Should investors head to Africa or Asia in the hunt for returns?

Sub-Saharan Africa is set to grow at around 6 per cent a year, faster than India. Asia, excluding Japan, is projected to grow at 7 per cent, but these rates are regularly revised down.

Fifteen of the world’s 29 fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa.

Africa is now where the Brics were a decade ago, signalling huge growth potential.

Ten of Africa’s 54 countries have a GDP per capita greater than China, while 17 are greater than India.

Africa is at an earlier stage of its development than Asia. As Asia shows, returns come in the early years. £1000 (€1193) invested in Asia in 1988 was worth £4016 five years later – equivalent to 27 per cent annualised growth. The same sum invested in 2008 is worth just £1517 today – a more pedestrian 7.5 per cent.

Africa’s growth today is investment-led, not sparked by a surge in mineral prices, as happened in the 1970s. Foreign direct investment into Africa increased fivefold since 2000 and 5 per cent in the last year. Growth includes countries like Ethiopia which do not have significant mineral wealth. Rwanda, without natural resources, has been able to sustain a growth rate of 8 per cent thanks to sensible economics. Africa’s resource-rich states are better managing their wealth: Botswana used its diamond wealth to develop quickly, growing from one of Africa’s poorest countries at independence in 1966 to become a democratic, stable, and upper middle-income country.

Africa’s total stockmarket capitalisation grew from $245bn (€180bn) in 2002 to more than $1tn in 2010. According to African economic expert Paul Collier, returns on investment in Africa are higher than in other regions: the average return on capital for companies was two-thirds higher than that of comparable companies in China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Africa has a median age of 20 years compared to 30 in Asia, and the number of working age people will double to 1.1bn by 2040. With rising costs, Asia is no longer the low-wage factory of the world. And entrepreneurial Africans are returning to establish businesses on the continent. Africa has more cities of over 1m population than Europe and has more $20,000+ earners than India. All this is powering consumer facing service sectors, sectors where growth is not correlated with the rest of the world – a tempting combination.

Agriculture is a key sector for growth. Africa has 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land. Food distribution is improving as transport infrastructure develops and agricultural policies improve. The agriculture sector can diversify into processing. Africa is a big exporter of raw agricultural products.

With its richness of resources, young and growing populations and a greater commitment to political and economic reforms, it would be a brave and likely foolhardy choice to ignore the growth potential of Africa in the decade ahead.