South Africa has a population of 53m and at least 80 grade-A shopping centres over 30,000m2. Nigeria, on the other hand, has around 170m people and just two completed malls to the same standard, neither of which are larger than 25,000m2. This is the kind of statistic that makes real estate investors’ mouths water when they look at Africa, even if many have yet to bite. Foreign direct investment into the continent still accounts for less than 4% of global capital flows, but it has grown steadily to reach US$57bn in 2013. A resource-rich continent greater in size than the US, Canada and China combined, Africa’s development potential is staggering. But while its significant fossil fuel and mineral deposits may have been the main target for foreign investment to date, its real potential lies in its people. In this article for Modus, magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, I spoke to investors and surveyors across the continent about the opportunities – and whether Africa’s growing middle classes really want so many new shopping centres.