South Africa to snatch the crown as biggest economy in Africa

 ·1 May 2024

Nigeria’s economy, which ranked as Africa’s largest in 2022, is set to slip to fourth place this year and Egypt, which held the top position in 2023, is projected to fall to second behind South Africa after a series of currency devaluations, International Monetary Fund forecasts show.

The IMF’s World Economic Outlook estimates Nigeria’s gross domestic product at $253 billion based on current prices this year, lagging energy-rich Algeria at $267 billion, Egypt at $348 billion and South Africa at $373 billion. 

Africa’s most industrialized nation—South Africa—will remain the continent’s largest economy until Egypt reclaims the mantle in 2027, while Nigeria is expected to remain in fourth place for years to come, the data shows.   

Nigeria and Egypt’s fortunes have dimmed as they deal with high inflation and a plunge in their currencies.

Bola Tinubu has announced significant policy reforms since he became Nigeria’s president at the end of May 2023, including allowing the currency to float more freely, scrapping costly energy and gasoline subsidies and taking steps to address dollar shortages. Despite a recent rebound, the naira is still 50% weaker against the greenback than what it was prior to him taking office after two currency devaluations.

Egypt, one of the emerging world’s most-indebted countries and the IMF’s second-biggest borrower after Argentina, has also allowed its currency to float, triggering an almost 40% plunge in the pound’s value against the dollar last month to attract investment.

The IMF had been calling for a flexible currency regime for many months and the multilateral lender rewarded Egypt’s government by almost tripling the size of a loan program first approved in 2022 to $8 billion. This was a catalyst for a further influx of around $14 billion in financial support from the European Union and the World Bank. 

Unlike Nigeria’s naira and Egypt’s pound, the value of South Africa’s rand has long been set in the financial markets and it has lost about 4% of its value against the dollar this year. Its economy is expected to benefit from improvements to its energy supply and plans to tackle logistic bottlenecks.

Algeria, an OPEC+ member has been benefiting from high oil and gas prices caused first by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and now tensions in the Middle East. It stepped in to ease some of Europe’s gas woes after Russia curtailed supplies amid its war in Ukraine. 

Read: Don’t count South Africa out just yet

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