The Top 10 most populated countries in Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

As of 2021, Africa’s population currently stands at somewhere between 1.3 and 1.4 billion and it is growing rapidly. Having only hit one billion for the first time in 2009, it’s estimated that there will be approximately 2.5 billion people in Africa by the year 2050 and potentially more than 4 billion by the end of the 21st Century – more than half of the world’s current population. In this post, we’ll look at the most populated countries in Africa and see which ones are growing fastest.

In many countries in Africa, population figures are estimates at best and many births and deaths go unrecorded. For the population data in this article we’re using Worldometers’ estimates (as of March 18th 2021). Their data is calculated according to the 2019 UN report on population dynamics. All figures in the article are rounded up or down to the nearest 100,000.

Most populated countries in Africa – The Top 10

1. Nigeria – 206.1 million

The most populated country in Africa, by some distance, is Nigeria. Estimates suggest Nigeria’s population is growing by around 5 million every single year. Already the 7th most populous country on the planet, Nigeria has an average age of less than 19 and is likely to see its population skyrocket to around 400 million by the middle of the 20th Century.

Its capital Lagos, already has an estimated population of more than 20 million in its urban area and that could swell to see it potentially become the largest city in the world by population at some point in the 21st Century.

Despite its high population, Nigeria is only the 14th largest country in Africa by area. With a current unemployment rate of 33% and existing food shortages, it’s clear that such population growth has the potential to become a major problem for Nigeria in the coming years if the situation is not managed well.

2. Ethiopia – 115.0 million

Ethiopia is the second largest country in Africa by population. Located in the east of the continent, just north of the equator, there are around 115 million people living in the country as of 2021, and its population growth rate is similar to that of Nigeria. However its people are more spread out with the largest city and capital Addis Ababa not even ranking in the top 15 African cities by population.

That’s not solely down to high birth rates, although it is the primary factor. Ethiopia is also one of the few countries in the region to experience positive net migration. Indeed only South Africa and Uganda see higher figures in that regard on the African continent. However the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region could potentially alter that in 2021 and beyond.

3. Egypt – 102.3 million

Cairo city view
Cairo via Claudia Schillinger, CC BY-ND 2.0

Egypt is sometimes referred to as being part of the Middle East and while it is certainly part of the Arab world, geographically speaking it is an African nation with the country’s small Sinai Peninsula acting as a land bridge between Africa and Asia. Aside from Nigeria and Ethiopia, it is the only African nation with a population of more than 100 million.

Its population dynamics are slightly different though and its growth rate is the lowest of the top five countries. Around 20% of Egyptians live in Cairo’s metropolitan area. The remainder mostly live in towns and cities on or close to the banks of the Nile which dissects the country, while the vast Saharan region of Egypt to the west of the Nile is very sparsely populated.

Egypt is also the second most visited country in Africa after Morocco!

4. DR Congo – 89.6 million

At number four, we have the Democratic Republic of Congo with a population of just shy of 90 million. With a yearly change of just over 3%, it’s also one of the fastest growing populations in Africa with only four countries experiencing higher rates of growth (see the table at the bottom!).

DR Congo is the most-populous officially Francophone country in the world and it’s likely to become one of the ten most populated countries in the world at some point in the 21st Century. By comparison, the neighbouring Republic of the Congo is one of the smaller African countries with only around 5.5 million residents.

5. South Africa – 59.3 million

most populated countries in Africa
Cape Town at night via thomas, CC BY-SA 2.0

There’s quite a drop to the 5th most populated country in Africa. With just less than 60 million living there, South Africa has a similar population to Italy and is slightly smaller than the UK and France. It does have relatively high urban population figures though and both Cape Town and Johannesburg rank amongst the ten most populated cities on the continent.

Official figures also suggest that South Africa’s population is not growing as rapidly as others, despite high levels of migration from other African countries. Only 10 nations in Africa have a lower rate of population growth than South Africa’s which stands at around 1.3% per year.

The top 10 most populated countries in Africa are rounded off by Tanzania (59.7 million), Kenya (53.8 million), Uganda (45.7 million), Algeria (43.9 million) and Sudan (43.8 million).

Head over to our Africa travel blog for more about visiting the region!

Africa Population 2021 – The Five Fastest Growing Countries

Country Population Estimated Yearly Change
Niger 24.2 million +3.84%
Equatorial Guinea 1.4 million +3.47%
Uganda 45.7 million +3.32%
Angola 32.9 million +3.27%
DR Congo 89.6 million +3.19%

According to estimates, the population is growing in every single country in Africa (there are 58 African nations). That trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future and is fairly typical in developing countries. Overall, it’s landlocked Niger which has the highest rate of population growth, although in terms of pure numbers, Nigeria’s population is growing the fastest by around 5 million each year, 3rd globally to only India and China.

Clearly such rapid population growth does present real challenges on a continent where resources are already scarce. Managing Africa’s population growth is going to be one of the biggest challenges the human race will face in the 21st Century and it’s certainly going to be something to keep an eye on. You can view estimates of exactly how much Africa’s population will grow between 2021 and 2100 here.

This article was published in March 2021.

The Top 10 most populated countries in Africa

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