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Home to about 700 million of Africa’s people, the World Bank’s Eastern and Southern Africa Region is a geographically, culturally and economically diverse region of 26 countries stretching from the Red Sea in the North to the Cape of Good Hope in the South. The region, which includes the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has an estimated gross domestic product of $945,567 million in 2019. South Africa, an upper middle-income country, is the region’s largest economy, followed by Angola, Kenya and Ethiopia. Seychelles and Mauritius are the region’s only high-income economies.

The region boasts some of the world’s richest natural resources. DRC produces much of the world’s mined cobalt, and Angola leads the region in the production of crude oil. For many Eastern countries, agricultural products are the main commodity; Ethiopia and Uganda lead the region in coffee exports, while Kenya is the largest tea exporter. For Southern countries, precious metals and minerals are the biggest exports, including gold and diamonds from South Africa and platinum from Zimbabwe.

While much of Africa’s population lives in rural areas, Eastern and Southern African cities continue to grow. In South Africa, nearly half of the population lives in urban areas, such as Johannesburg, the country’s largest city. This does not translate into a reduction in poverty however; South Africa, remains a dual economy and is one of the most unequal countries in the world.

With nearly half the population under 18, people are the region’s greatest resource. In April 2019, the World Bank launched the ambitious Africa Human Capital Plan to boost Africa’s potential through the health, knowledge, skills and resilience of its people. The plan includes a focus on empowering women and girls through more than $2.2 billion in new World Bank-financed projects. The projects are designed to further women’s agency, health, education and employment opportunities. Other areas of focus include human capital policy reforms, domestic resource mobilization and leveraging technology and innovation. Thirty-one countries have committed to advancing the human capital agenda, including Ethiopia, Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi and Rwanda.

Development Challenges

The region also harbors some of Africa’s protracted conflicts, rendering many of its countries fragile, while significant gaps in education, health, and skills development continue to keep people from reaching their full potential. This creates huge development challenges, and impacts heavily on the lives and livelihoods of people, and hinders regional integration and trade.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on human life, strained health systems and with contracting agricultural production, Sub-Saharan Africa could face a severe food security crisis. With such formidable challenges brought on by the pandemic—including billions in estimated output losses in 2020, reduced agricultural productivity, weakening supply chains, increasing trade tensions, limited job prospects, and exacerbated political and regulatory uncertainty—economic growth throughout Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to contract from 2.4% in 2019 to between -2.1 and -5.1% in 2020.

Additionally, locust swarms are ravaging crops and jeopardizing food security across East Africa, including Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. The Horn of Africa, which already has 22 million severely food insecure people and more than 12 million internally displaced, is facing a critical food security emergency. Estimates are that and damages and losses could amount to as much as $9 billion in 2020.

These challenges also create an opportunity to work closely with country leaders, civil society, development partners, and young people to chart a brighter course for the future, as well as regional economic organizations, which play a strong role in helping countries reach their development potential. These include the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community. The Indian Ocean Rim Association supports countries bordering the Indian Ocean and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development covers the Horn of Africa, which includes Djibouti. 

The World Bank Group (WBG) has been helping countries realize their considerable development potential by focusing on priorities detailed in the World Bank Africa strategy, including building up the digital economy, creating jobs and transforming economies. The strategy also prioritizes regional integration and research to maximize development impact for clients. 

Regional Integration

The WBG is expanding its support for regional integration to address the key priorities of the African continent. Priority areas of engagement in Eastern and Southern Africa cover regional infrastructure networks, economic diversification, trade and transport facilitation, finance, human capital development, resilience and fragility. A special focus is also put on addressing fragility in the Horn of Africa.

Recently, the World Bank Group Board of Executive Directors approved the Emergency Locust Response Program, a $500 million dollar project to help countries in the Middle East and Africa, fight the locust swarms that are threatening the livelihoods and food security of millions of people. The first countries to be financed under the first phase of the program include Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, with a total financing package of $160 million. 

The East and Southern Africa Centers of Excellence (ACE II) is strengthening 24 higher education institutions in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The objective of the program is to help institutions deliver quality post-graduate education, and to build collaborative research capacity. 

The East Africa Public Health Laboratory Networking Project has helped countries in East Africa to establish a network of efficient, high quality, accessible public health laboratories for the diagnosis and surveillance of tuberculosis and other communicable diseases. It is also helping them to scale up activities to facilities in their cross-border areas, and also to establish isolation units and strengthen community surveillance activities in order to better contain communicable diseases.

The Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project in the Horn of Africa Project aims to improve access to basic social services, expand economic opportunities, and enhance environmental management for communities hosting refugees in the target areas of Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda. The project ensures a comprehensive developmental response to the significant increase in refugee numbers being hosted in Uganda. Additionally, the Horn of Africa Initiative brings together five nations--Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Somalia--to address shared regional challenges.

Research and Analysis

Knowledge is essential for governments to make better policies and institutions to make aid more effective. Our most recent regional studies can be found here, and analytical work by country is published on each country’s website. This, paired with strong analytical work by sector, can help promote substantive discussions and drive evidence-based policy making around key development issues.

Recent research includes:

Last Updated: October 29, 2020


The World Bank

Beyond COVID: The Road to Recovery for Africa

Most African countries have thus far escaped the worst health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the economic fallout of the health crisis is pushing the region into its first recession in 25 years, and threatening to undo over a decade of development progress. Concerns of a second wave are fueling further uncertainty, but many African countries have seized the opportunity within the crisis to move faster on reforms and investments that will be crucial for a sustained recovery and long-term development.
  • The World Bank
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  • The World Bank
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