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Sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than 1 billion people, half of whom will be under 25 years old by 2050, is a diverse continent offering human and natural resources that have the potential to yield inclusive growth and eradicate poverty in the region. With the world’s largest free trade area and a 1.2 billion-person market, the continent is creating an entirely new development path, harnessing the potential of its resources and people.

The region is composed of low, lower-middle, upper-middle, and high-income countries, 22 of which are fragile or conflict-affected. Africa also has 13 small states, characterized by a small population, limited human capital, and a confined land area.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 shock in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has been severe, however economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is set to emerge from the 2020 recession and expand by 3.3 percent in 2021. This rebound, currently fueled by elevated commodity prices, a relaxation of stringent pandemic measures, and recovery in global trade, remains vulnerable in light of low rates of vaccination on the continent, protracted economic damage, and a slow pace of recovery. Growth for 2022 and 2023 will remain just below 4 percent, continuing to lag the recovery in advanced economies and emerging markets.

East and Southern Africa, the hardest hit region by the third wave of the coronavirus, is expected to rebound from a 3.0 percent contraction of GDP in 2020 to growth of 3.3 percent in 2021 and 3.4 percent in 2022. Growth in South Africa is projected to rebound from -6.4 percent in 2020 to 4.6 percent in 2021, and following two consecutive years of recession, economic activity in Angola is projected to rebound from -5.4 percent in 2020 to 0.4 percent in 2021. Excluding Angola and South Africa, the subregion is expected to grow by 3.1 percent in 2021 and 4.3 percent in 2022. 

Growth in West and Central Africa is expected at 3.2 percent in 2021, up from -0.8 percent in 2020 and estimated to grow further by 3.6 percent in 2022. The subregion is expected to pick up momentum from last year’s weak performance to 4.5 percent in 2021 and 5.3 percent in 2022. Nigeria is projected to grow from -1.8 percent in 2020 to 2.4 percent in 2021, thanks to better performance of both oil and non-oil sectors. Excluding Nigeria, The West African Economic and Monetary Union is projected to grow at 5.6 percent in 2021 and 6.1 percent in 2022, reflecting favorable terms of trade.

Faster vaccine deployment would accelerate the region’s growth to 5.1 percent in 2022 and 5.4 percent in 2023—as containment measures are lifted faster and spending increases. However, should vaccine delivery and coverage continue to lag, growth could slow to 2.4 percent in 2023.

African countries have seized the opportunity of the crisis to foster structural and macroeconomic reforms that could pave the way for increased inclusive growth over the long-term. Several countries have embarked on difficult but necessary structural reforms, such as the unification of exchange rates in Sudan, fuel subsidy reform in Nigeria, and the opening of the telecommunications sector to the private sector in Ethiopia. Reforms that deliver reliable electricity, including better functioning of public utilities, can power the manufacturing sector and the digital economy. Finally, reforms that address digital infrastructure gaps and make the digital economy more inclusive—ensuring affordability and building skills for all segments of society—are critical for improving connectivity, boosting digital technology adoption, and generating more and better jobs for men and women.

Last Updated: Oct 01, 2021

In Depth

  • The World Bank
    Apr 13, 2022

    Africa’s Pulse

    Since emerging from its first recession in 25 years, economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at 4% in 2021, up by 0.7 percentage point from the October 2021 projections, and up from -2.0% in 2020.

  • The World Bank
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