East Africa’s trade and investment trends

East Africa’ top five export commodities by value (US$, 2012)ii
The leading export commodity in each East African country was the same in 2012 as it was in 2010. In Tanzania, the value of gold exports doubled from $914 million to $2.2 billion in 2012 mainly because of the increase in gold prices. Burundi’s gold exports fetched only $105 million in 2012
compared to $164 million in 2010, suggesting that the volume of gold production and exports must have declined substantially in that country. Coffee remained the top export commodity in Uganda, tea in Kenya and tin ore in Rwanda.

Two indications of the importance of re-exports within the region are apparent. Uganda is exporting cellular telephones when it does not manufacture them (see text box below). Similarly, Rwanda exports niobium, tantalum, vanadium, zirconium ores. Used in the manufacture of mobile communication devices, these ores are mainly found in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Table 1. East Africa’s top five exports by country (2011, 2012)







Burundi (2012) Gold

($105 million)


($66 million)

Ores and Concentrates ($17 million) Tea

($14 million)


($6 million)

Kenya (2012) Tea

($1.2 billion)

Horticulture ($970 million) Coffee

($266 million)

Apparel and Clothing Accessories ($247 million) Tobacco

($199 million)

Rwanda (2011) Tin ore and concentrates

($102 million)


($77 million)


($53 million)

Niobium, tantalum, vanadium, zirconium ores

($39 million)

Petroleum oils ($20 million)
Tanzania (2012) Gold

($2.2 billion)


($223 million)


($187 million)

Cashew Nuts

($141 million)


($56 million)

Uganda (2012) Coffee

($372 million)

Cellular telephones

($144 million)

Petroleum products

($137 million)

Fish and fish products

($128 million)

Sugar and sugar confectionary

($123 million)

Source: National Bureau of Statistics for all EAC Partner States and UN Comtrade

East Africa’s top five imports by value (2012)
Petroleum products, industrial goods, construction materials, cars and trucks continue to dominate East Africa’s imports. It is notable that the $18 billion value of the region’s top five imports exceeds the $7 billion that of its top five exports by a large margin. Indeed, given the region’s fuel import bill of more than $8 billion in 2011 and 2012, the region’s most important export earners cannot pay for the region’s fuel bill.

Table 2.East Africa’s top five imports in the country (2011,2012)







Burundi (2012) Petroleum products

($445 million)

Soya Beans

($112 million)


($53 million)

Medicaments ($49 million) Motor Cars and Vehicles for Transport

($40 million)

Kenya (2012) Petroleum products

($2.8 billion)

Industrial machinery

($2.3 billion)

Road Motor Vehicles

($882 million)

Crude Petroleum ($814 million) Iron and Steel

($677 million)

Rwanda (2011) Petroleum products

($106 million)


($52 million)

Motor vehicles ($52 million) Cane/beet sugar and chemically pure surcose ($37 million) Human blood; animal blood prepared for theruapetic, prophylactic and diagnostic uses

($34 million)

Tanzania (2012) Petroleum Products

($3.4 billion)

Transport Equipment

($1.4 billion)


($1.2 billion)

Food and Beverage ($1.1 billion) Construction materials

($895 million)

Uganda (2011) Petroleum products

($1.3 billion)

Road vehicles (including air-cushioned vehicles)

($500 million)

Telecoms and sound recording/ reproducing

($343 million)

Iron and steel ($271 million) Medical and pharmaceutical products

($259 million)

Figure 10. The single most important export destination for each East African country (2012)


Source: National Bureau of Statistics for all EAC Partner States and UN Comtrade; Map created by Neechi Mosha

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