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Africa's big cities offer investors hope in hard times

[JOHANNESBURG] Africa's biggest economies have been hammered by the collapse in commodity prices over the past 18 months but there are still investment bright spots to be found.

In cities such as Lagos, Nairobi, Accra, Kinshasa and Johannesburg, growth remains robust and investors are prospering in the retail, financial services, technology and construction sectors.

This means investors can now re-adjust their strategy for Africa. Instead of taking a view on the continent as a whole, or choosing one country over another, they can seize opportunities city by city.

Sub-Saharan Africa is urbanizing faster than anywhere else in the world and city dwellers have more money to spend. "In the current economic environment, investors want areas where success is proven, growth is strong and will remain strong. Big African cities give you that," said Jacob Kholi, a partner at Abraaj, a private equity firm with $9 billion under management. "It has become even more important to focus on these key cities than before," Kholi added.

Nairobi is the most attractive destination for foreign investment, according to a 2015 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, followed by Accra, with Lagos and Johannesburg equal third.

Consumption per capita in Accra is 1.6 times greater than the average in Ghana, 2.3 times bigger in Lagos than the average in Nigeria, and 2.7 times larger in Nairobi than nationally in Kenya, Abraaj estimates.

Lagos, one of the world's fastest growing cities and with a population of 20 million, expects economic growth of 7 percent this year, twice the pace of the country as a whole.

Even South Africa, which is grappling with youth unemployment of over 40 percent and could slip into recession this year, has areas where industry is booming. "Looking around here, you wouldn't know things were so bad,"construction worker Sifiso Zwane told Reuters in Johannesburg's wealthy Sandton business district. "Rich people will always find a way to make more money,"said Zwane, with cranes filling the skyline behind him and billboards advertising new retailers like Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Hennes & Mauritz.