Top 10 Least Literate Countries of Africa 2019

5 min


Many countries around the world have implemented literacy programs in an effort to combat illiteracy; including the nations of Africa. However, illiteracy rates on this continent continue to be high. 7 out of the 10 least literate countries come from West Africa. Let’s look at these countries.

Data and information provided by World Atlas.

10. Ethiopia

  • Adult literacy rate: 49%

In 1994, this number was just 27%, indicating a large improvement. Additionally, the government of Ethiopia is currently working with the World Bank Group to implement the General Education Quality Improvement Project, which will help increase the literacy rate as well.

9. Sierra Leone & Liberia

  • Adult literacy rate: 48%

Sierra Leone is tied with Liberia as the 9th least literate country in Africa. Here, only 48% of the adult population is able to read and write. Like many other countries on this list, Sierra Leone has had political unrest, violence, and warfare, all of which have disrupted the development of public sector services. The government is currently working to establish community education centers in order to combat its problem with illiteracy.

In Liberia, it represents an 18% increase over the 1984 report. The warfare experienced by this country has contributed to this low level of literacy, making development and improvement in its public sectors difficult to achieve.

8. Ivory Coast

  • Adult literacy rate: 43%

With only 43% of its adult population able to read and write with comprehension, Cote d’Ivoire stands as the 8th least literate country in Africa. Despite this low ranking, this country has achieved significant improvement since 1988, when only 34.1% of the population could read and write. During the 80’s, the government of Cote d’Ivoire invested a higher percentage of its budget in the educational sector than any other country in the world, in terms of percentage of the gross domestic product.

7. Chad

  • Adult literacy rate: 40%

Only approximately 40% of the adult population here is literate. This country has experienced an annual average increase of 46.54% since 1993, when the literacy rate was only 10.9% . This improvement can be attributed to governmental efforts to improve classroom environment and teacher training during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

6. Benin & Burkina Faso

  • Adult literacy rate: 38%

Benin is tied with Burkina as the 6th least literate country in Africa. Only 38% of the adult population is able to read and write in Benin. In 2006, this number was 28.7%. In 2007, the government made public education free to the population, which led to a significant jump in student enrollment numbers. Additionally, the literacy rate has increased by roughly 10% over that time.

Burkina Faso also has an adult literacy rate of only 38%. Despite this low number, it does indicate a significant increase over past literacy rates. In 1991, for example, only 13.6% of the population was able to read and write. This number continued to increase and in 2003, was 21.8%. This country has achieved a 21.76% average annual improvement rate.

Also Read: Top 10 Least Educated African Presidents

5. Central African Republic

  • Adult literacy rate: 37%

The public school enrollment rate in this country was only around 43% in 2001, which is a reflection of a number of issues with the educational system here. For example, girls often stop attending school after the first few years of primary education, due to pressure to get married and have children. Additionally, Central African Republic has suffered a significant number of losses because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In fact, the government was forced to shut down hundreds of schools in the late 1990’s after losing many qualified teachers to the virus.

4. Mali

  • Adult literacy rate: 33%

Mali has a 33% literacy rate in the adult population and men make up the majority of those individuals with the ability to read and write. For example, as of 2013, 43.1% of men over the age of 15 in this country are considered literate. That percentage is only 24.6% for women, although some reports estimate the amount to be much lower. The government provides public education in Mali at no cost to the population, with the exception of books, uniforms, and other fees. Because of the high rates of poverty in this country, many families are unable to afford the costs associated with sending their children to school. The enrollment rate in Mali, therefore, is low when compared to the global average, which results in low levels of literacy.

3. South Sudan

  • Adult literacy rate: 32%

Less than a third of all individuals over the age of 15 are able to read and write with comprehension. This percentage is a slight improvement over previous years when South Sudan was considered to have the worst literacy rate in the world. This country has experienced approximately 50 years of political and civil unrest, violence, and warfare that has left it in this position, struggling to meet the need for public education. It has only recently become an independent nation (as of 2011) and since then, has been working to improve its educational system for both youth and adults.

2. Guinea

  • Adult literacy rate: 30%

Guinea has a 30% literacy rate in the population over the age of 15. This percentage represents a slight increase over 1996, when it was registered at only 20.6%. Like Niger, this country has a particularly low public school enrollment rate and those individuals who do go to class are taught by underqualified and poorly trained teachers. Additionally, the government here does not make education a top priority, allocating only 1% of the national budget to this public service.

1. Niger

  • Adult literacy rate: 19%

This low rate is a reflection of the poor quality of education available here. Although the government has mandated primary education at no cost to residents, enrollment rates remain lower than expected. Girls have the lowest enrollment rate; as culture traditionally places them in child marriages and expected to stay home. Additionally, many people in Niger work in agriculture and see no need for formal education.


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