Coffee berries in Jinja, Uganda. Coffee is Uganda's leading export. (Photo/ Flickr/ Mark Adler)

Africa’s Export Diversity, Or Let’s Say The Lack Of It – Plus Some Surprises

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AFRICA has been badly hit by the commodity price crash of the past 18 months, as several countries rely on just a handful of exports to bring in revenue.

Data from the African Development Bank (AfDB) shows that 10 African countries rely on a single product for the bulk (at least three-quarters) of export revenues. For eight of these, that single product is crude oil, except in the case of Eritrea (copper ores; 93.7%) and Guinea-Bissau (cashew nuts; 75%).

The data reveals that 20 countries – nearly half of the African total – rely on three products or fewer for at least 75% of export revenue. The median number of individual products that drives the bulk of African exports is just five.

Even so, there is great disparity in the data – some countries are much more diverse in their exports than you might expect.

The most diverse African economies, at least with regard to exports, tend to be wealthy countries with a well-developed manufacturing sector: Tunisia is tops (88 products), Egypt (80), South Africa (75) and Morocco (66).

Kenya, is in fifth place, counting 52 individual products that together account for 75% of export revenue – but the country is only the eighth largest by GDP size, and 29th by per capita income in Africa, according to data from the IMF and World Bank.

The country’s single biggest export earner, black tea, brings in just 15.9% of the total, second is cut flowers at 11.5%; all the other exports each make up less than 10% of the total.

Its East African neighbours, though largely doing better than the African average, count less than half of Kenya’s 52 products – Tanzania is at 22 products, Uganda 16, and Ethiopia at 6.

It suggests that Kenya is punching above its weight in diversification of exports – in the analogy of anthropologists, it is less of a hunter economy and more of a gathering one – all sorts of small items find their way to the export market, particularly in the East African region.

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