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Are investors missing out on sub-Sahara Africa?

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The opportunity isn't going unnoticed by investors in other parts of the world. China is poised to overtake the US in pace of investment in Africa. Kuwaiti interests purchased Africa's Celtel for $3.4 billion. Moscow investment bank Renaissance Capital announced plans to double its investments in Africa to at least $1 billion. French firm SoSuMar is building a sugar-processing factory in Mali, where they expect an internal rate of return of nearly 58 percent.

The territory in most business sectors is wide-open. Prime areas include agriculture, healthcare, infrastructure, information technology, tourism, telecommunications, and textiles.

Are US investors aware of striking changes in Africa? Sweeping reforms have been launched in 40 African nations since the 1990s: pro-business policies, strong judicial systems, better standards, respect for intellectual property rights. Debt relief has markedly improved Africa's credit worthiness. Monetary policies have pushed inflation down from the 19 percent average of the 1980s, to 7 to 8 percent today. Fiscal policies have turned country budget deficits into an average budget surplus of 2 percent of Africa's gross domestic product.

Despite the headlines in Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Congo, the great majority of African countries enjoy thriving democracies and stability, with governments that have earned public confidence through audited elections. Last year more than 54 million Africans voted in 19 peaceful presidential and parliamentary contests.

The result? Real economic growth in 2 out of 5 sub-Saharan countries was triple that of the US economy last year, on a pace that rivals that of Southeast Asia in 1980. African economies from Senegal to Benin to the Democratic Republic of Congo are more diversified. Growth in the region is expected to hit 6.5 percent this year.

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