National Congress (ANC) — which has long represented the country’s previously suppressed black majority — has governed the country since 1994, when the first national elections were held after Apartheid.

However, after more than 20 years in power, the ANC is beginning to lose the confidence of South Africa’s black population. It is troubled by stagnating economic growth and a growing divide between politically connected black South Africans and the rest of the population. Endemic corruption within the ruling party, including by the country’s current President Jacob Zuma, does not help.

B. The Democratic Republic of Congo … is not correct.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the second-largest country in Africa today in terms of geographic size. (Algeria, in North Africa, is the largest.)

In terms of population size, DRC is the fourth most populous country in Africa today (and 19th in the world). With 77 million people, its population is only 5% smaller than Germany’s and larger than that of the UK (by 18%), France (by 20%) or Italy (by 28%).

By 2050, DRC is expected to increase its population 2.5 times. It will then be Africa’s second-most populous nation, with 195 million people, according to the UN Population Division. At that time, DRC would likely also be the ninth most populous country in the world – several places behind third-ranked Nigeria.

In 1950, 10 years before independence, there were only 12 million people there.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a former Belgian crown colony with an exceptionally brutal slave labor regime – to extract rubber, metals and diamonds – and a bitter post-imperial legacy of resource wars.

DRC is facing violent election-related protests this year, as it frequently does. President Joseph Kabila, son of the late rebel-turned-president Laurent Kabila, is trying to circumvent term limits.

The collapse of several neighboring countries, such as Rwanda, made DRC a regional battleground. Any armed faction with a grudge could take a slice of the country’s natural resource bounty and use that money to keep up the fighting.

C. Kenya … is not correct.

With a population of 46 million in 2015, Kenya has the same population size as Spain. Kenya is the seventh most populous country in Africa today — and the 30th worldwide. Kenya’s economy is the 70th-largest worldwide (in purchasing-power-adjusted terms), while Spain’s is the world’s 15th largest economy.

By 2050, Kenya’s population is expected to double. At a level of 96 million then, it will become the 20th most populous country in the world. In 1950, still under British rule, Kenya’s population was just 6 million.

In addition to inter-ethnic tension, Kenya today also contends with terrorism, including the September 2013 Westgate mall attack, which occurred after repeated tangles with al Qaeda and neighboring Somalia’s Shabab organization.

Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, Kenya’s president and deputy president, respectively, were elected in 2013 on an ethnic unity ticket in an attempt to mend fences after the ethnic violence fatalities that followed the 2007 election. However, both faced International Criminal Court prosecutions – now dropped – for their roles in inciting the earlier clashes.

D. Ethiopia … is correct.

After Nigeria, Ethiopia is Africa’s most populous country – and it is the world’s 13th most populous – with 99 million people. Its population is almost 25% larger than Germany’s, which is home to 81 million people.

By 2050, Ethiopia’s population is expected to rise to 188 million. Back in 1950, Ethiopia had a population of 18 million — less than a fifth of  its current population.

In early October 2016, in an effort to suppress mounting street protests, Ethiopia’s totalitarian government declared a state of emergency.

A significant part of the problem is that a small ethnic group – Tigray – dominates the military, despite accounting for only 6% of the population. The Tigrayans also control the ostensibly multi-ethnic EPRDF coalition, which after the 2015 elections holds every seat in parliament.

Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups – Oromo and Amhara, which together account for at least 60% of the population – are primarily responsible for a growing protest movement.

The EPRDF rules a democracy on paper, but holds all the power and restricts free speech and press, the right to trial and religious freedom.

Opposition to the government is often met with deadly force or torture. The government also has deployed mass surveillance technology on a staggering scale, especially for one of the world’s Least Developed Countries.

The average income in Ethiopia today is less than $1,620 a year (in purchasing-power-adjusted terms) – ranking it the 15th poorest country on earth, among those poor countries where data exist.

It is likely that the chronic instability among Africa’s most populous nations will increasingly become global-level emergencies as they rise rapidly to become the world’s most populous nations.

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