President Robert Mugabe has rejected claims Zimbabwe is a fragile state by claiming it is the most highly-developed country in Africa after South Africa, according to reports.

A 'fragile' state is a low-income country characterised by weak capacity and/or weak legitimacy leaving citizens vulnerable to both natural and man-made shocks.

In 2016, Zimbabwe was the 16th most fragile state in the Fragile States Index out of 178 states surveyed. The world's most fragile state was Somalia followed by South Sudan (2nd) and the Central African Republic (third), based on 12 social, economic and political indicators.

During a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Durban, South Africa, Mugabe was asked by the panel chair Anton du Plessis whether Zimbabwe was a fragile state.

Zimbabwe is gripped by drought and teeters on the verge of total economic collapse. Facing a cash shortage, the Finance Ministry was repeatedly been forced to delay pay for civil servants – including doctors and the military and authorities imposed strict limits on the amount that ordinary people can withdraw from bank accounts.

According to a journalist who was tweeting the discussion, du Plessis asked: "Do you agree, Mr President, is Zimbabwe a fragile state?"

After laughing, Mugabe told the panel chair, "This isn't true", before adding "Zimbabwe is the most highly-developed country in Africa. After South Africa, (I) want to see another country as highly developed."

Based on IMF data, Zimbabwean's average annual income between 2009 and 2013 was around $589 (£410). In contrast, South Africans earned more than $11,000 per year (£7,600) on average. The World Bank, however, said that while growth in 2016 was low at 0.4% it is predicted to grow by 3.8% this year.

"I don't think of us as a fragile state from an economic point of view. Yes, we have our problems... but we have resources, perhaps more than the average country... and our agriculture is very viable and this year we will have a bumper harvest," Mugabe said, highlighting the nation's production of "maize, tobacco, many other crops".

"We are not a poor country, can't be a fragile state," Mugabe said, despite thousands of households already coping with food scarcity due to lack of rainfall for two consecutive seasons.

Mugabe went on explaining how Zimbabwe has 14 universities, a literacy rate of over 90% – "The highest in Africa, yet they talk of us as a fragile state".

Tensions have been rising in Zimbabwe as Mugabe has come under pressure over how his government has handled the economy, amid high unemployment, allegations of corruption and cash shortages. Led by dozens of social movements that mushroomed in Zimbabwe in 2016, street protests have become frequent.