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msafiri 120 business Africa's story When the financial crisis hit the US and other Western economies, the fear was that the contagion would spread to Africa. It did not, because the majority of African financial systems ( South Africa was the only exception) were not exposed to the West's ' toxic' paper and products such as debt securitisation and derivatives. This also coincided, ironically, with an unprecedented period of growth in the African financial world, brought about largely as a result of the tightening of regulations – in total contrast to the relaxing of regulations in Western institutions. African economies also registered much higher-than- average global rates of growth, and in the process, chipped several percentage points off their poverty index. More significantly, many African countries saw a healthy burgeoning of the middle classes and a visible upgrading to the quality of life. While some of this growth came about as the result of higher oil and commodity prices, most of it was generated organically through local production and consumption. For the first time in the 60 years since many African states achieved their independence, it was possible seriously to contemplate a future in which the majority would not be extremely poor. The talk of ' an African century' was beginning to take substance, encouraged by the spectacular growth of countries such as India and China, which a few decades ago were in a similar, if not worse, condition to Africa. Africa was also rapidly becoming a Mecca for investment funds destined for emerging and the so-called ' frontier' markets. It is believed that there were up to 200 Africa oriented investment funds headquartered in London alone. Africa's relative poverty – its material deficits – was ironically what was driving the increased investment, especially from sources such as China and the Middle East. The Chinese saw the basic African deficits, especially for goods such as metalware, machinery of all sorts including cheap motor- cycles, buildings and housing, medicine, clothing and so on as golden opportunities for joint venture projects and also as a ready market for their own manufacturing and construction companies. Middle East investors were looking to Africa to broaden their construction, leisure and telecommunications industries. Billion dollar investments had already been made in North African states such as Tunisia and even further south in Sudan. Many large Middle East multinationals such as Al Noor were rolling out very ambitious, all- encompassing projects that were projected in the US$ 150- 200 billion bracket. Zain, among other Middle East telecoms operators, placed their African operations at the heart of their global expansion plans. Literally thousands of new smaller, but no less significant, firms sprouted all over the continent. These ranged from agro- processing units, specialised dairies, food and drinks manufacturers, textile and clothing firms and so on. In the financial sector, strong, heavily capitalised banks came up with ingenious, home- grown solutions to spread their services to the millions of previously ' unbanked' Africans – even if these were in remote areas. Insurance, pension and mortgage providers followed in the wake of the banks, encouraging savings, future security and also raising vast investment capital into the bargain. Thus when the international business community talked about Africa as the prime frontier market and described the surge in interest in the continent as ' the new scramble for Africa', they were not making polite noises. This was a hard- nosed assessment on which they were prepared to bet billions of dollars. One world However, despite the fact that the ' toxic paper' from the Western financial meltdown has had very limited negative impact directly on Africa, the continent cannot escape the ramifications of the resulting economic slump that has come in the wake of the financial crisis. The hope was that given its distance from the epicenter of the financial and economic earthquake, Africa might be the international business community talked about africa as the prime frontier market and described the surge in interest as the new scramble for africa