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China in Africa: The Real Story

How much of Africa's oil is going to China?

Deborah Brautigam

Looking into oil exports from Africa today -- an intern wrote up a story on a recent talk I gave. She sent me a draft, and I saw that she had mistakenly heard me say that China was taking 90 percent of Africa's resources (what I had actually said was that natural resources and commodities make up 90 percent of Chinese imports from Africa).

I know a lot of people still believe that China is vacuuming up the vast majority of Africa's resource exports. So what is the data? Let's look at oil. According to the US government's Energy Information Administration (EIA) China is importing 22% of sub-Saharan Africa's oil.

Thanks to fracking and shale gas, the US has cut way back on sub-Saharan African oil. We only imported 13% of SSA's oil exports in 2012. Europe gets the most: 28%.  So, China imports 22% of sub-Saharan African oil and "the West," 41%.

What about North Africa? The major producers there are Libya (Europe has 71%, China has 12%, the US 4%) and Algeria (Europe gets 72%, "Asia" gets 10%). If this was added to the totals, China's percent would shrink and Europe's would expand.

China is a big consumer of African resources -- timber, cotton, copper -- but as far as oil, it is still quite a bit smaller than "the West".