Africa's Biggest Exports

Container ships docked in South Africa.
Container ships docked in South Africa.

The African continent is endowed with plenty of natural resources that help boost the economic growth of member states. The natural resources in Africa range all the way from gold and diamonds to agricultural products such as coffee and tea. A cursory glance into the resource distribution of Africa shows that the northern region of Africa, including nations such as Egypt and Libya, mostly export petroleum products in the form of natural gas and crude oil. The eastern side of Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa region, in nations like Kenya and Somali, the focus is on foods and drinks such as coffee, tea, and livestock. Precious metals are mostly exported from the central and southern parts of Africa such as South Africa, Botswana, and others. The precious metals include the likes of gold and diamonds. The western side of Africa mostly exports textiles and apparels, which includes things like cotton, clothing, and textiles. Metals such as iron ore and phosphorous are also mined in West Africa in countries such as Mauritania. Machinery, transportation, and wood products are resources that are not found in abundance in the African continent.

Value of Exports in 2017

Looking at the data from 2017, the exports from Africa totaled about $463.1 billion. While the figure represents a drop of about 20% since 2013, it denotes an increase of about 25% from 2016. Looking at the total value of goods exported in the world, the total exports from Africa represent a mere 2.6% of the total exports in the world, which were worth a mammoth $17.581 trillion in 2017. This data, after an analysis by the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook Database, shows that the value of the exports is about 7.3% of the total economic output of Africa. On a smaller and more manageable level, the figure amounts to approximately $395 per each African.

The data from 2017 shows that South Africa is the biggest contributor to the total exports of Africa with a contribution of about $88.3 billion, which is about 19.1% of the total value of exports from Africa. Guinea is second with $62.1 billion (13.4%) while Nigeria is in the third position with $44.5 billion (9.6%). Algeria and Angola are in the fourth and fifth position with $35.2 billion (7.6%) and $34.8 billion (7.5%) respectively. The likes of Western Sahara, Sao Tome and Principe, and others are at the bottom of the list with contributions that are less than 0.1%.

About 77.7% of the total exports were provided by the first top ten nations. In addition, there are sixteen African states that had an improvement in the value of exports compared to 2013. The most improvement was observed in Guinea, which had an improvement of a whopping 3,385%. The second most improved country was Comoros (683%), followed by the Central African Republic (297.5%), Sierra Leone (217%), and Lesotho who closed the top five with an improvement of 200.9%. On the other end of the list, Lesotho’s exports were the most decreased at 85%. Other countries that went down were Gambia (78.8%), Western Sahara (67%), Mali (66.7%) and Equatorial Guinea (65.5%)

South Africa’s Top Exports

As earlier stated, South Africa was the biggest contributor to the total value of exports from Africa in 2017. While the value represents a slight drop from 2013, there was a considerable improvement, about 20%, compared to 2016’s value. According to data from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, the total value of goods and services that are exported from South Africa represent about 26.9% of the total gross domestic product (GDP) of the country.

The largest percentage of the exports from Africa, about 32%, go to Asian states, 26.3% to other African nations, while about 23.9% is exported to Europe. North America receives about 8% of the total exports. Looking at the population (54.8 million people) and the total value of South Africa’s exports, the total exports give each citizen around $1,600.

As expected, gems and precious metals were the most valuable products exported out of the nation after they contributed about $14.9 billion, which accounted for 16.7% of the total exports from the country. Ores, ash, and slag were in the second position with $11.3 billion, which was about 12.6% of the total exports. Other top contributors included Mineral fuels with $10.6 billion (11.8%), vehicles with $9.8 billion (11%), and iron and steel with a contribution of $6.1 billion (6.8%). Mineral fuels and precious metals were among the most improved exports from the country.

Nigeria’s Top Experts

Nigeria’s exports in 2017 were within the region of $40 billion, which was also a drop from 2013 but an improvement from 2016. The biggest percentage of the exports from Nigeria (37.4%) were exported to Europe while Asia was the recipient of about 29.6% of the exports. The North American continent received about 16.5%, other Africa states were recipients of about 12.1%, while Latin America (without Mexico but with the inclusion of the Caribbean) received about 3.3%.

Based on an analysis that was done by the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, the total value of exports of goods and services account for about 12.5% of Nigeria’s GDP. Comparing the total value to Nigeria’s population of 190.6 million people, then this is equal to about $210 for every Nigerian citizen.

The most abundant export from Nigeria is, unsurprisingly, mineral fuels, which also include oil. The exports of the mineral fuels contributed about $39.1 billion, which is a massive 96% of the total exports from Nigeria. Ships and boats are in the second place with $253.5 million (0.6%) while Cocoa is third with around $238.1 million (0.6%). Oil seeds and fertilizers are in the fourth and fifth position with contributions of about $180.9 million (0.4%) and $149.8 million (0.4%) respectively. 99% of the total value of exports from Nigeria is accounted for by the top ten export products.

In Nigeria, the greatest improvement (about 140.9%) from 2016 was noticed in fertilizer exportation while fruits and nuts exports increased by around 133.6%. Other products that appreciated include plastics (100.8%) and oil seeds (48.7%). Some of the products that showed a negative increase include the likes of tobacco and manufactured substitutes (13%), cocoa (21.4%, and ships and boats (86.3%).


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