Charted: Top Destinations for Africa’s Exports (1995-2020)
Just under 30 years ago, exports originating from countries in Africa sat at $106 billion annually, primarily going to nations in the West. By 2020, Africa’s exports had more than tripled, but now with Asia as the primary destination.
The world’s second-largest continent, much of the value of Africa’s exports are concentrated in natural resources like petroleum, gold, diamonds, natural gas, and coal. Agricultural commodities like tea, coffee, and cotton also find large markets overseas.
Which countries are the top destinations for Africa’s exports?
This graphic from Sebastian Gräff uses data from Harvard University’s Atlas of Economic Complexity, the World Bank, and Bloomberg to track total exports from African countries over the years. Countries receiving a 1% or greater share of total exports have been included, and percentages have been rounded.
Tracking Africa’s Exports Between 1995 and 2005
The U.S. was the top destination for African goods for many years, led by the country’s demand for petroleum products. At its peak in 2005, the U.S. received one-fifth of the continent’s exports, valued at $55 billion.
Here’s a look at all the countries that had a 1% or greater share of Africa’s total export value at some point from 1995 to 2005.
|🇺🇸 U.S.||North America||14%||18%||20%|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||Asia||2%||2%||1%|
|🇧🇷 Brazil||South America||1%||2%||2%|
|🇨🇦 Canada||North America||1%||1%||2%|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||Asia||1%||1%||1%|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||Africa||1%||0%||1%|
|🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire||Africa||1%||1%||1%|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong||Asia||1%||0%||0%|
Western European countries—Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the UK—also accounted for a significant share of Africa’s exports throughout this time period. Part of this was due to century-old relationships and colonial legacies, but trade was also encouraged by initiatives like the 1976 Lomé Convention, which gave products from developing African countries (particularly former colonies) duty-free access to European markets in exchange for developmental aid.
During the mid-2000s, China also started to take up a growing share of the continent’s exports, as its rapid industrialization led to skyrocketing demand for commodities such as oil, iron ore, and copper—all key African exports.
Asia’s Growing Export Share Between 2010 and 2020
By the year 2010, as African exports topped the $481 billion per year mark, the global market was rapidly starting to change.
For starters, thanks to a considerable increase in domestic oil and natural gas production, the United States began cutting back on African petroleum imports.
At the same time, China had been actively seeking resources and investment opportunities in the developing world as part of its greater geopolitical strategy. By 2015, it had surpassed the U.S. as Africa’s primary export destination, marking a shift in the continent’s trade dynamics.
Here’s a look at all the countries with a 1% or greater share of Africa’s total export value from 2010 to 2020.
|🇺🇸 U.S.||North America||15%||5%||5%|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||Africa||2%||2%||2%|
|🇧🇷 Brazil||South America||2%||2%||1%|
|🇨🇦 Canada||North America||2%||1%||1%|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||Asia||1%||1%||1%|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||Asia||1%||1%||1%|
|🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire||Africa||1%||1%||0%|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong||Asia||0%||1%||1%|
China was joined in the top three ranks by India and the UAE, who were also experiencing rapid industrialization and growing demand for African commodities. In 2020, nearly 40% of Africa’s exports found a market in Asia, led by China and India’s significant trade volumes.
In comparison, Western Europe had started relinquish both its share and value of African goods imported. Alongside growing demand from developing countries, there became greater diversification in African export markets, with countries from Asia (Malaysia, Pakistan), Eastern Europe (Poland, Russia), and within Africa (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda), accounting for growing shares of African exports.
The Future of the African Export Market
Though Africa’s largest export markets are outside the continent for now, there is vast untapped potential for inter-regional exports, which stood at only 15% of total export value in 2020.
There is movement to expand on this trade, with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) established in 2018 to reduce trade barriers between African countries. According to UN estimates, it has the potential to create a $3 trillion market within the continent alone.
With one of the fastest-growing regional populations, the African continent’s economic stakes have never been higher. So who will end up dominating Africa’s trade landscape in the decades to come?
