Have you ever wondered how similar or different two countries are? The Country Similarity Index attempts to quantify how similar countries are to each other relative to other countries. The index is a statistically-based way to measure this. It weighs equally five major aspects of countries: their demographics, culture, politics, infrastructure, and geography. The methodology is exactly the same for each country. The research combines 1,000 different data points to arrive at the conclusions.
Top 10 Countries Most Similar to South Africa
South Africa is a country in Southern Africa. Relatively few countries are similar to it. Four of the top five countries were once British colonies, with the exception being Namibia, which was a German colony that was later ruled by South Africa. As a result, they all have English as one of their official languages and their people are mostly Protestants. In addition all of these countries used the South African Rand as currency at one time or another. They also have a drier and more temperate climate than other African countries closer to the equator.
- Botswana is another former British colony in Southern Africa. There were plans for Botswana to be incorporated into South Africa, until Tswana leaders resisted them. Like South Africa, it is one of the wealthiest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its government’s structure also mirrors South Africa as it has a president elected by the country’s parliament. Tswana is also one of the official languages of South Africa and many of its people speak it natively.
- Namibia had been ruled by South Africa from the end of World War I to 1990, so it is no surprise that the countries are quite similar. Although Namibia has its own currency, South African Rand is also legal tender. Its official language is English, but it also has the most speakers of Afrikaans after South Africa. However, Namibia is drier and more of a desert than South Africa. Its people are also relatively poorer and its infrastructure is not as well developed.
- Eswatini is located to the east of South Africa. It gained its independence from Britain in 1968, but it still has English as one of its official languages. Like Namibia, it has its own currency, but also uses the Rand. Swati is also one of the official languages of South Africa. However, Eswatini is poorer and less developed than South Africa. In addition, it is an absolute monarchy.
- Lesotho is the largest country completely surrounded by another country, however it is only fourth on this list. Lesotho is much poorer and more rural than South Africa. In fact, 86% of its population are agricultural workers. In addition, unlike South Africa, which almost exclusively uses coal for electricity, Lesotho is mostly powered by hydroelectricity. Still, both countries are quite mountainous. Sotho is yet another official language in South Africa and many of its people speak it natively.
- Zimbabwe is another former British colony similar to South Africa. However, many white settlers fled the country after Mugabe gained power. It is quite different politically from South Africa, since its government is more unstable. In addition, it is also poorer and has less developed infrastructure. The country’s climate is also not as dry as South Africa’s.
- Kenya, 7. Zambia, 8. Malawi, 9. Ghana, 10. Cape Verde
Top 10 Countries Least Similar to South Africa
The least similar countries to South Africa are all located in East Asia and Southeast Asia. They have very little in common culturally or demographically. In addition, all of these countries get a lot more rainfall than South Africa. South Africa’s standard of living and infrastructure are not especially good or bad, so some of the least similar countries are far wealthier, while others are far more poor.
- North Korea is by far the least similar country to South Africa. It has obvious political differences from South Africa. North Korea has very strict gun control and drug laws, in contrast to South Africa. In addition, while college is free in North Korea, in South Africa many students must pay fees even for primary school. Its infrastructure is also quite different since they drive on the right, use different electrical outlets, and an analog TV broadcasting standard. A far larger percentage of its population is in the military as well.
- Japan‘s demographics and culture are very different from South Africa. Its infrastructure is also far more developed. However both countries drive on the left and use the same railroad track gauge, 3’-6″. Another similarity is that they are mountainous, although Japan’s landscape is much more heavily forested.
- Cambodia is yet another country on this list that borders the Pacific Ocean, but it is quite different from the other two. Cambodia’s infrastructure is not as well developed as South Africa. Its people are predominately Buddhist. Furthermore, most of its land is used to grow rice. South Africa has a far lower percentage of farmland and corn is more commonly grown there.
- Taiwan is a densely populated country located on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Its standard of living is much higher than South Africa. Another difference is that Taiwan is much less successful in the Olympics, despite their wealth. Still, their governments are somewhat alike since their are both democratic and have similar laws.
- Laos is similar to Cambodia. It is a landlocked, heavily forested tropical country, although both are mountainous. In contrast South Africa, the government of Laos is dominated by the Communist Party and there is little democracy or rule of law. Although it was once a colony of France, it did not become very westernized. Their people follow both Buddhism and also indigenous beliefs.
- Qatar, 7. Bangladesh, 8. United Arab Emirates, 9. Kuwait, 10. Saudi Arabia
South Africa is like if Botswana was more like the Netherlands
According to the Index, Botswana is the most similar country to South Africa. However, there are several key differences between these countries. Although the Netherlands is not very similar to South Africa, it has several characteristics of the country that Botswana lacks. Part of South Africa was once a Dutch colony and Afrikaans (a language extremely similar to Dutch) is still widely spoken in the country. Furthermore, South Africa has more people with European decent than Botswana. While Botswana is landlocked, South Africa and the Netherlands have a large amount of coastline. The laws in South Africa and the Netherlands are also less conservative than Botswana’s.
All data accurate as of 2020.