That dollar amount reflects a 10.7% increase since 2016 but a -9.3% drop from 2019 to 2020.
Kenya’s biggest imported goods by value in 2020 were processed petroleum oils, palm oil, medication mixes in dosage, cars and wheat. Collectively those 5 products were worth about one fifth (19.7%) of overall Kenyan imports.
Based on 2019 data, top suppliers accounting for over two-thirds (68.2%) of Kenya’s international purchases were: China (20.8%), India (9.9%), United Arab Emirates (9.5%), Saudi Arabia (7.2%), Japan (5.5%), South Africa (4%), United States (3.4%), Indonesia (2.8%), Germany (2.5%) and Egypt (also 2.4%).
From a continental perspective, 65.3% of Kenya’s total imports by value were purchased from Asian countries. European trade partners supplied 15.7% of import purchases by Kenya while 12.7% worth of goods originated from fellow African nations.
Smaller percentages came from exporters in North America (4.3%), Latin America (1.6%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, then Oceania (0.3%) led by Australia and New Zealand.
Given Kenya’s population of 49.4 million people, its total $15.6 billion in 2020 imports translates to roughly $320 in yearly product demand from every person in the East African country.
Kenya’s Top 10 Imports
The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in Kenya’s import purchases during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into Kenya.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$1.4 billion (8.7% of total imports)
- Machinery including computers: $1.23 billion (7.9%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $1.21 billion (7.7%)
- Vehicles: $1.2 billion (7.7%)
- Iron, steel: $999.9 million (6.4%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $883.3 million (5.7%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $706.2 million (4.5%)
- Cereals: $690.4 million (4.4%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $530.8 million (3.4%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $405.8 million (2.6%)
Kenya’s top 10 imports accounted for almost three-fifths (58.9%) of the overall value of its product purchases from other countries.
Imported articles made from iron or steel posted the fastest-growing increase in value among Kenya’s top 10 import categories, up 31.5% from 2019 to 2020. In second place for improving import purchases were animal or vegetable fats, oils and waxes thanks to a 25.8% uptick. Kenyan imports of both plastics as a material plus articles made from plastic delivered the third-fastest gain up 20.3%.
Mineral fuels including oil was the laggard among the top 10 Kenyan import categories, posting a -59.2% decline weighed down by Kenya’s shrinking purchases of refined petroleum oils and petroleum gases.
Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level. Information presented under the adjacent virtual folder tabs labeled with product groupings is at the more granular 4-digit level.
In 2020, Kenyan importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of mineral fuels including oil.
- Processed petroleum oils: US$1.2 billion (down -59.4% from 2019)
- Petroleum gases: $58.5 million (down -62.8%)
- Coal, solid fuels made from coal: $41.7 million (down -7.3%)
- Electrical energy: $13.2 million (up 4.7%)
- Petroleum jelly, mineral waxes: $11.5 million (down -17.7%)
- Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation): $3.3 million (up 7%)
- Petroleum oil residues: $2.6 million (down -88.4%)
- Asphalt/petroleum bitumen mixes: $1 million (down -97.3%)
- Peat: $632,000 (down -24.7%)
- Natural bitumen, asphalt, shale: $152,000 (down -99%)
Among these import subcategories, Kenyan purchases of high temperature distillation coal tar oils (up 7%) and electrical energy (up 4.7%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported mineral fuels including oil among businesses and consumers in Kenya.
In 2020, Kenyan importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machinery including computers.
- Computers, optical readers: US$89.2 million (down -39.3% from 2019)
- Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers): $77.5 million (down -37.6%)
- Miscellaneous machinery: $60.2 million (up 26.8%)
- Taps, valves, similar appliances: $57.8 million (up 40.5%)
- Refrigerators, freezers: $50 million (down -10%)
- Liquid pumps and elevators: $48.7 million (down -21.8%)
- Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $48.4 million (up 2.4%)
- Sort/screen/washing machinery: $46.4 million (down -71.5%)
- Lifting/loading machinery: $44.8 million (down -34.8%)
- Rubber/plastic article making machines: $41.6 million (up 16.9%)
Among these import subcategories, Kenyan purchases of taps, valves and similar appliances (up 40.5%), miscellaneous machinery (up 26.8%) then rubber or plastic article making machines (up 16.9%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
In 2020, Kenyan importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of electronics-related goods.
- Phone system devices including smartphones: US$282.5 million (up 17.7% from 2019)
- TV receivers/monitors/projectors: $106.1 million (up 12.9%)
- Insulated wire/cable: $86.2 million (up 9.2%)
- Electrical converters/power units: $74.8 million (down -35.2%)
- Electric storage batteries: $72.8 million (up 14.7%)
- Lower-voltage switches, fuses: $52.6 million (up 38.4%)
- Microphones/headphones/amps: $47.8 million (up 117%)
- Solar power diodes/semi-conductors: $46 million (up 27.5%)
- Electric water heaters, hair dryers: $44.1 million (up 16.4%)
- Portable battery-operated lamps: $44 million (up 469.7%)
Among these import subcategories, Kenyan purchases of portable battery-operated lamps (up 469.7%), microphones, headphones and amplifiers (up 117%) then lower-voltage switches or fuses (up 38.4%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported electronics among Kenyan businesses and consumers.
In 2020, Kenyan importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of vehicles.
- Cars: US$386.4 million (down -30.2% from 2019)
- Trucks: $207.4 million (up 15.2%)
- Motorcycles: $165.4 million (up 27.1%)
- Automobile parts/accessories: $127 million (up 26.8%)
- Tractors: $118.1 million (up 20.6%)
- Motorcycle parts/accessories: $110.9 million (up 661.7%)
- Trailers: $25 million (up 5.3%)
- Special purpose vehicles: $20.3 million (down -5.9%)
- Chassis fitted with engine: $12.8 million (up 50,976%)
- Bicycles, other non-motorized cycles: $9.5 million (up 61.9%)
Among these import subcategories, Kenyan purchases of chassis fitted with engine (up 50,976%), motorcycle parts or accessories (up 661.7%) then bicycles and other non-motorized cycles (up 61.9%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported vehicles among Kenyan businesses and consumers.
See also Kenya’s Top 10 Exports, China’s Top 10 Exports and Top African Export Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Africa: Kenya. Accessed on July 4, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on July 4, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on July 4, 2021
Wikipedia, Kenya. Accessed on July 4, 2021