Determining the “most westernized” country in Sub-Saharan Africa requires considering various social, cultural, economic, and political factors. One way to answer this complex question is by analyzing the data from the Country Similarity Index. The index attempts to quantify how similar countries are to each other relative to other countries, using a variety of statistics from five broad categories: demographics, culture, politics, infrastructure, and geography. An analysis of the data clearly shows that South Africa is the Sub-Saharan African country most similar to Western countries. The data also shows that Somalia is the least similar.
(Western countries defined as Europe, USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Sub-Saharan African countries are defined as the countries listed in the graph below – note that Mauritius and Cape Verde are not included)
Let’s analyze South Africa with respect to these five categories: demographics, culture, politics, infrastructure, and geography to show why it is easily the “most westernized” in Sub-Saharan Africa.
South Africa has the highest percentage of people in Sub-Saharan Africa with European ancestry at around 8%. However, historically it had been once as high as 20%. African countries tend to have younger populations, but among countries in the region, South Africa’s median age is the highest at 28 years old.
Furthermore, South Africa’s average education and income levels are among the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its GDP per capita is around $14,400, much more than a majority of countries in the region. It also has one of the highest literacy rates. Unlike most Sub-Saharan African countries, the majority of its people work in the service sector, not agriculture.
The roots of South Africa’s Westernization can be traced back to the colonial era. The arrival of the Dutch, followed by the British and other European settlers, introduced foreign customs, languages, and lifestyles to South Africa. Over time, they imposed their cultural norms, institutions, and governance systems on indigenous communities.
As a result, the vast majority of people in South Africa are now Christian. Furthermore, most of the population can speak an Indo-European language, either English or Afrikaans. Western countries tend to have lower rates of marriage than Sub-Saharan African countries. However, South Africa’s rate is more in line with Western countries.
South Africa stands as a unique exception within Sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to political stability and democracy. The country has managed to avoid the tumultuous cycle of coups d’état that many other African nations have experienced. Since apartheid, it has held inclusive democratic elections. Like many Western nations, the country has freedom of journalism and an open internet.
Unlike many African nations, South Africa has relatively liberal laws more in line with most Western countries. It allows same sex marriage and abortion. In addition, it prohibits polygamy. These progressive legal developments in South Africa are rooted in the post-apartheid Constitution, which was adopted in 1996 and is known for its emphasis on human rights, equality, and social justice.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, infrastructure is not nearly as well developed as in Western countries. However, South Africa has some of the best infrastructure on the continent. The country has the second highest number of vehicles per capita in the region, behind only Botswana. It also has by far the most frequently used passenger railroad system in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Urban areas in South Africa generally have well-developed water supply and sanitation systems. Major cities have access to treated drinking water and modern sanitation facilities, contributing to better public health outcomes than other Sub-Saharan African countries. South Africa has also developed an extensive network of dams and reservoirs.
Generally speaking, Western countries tend to have cooler climates than Sub-Saharan Africa countries. Since South Africa is at the continent’s southern-most point and much of its land is at a high elevation, it has the coolest temperature in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of Lesotho. In fact, during the winter months, some areas of South Africa get snow.
South Africa’s urbanization level and developed infrastructure in major cities contribute to a more modern and developed feel that may resemble Western countries’ urban environments. Cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town are more developed and industrialized than many other Sub-Saharan African cities, similar to the urban landscapes in Western countries.
The Most Similar Western Country to South Africa
The Country Similarity Index suggests that Australia is the most similar western country to South Africa. Both Australia and South Africa were once British colonies, which has left a legacy of shared legal systems, institutions, and cultural elements. Both countries are rich in natural resources and have strong mining industries. They share similarities in terms of resource extraction and management. In addition, both countries are in the Southern Hemisphere and have a lot of land that is desert.