Politically more stable with greater resource management by its elite, Africa is experiencing one of the fastest growths on the planet, which doesn’t leave the Big Four indifferent.

Earlier this year Deloitte released its annual report Guide to Oil and Gas in East Africa 2014 revealing that the expectations across the East African region were high but that there was still a "long and (perhaps) winding road to follow before upstream oil and gas exploitation starts to deliver results in terms of higher living standards and increased tax revenues for governments".

In the report’s introduction, Deloitte partner Bill Page wrote that the key challenge in the coming years would be to manage those expectations.

"It also needs to be remembered that massive investments are required and governments need to maintain a welcoming environment for the foreign investors who will provide the billions of dollars of finance," he wrote.

KPMG on the other hand took a continental approach to the oil and gas sector and published earlier this year its own Oil and Gas in Africa Sector Report 2014. The report revealed that Africa’s proven oil reserves have grown by an average annual growth rate of 2.8% between 1980 and 2012. This is the second highest continental growth rate in the world after South America, according to KPMG.

"Even so, there is massive scope for further exploration. According to some estimates, there are at least 100bn barrels of oil offshore Africa, only waiting to be discovered," the report read. "For now, Africa’s proven oil reserves remain much lower than other regions; at the end of 2012, Africa accounted for 7.8% of global reserves."

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Foreigners’ economic or political interests in Africa have been rooted for centuries in the need for raw materials. It is therefore natural that the extractive industries is a sector in which accounting and auditing firms, such as KPMG and Deloitte, pay a special attention to.

Beyond oil and gas
However according to EY 2014 Africa attractiveness survey, the importance of the extractive industries in African economies is now in decline.

The survey, based on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) market databases, revealed a shift from extractive to consumer-facing sectors, as it reported an all time-law level of the share of extractive sectors in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2013.

"In 2004, mining and metals accounted for 14.1% of projects, while coal, oil and natural gas made up 11.6%," the survey revealed. "In 2013, these sectors’ share of total projects accounted for just 2.4% and 3.5% respectively."

For the purpose of the survey, EY also conducted interviews with 503 business leaders from 34 different countries, 61% of which work for companies working in Africa. These interviews revealed a dramatic improvement in the continent’s perceived attractiveness for investors.

"In less than five years, Africa has risen from eighth position to being rated as the joint second most desirable regional investment destination in the world, tied with Asia," the survey read.

And 73% of the respondents believed that the continent’s attractiveness will improve over the next three years, against 10% of respondent who expected it to decline in the medium term, according to the survey.

EY’s survey highlights a third important trend taking place in Africa: the expansion of intra-African investments. "African investors nearly tripled their share of FDI projects over the last decade, from 8.0% in 2003 to 22.8% in 2013," the survey read. "The rate of intra-African investment expanded even faster in value, growing from a share of 4.4% in 2003 to 22.3% in 2013."

Opportunities vs challenges
While all reports and surveys produced by the Big Four networks take different angles and approaches of analysis, revealing the limitless scope of opportunities present on the continent, all reports still identify Africa as a complex and challenging environment in which to do business.

Opportunities and challenges in Africa vary greatly from one country to another as EY explained in its survey: "Although many of us still sometimes lump Africa together in our commentary and comparisons as if it were a single market, it does, of course, comprise 54 sovereign states, representing more than a quarter of all the independent countries in the world, spread across a landmass greater in size than Europe, the USA, China and India combined."

"And the differences in language and culture are as great as anywhere else in the world, with French, Arabic, English, Portuguese, German, Spanish, Dutch and Italian influences mixed with numerous indigenous languages and cultures," it continued.

According to the International Accounting Bulletin 2014 Africa Regional Survey, the Big Four firms reported a 7.8% increase in revenue in 2013 up to $2,576m. And despite the challenges ahead interviewed firm leaders showed great optimism for the future. As KPMG Africa senior partner Moses Kgosana explained: "Africa is a continent whose time has come. We Africans need to make sure that we take advantage of the critical opportunities we have. It is up to us to rise up."

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