This week, England’s smallest county became the last in the UK to get the golden arches. After relenting for years, councillors in Rutland granted permission to the fast-food giant to open a 24-hour drive-thru. 

Many residents in the area raised concerns about the disruption in the region’s ambience, an increase in litter, the promotion of unhealthy diets and the possible damage to the local economy with the new restaurant. 

Latest statistics show that the fast-food restaurant has approximately 37,900 outlets in over 100 countries, serving over 69 million people daily. 

The chain became so popular that The Economist started annually publishing The Big Mac Index in 1986 as an informal method to measure one nation’s currency with another by comparing the prices of the popular menu item – the Big Mac.

The 2018 index indicated that countries with the most expensive Big Macs included Switzerland ($6.57 USD) and Sweden ($5.83 USD), and the least expensive place to buy the hamburger was listed as Egypt ($1.75 USD) and Ukraine ($1.91 USD). 

That got us at Truly Belong thinking about the global reach of one of the most iconic food companies and where they’ve struggled to find a fitting nation to open the business. According to our research, around half the countries in the world are without a McDonald’s.

Countries in Africa without McDonald’s

Africa is one of the most populous continents in the world and sustains a high demand for food, but only four countries in the region currently have a McDonald’s: Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, and Mauritania. Since the turn of the new century, there were talks to open branches in Ghana, Zimbabwe and Kenya, but the plans seem to be abandoned.

Interestingly, the clown’s rival, the colonel, found space in these territories. Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has franchises in over 20 African countries, including Kenya and Ghana.

Countries in Asia without McDonald’s 

Asia has a thriving McDonalds scene in countries like Japan, China and India, however, there are still many in the continent without the iconic chain. These include Afghanistan, Iran, Bhutan and North Korea.

Why are countries without McDonald’s restaurants?

Although there is an appetite for fast food in many countries without McDonald’s, issues like disposable income, politics and economy rule out the option for housing the golden arches. 

According to Miguel Centeno, a sociologist at Princeton University who was part of a team that looked at McDonald’s and its global presence, the location of the restaurants depended on a country’s economy. 

“If you want a definition of what the rich world and the poor world are, well, if you can get a McDonald’s, you are in the rich world,” Centeno said. “If you look at where these restaurants are located, it doesn’t map on to culture; it maps on to money.”

Iceland is a prime example of this. When the economy on the island was booming, so were McDonald’s restaurants. After the financial crash of the Icelandic currency Krone in 2009, import costs increased and the fast-food operation pulled out.

Likewise, countries like Nigeria are also unable to access McDonald’s services. This is due to a lack of adequate supply chain since they lie very far from other countries with McDonald’s restaurants.

Moreover, a handful of countries have turned away the corporate giant for other reasons.

For example, the eastern European country of Montenegro was reported to have banned McDonald’s from setting up shop in its capital to push back against the forces of globalisation.

Others like North Korea, due to their continuous tensions with the West, have resisted the opening of the restaurant within their borders. With that said, it was reported in 2011 that the regime’s elite was using its national airline to smuggle in McDonald’s meals from South Korea.

Countries that closed McDonald’s restaurants

In the case of Bolivia, the government passed on having a side of fries in 2002 and closed all the McDonald’s franchises in the country. In a speech, former Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed his disdain towards the fast-food giant and said:

“The major multinational food companies seek to control the production of food and to dominate global markets by imposing their customs and foods. The only goal of such producers is to generate profits. So they standardize food and drinks, turning them into global foods produced on a massive scale with the same formula. They are not interested in the health of human beings, only in their earnings and corporate profits.”

In the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda in the Caribbean, foreign fast-food franchises have been banned thanks to the Prohibited Restaurants Act of 1977. The only one that existed was a McDonald’s in the US Naval Station, technically American soil, but was shut after the base closed in 1995.

The environmental damage

As one of the largest fast-food chains, McDonald’s is criticised by environmentalists with many problems. One of the main environmental issues of the company is global warming resulting from the greenhouse gas emissions from cows and the damaging of rainforests for raising beef cattle and grains. As one of the largest buyers of beef in the world, McDonald’s used over 350,000 cattle in 2010.

Packaging waste is another environmental issue McDonald’s need to tackle. Their use of often unnecessary packaging often ends up littering the street and buried in landfills in the name of convenience and portability. According to a 2009 survey in England, 29 per cent of the litter on streets is the wrappers and cups from McDonald’s.

Zahra Khozema

Journalist at Truly Belong
Zahra is a Pakistani-Canadian journalist who’s currently living in the U.K. She has a BA in media production and a master's in journalism.

Zahra has written for platforms like CBC News, Brown Girl Magazine, Broadview Magazine, and Narcity Toronto. Her work often centres around topics related to social justice, culture, and travel. She enjoys fondling Spanish on Duolingo, practicing salsa moves in the shower, and talking to strangers on the subway.
Zahra Khozema