DAVOS, Switzerland -- With growth rates to rival Asia and vast untapped potential, Africa has moved beyond its reputation as a risky place to do business, leaders from the continent said on Wednesday.

Gathered at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, African leaders said that while many difficulties remain -- including shabby infrastructure and widespread youth unemployment -- investing in the continent is no longer the dangerous bet it once was.

"Is Africa more risky than any other region in the world?... This is a perception that needs to be dealt with," South African President Jacob Zuma told a panel on "De-risking Africa" at the annual gathering of the global business elite.

 

"There is evidence that Africa is growing, there is also evidence that African leaders have collectively moved together to do things that will help Africa move forward," he said.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan agreed that Africa should no longer be singled out.

"In any investment, any venture, there is always a risk in business, not just Africa," Jonathan said on the panel.

"Before this time, African states were quite politically unstable... Now most countries are reasonably stable, so businessmen can make predictions."

Bucking global trends, sub-Saharan Africa had enjoyed an unbridled economic boost and is forecast to enjoy the type of high growth rates not seen outside Asia in recent years.

The International Monetary Fund in October predicted the region's economy would grow by 5% in 2012 and by 5.7% in 2013, with especially strong growth in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Angola and Gabon.

"The last bastion of big growth is the African continent," Indian telecom mogul Sunil Bharti Mittal, whose Bharti Enterprises has extensive operations in Africa, told the panel.

"The narrative in Africa is changing, and changing very fast," he said.