GUEST COMMENT: North Africa, Sub-Sahara and Saharan Africa - the future?

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Whether you call this a 'downturn', a 'readjustment', or on the verge of 'depression', is neither here nor there. The sentiment is the same: Europe is struggling. There are still some exceptions to the rule: mezzanine finance, debt origination (well, if you can raise it people want it) and private equity are taking up the slack.

But where should you be looking if you really want the opportunities? Dubai? Sovereign states generally? We have found that although the market in UAE, Oman, Qatar, etc. is very strong and the rewards pretty high, the real excitement is in Africa.

Why? Africa is the Middle East five to 10 years ago. There is an extensive array of opportunities, some with high socio and economic risks attached, but others with relatively low risk and stable business environments in which there are minimal financing abilities.

These are the areas our clients seem really to be looking at seriously: the players in these markets now will be the established players there in five to 10 years' time. The old-school businesses with a big aversion to risk are avoiding this area, so now is the time for small and middle-tier players to make a name in the market.

The field is open. There are established players who have been there for several years, but the really exciting businesses are those making four to five times returns on investments. These are the new players who are driving from the front with a different attitude to investment (several businesses actually invest with a concern for the environment and the people!).

These ideas are what will differentiate them from the competition in Africa and give them a better name than their UK counterparts in the private equity field, let alone the traditional investment banks.

So now is the time to get in, before the investment banks (with one or two notable exceptions) realise that they should be in there too.

Andrew Pringle is director of CircleSquare Consulting.

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