Foreign investment in Africa is often considered the purview of highly industrialized countries like the United States and China, but a new survey from Ernst & Young LLP turns that assumption on its head. When it comes to foreign direct investment, the drivers of growth in Africa are increasingly coming from developing countries within the continent.

The news, published in Ernst & Young’s 2013 Africa Attractiveness Survey, comes at an exciting time for African economies. The International Monetary Fund reports that GDP growth in sub-Saharan Africa should hit an average of 6.1 percent in 2014, exceeding the expected global average of 4 percent. And according to the African Development Bank, the number of consumers who can be termed "middle class" has grown to about 313 million, up 60 percent from just 10 years ago.

No surprise, then, that Africa presents attractive opportunities to investors around the world.

According to U.N. data, total foreign direct investment in Africa hit $45.8 billion last year, up from $43.4 billion in 2011. The Ernst & Young survey notes that Africa’s share of worldwide foreign investment projects is rising, hitting 5.6 percent in 2012, up from 3.2 percent five years earlier.

Western countries led by the United States and United Kingdom still invested in the most projects in Africa between 2007 and 2012; they have history on their side in that regard. But when it comes to growth rates in the number of foreign direct investment projects, they simply can’t keep up with smaller, more dynamic economies.

According to the Ernst & Young report released on Monday, South Africa is the one to watch right now.

If you even the playing field by discounting the investments targeted towards South Africa itself, the country becomes the most prolific investor on the continent in 2012, with 75 new projects. South Africa’s compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the number of foreign investment projects across the continent from 2007 to 2012 was 56.5 percent.

Worldwide, that rate was surpassed only by Kenya, which had a 60 percent CAGR in foreign investment projects during the same time period but started out from a lower base and invested in just 21 projects in 2012. Nigeria was also a star player with a CAGR of 20.1 percent. For the United States, the figure was just 11.2 percent.

This is a continent-wide trend, by no means confined to Africa’s strongest economies. “Intra-African contributions to FDI [foreign direct investment] projects continue a strong upward trend, recording a high compound rate of 32.5 percent since 2007, compared with 15 percent CAGR for (non-African) emerging markets project investment into Africa, and only 8.4 percent for developed markets over the same period,” said the report.

In short, it is clear that the up-and-coming driver of investment and growth in Africa is Africa.

The companies driving these changes are among Africa’s largest, including Ecobank Transnational Inc., which is based in the West African country of Togo and has branches in dozens of countries; Oando, a multinational energy company based in Nigeria; and MTN, a South African telecommunications firm with operations extending across Africa and even into the Middle East.

Investments from countries outside the continent still make up the bulk of inflows, especially in terms of sheer monetary value. China tops that list with $14.7 billion in direct investments in Africa in 2012. But if current trends continue, Africa is gearing up to take a larger and larger stake in its own future.