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Map Explainer: Sudan
This comprehensive map explainer covers both key facts about Sudan, as well as information on the violent power struggle unfolding there
Map Explainer: Sudan
The African nation of Sudan has been in the headlines, as intense fighting has rocked the country. As this bloody power struggle plays out, the map infographic above aims to provides key information on the conflict, as well as general facts and context about the country.
To begin, what exactly is happening in Sudan?
The 2023 Conflict in Sudan: A Primer
As explosions echo throughout Khartoum—Africa’s sixth largest urban area—many around the world are left wondering how the conflict escalated to this point. Here are five things to know:
- Two generals have been sharing power since a coup in 2021. The first is General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who leads the Sudanese Army. The second is General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemedti), who leads the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group. This power-sharing arrangement was meant to be temporary, with an eventual transition to a civilian-led democracy. Instead, the situation devolved into conflict.
- Fighting broke out around the country in mid-April, with Khartoum becoming a major flash point. Flames billowed over the Khartoum airport, and the city’s military headquarters was reduced to a burned-out husk.
- As violence began to grip Sudan’s largest city, there was an exodus of foreign officials and citizens. In one particularly dramatic scene at the U.S. Embassy, nearly 100 people were escorted onto an aircraft by Navy SEALs and flown to nearby Djibouti.
- There have been a number of ceasefire agreements so far, but they’ve done little to stem the intense fighting.
- The stream of refugees fleeing the violence continues to grow. There is growing concern that this conflict will cause further instability in the region, as most of Sudan’s neighbors have their own histories with recent conflict, and many areas are facing food insecurity.
Unfortunately, Sudan is no stranger to conflict, having been ruled by the military for much of its existence. As of the writing of this article, there is technically a ceasefire in place, but fighting rages on. It remains to be seen how far these warring generals are willing to push the situation to assert their power.
Fast Facts About the Country of Sudan
Beyond headlines of conflict, Sudan is not a well-known country to many in the West. In the map above, we’ve also included more general information about geography, climate, population centers, and more.
Geography and Climate
Sudan is the third largest nation in Africa (16th globally), so there is a lot of climate and geographic variance within the country’s borders.
The country is located in Northeast Africa, directly below Egypt. Roughly speaking, its climate changes along a north–south axis, moving from arid to tropical. About two-thirds of the nation is arid and semi-arid, which is typical of countries with territory that includes the Sahara Desert.
The further south one goes in Sudan, the greener the surroundings get. The map below (which also includes the relatively new country of South Sudan) shows the extreme difference in vegetation from the north to south in the region.
The Nile River is a prominent feature running across this arid region, providing two-thirds of the country’s fresh water. In the south, the Blue and White portions of the Nile enter the country from South Sudan and Ethiopia, respectively. The rivers meet midway through the country and the Nile River flows northward, eventually reaching Egypt.
This flow of water from country-to-country can sometimes be a point of contention between Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt, who all rely on the river for power, fresh water, and irrigation.
Over 43 million people live in Sudan, which ranks it ninth in terms of population in Africa. Below, we can see that much of the Sudanese population is clustered in a couple of key areas, while much of the country remains sparsely populated.
Khartoum, the capital and largest city, is located in the interior of the country at the strategic point where the Blue and White Niles converge. This fast-growing city is shaped by the three sections surrounding the river junction—with Khartoum, North Khartoum, and Omdurman making up a metro area of 6.3 million people.
Sudan is divided into 18 states, five of which form the Darfur region in the west. If the name Darfur is familiar, it’s for good reason. In the 2000s, the region experienced a conflict marked by widespread violence, human rights abuses, and displacement, resulting in a humanitarian crisis. One of the generals involved in the current crisis, Hemedti, previously commanded the Janjaweed militias, which carried out some of the most egregious atrocities of the Darfur conflict.
In the northwest, Sudan borders the strategic Red Sea route. Port Sudan serves as the main entry point for imports and the primary export outlet for Sudanese commodities, including agricultural products (such as cotton, gum arabic, and sesame), minerals (such as gold), and livestock. The city has also been tapped to host a Russian naval base in the near future, though the recent power struggle in Sudan has potentially complicated negotiations.
As violence continues to rage in residential areas and people flee for safer areas, it remains to be seen how this conflict will influence population patterns within the country. How many people will be displaced? And once the smoke clears, will they return?
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