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Ethiopian workers stand on scaffolding on March 31, 2015, during the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam near the Sudanese-Ethiopian border.

ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER/AFP/Getty Images

This 10-part series looks at key potential growth areas around the world.

For this West African city of more than 4.7 million people, the bridge to a better economy starts with an actual bridge.

Abidjan's Henri Konan Bédié (HKB) or "third bridge" opened last year, at a cost of about $400-million, crossing the city's murky lagoon and connecting to an expressway with a roadbed smoother than the sometimes pothole-ridden highways of Canada.

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The bridge, conceived in the 1990s and stalled by a civil war and investors' confidence being shaken before, is a concrete symbol that sub-Saharan Africa is open for business.

Other infrastructure projects here include construction of a new fishing port, a Moroccan-financed waterfront promenade and a highway connecting Abidjan to Côte D'Ivoire's political capital Yamoussoukro and the northern parts of the country.

"It looks a lot different here than it did two years ago," says Olubusiyi Sarr, a United Nations' agency official here.

In another signal of business confidence, the African Development Bank (ADB) re-established its headquarters here after a decade's absence due to civil strife.

Of course on the surface, the picture of emerging markets is still ugly. Global investors remain skeptical about them, and this is no less true in Africa. The Nairobi Securities Exchange's (NSE) main index reached a four-year low this month, down 24.3 per cent since January.

The Financial Times of London reported on Oct. 13 that, "the sell-off in emerging markets makes access to international finance increasingly unaffordable."

Still, many experts see huge promise in sub-Saharan Africa's need for infrastructure development, in both physical upgrades, as well as new energy and new telecommunications work.

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Africa's economies will grow by an average 4.5 per cent this year and 5 per cent in 2016, according to a joint report released in May by the ADB, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Nations Development Program. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have called for continued, if slower and more vulnerable, growth this year in the region.

There are opportunities all over sub-Saharan Africa, says John Farrow, chair of Markham-based LEA Group Holdings Inc.

"Ethiopia is now stable and is growing rapidly and has a highly competent roads authority, as well as a low level of road service" says Mr. Farrow, who was reached while in Mozambique.

"To continue to grow it needs good trunk roads, and for the cities to grow they need good urban services. This is a good country to invest in infrastructure," he says.

"Mozambique has large natural gas reserves that are being developed," he adds.

"This economy will develop rapidly on the back of natural gas," Mr. Farrow says. Even though energy prices are low, natural gas is supplanting coal as a major source of electric power in plants around the world.

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Mr. Farrow says China is the dominant force for physical infrastructure development in East Africa right now, and his company works well with Chinese partners there.

"We do high quality design and provide supervision to ensure quality construction and the Chinese provide low cost, fast delivery," he says.

"China is becoming dominant in contracting in Africa in the same way it became dominant in manufacturing for the rest of the world. Likely the best way for Canada to compete in these markets is to focus on the high-end specialist services," he adds.

Traditional resource sectors such as agriculture, aggregates (for cement) and even mining, which has been in a rut for years, are attracting investor interest in Africa, says Charles Field-Marsham, founder and president of Kestrel Capital Management Corp., a Toronto-based investment firm that focuses on private equity in Africa.

New resource investment includes clean tech. For instance, in Kenya, public-private partnerships are considering wind and geothermal power projects, Mr. Field-Marsham says.

Telecommunications is another area where sub-Saharan Africa has both great needs and is making great strides. Although more than half the population in the region still has no access to mobile phones, the consulting group Frost & Sullivan predicts in its research that mobile penetration will grow to 79 per cent in 2020 and continue to increase.

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"Overall, in terms of mobile phone usage, [sub-Saharan Africa] will be the fastest growing region globally over the next seven years," the consultants said earlier this year.

Kenya's mobile phone banking system M-Pesa (pesa is the Swahili word for money) already moves as much as 40 per cent of the country's GDP every month. Launched in 2007, the system has allowed Kenyans to leap over a generation of technology and finance.

Relatively few Kenyans had landline phones or bank accounts; M-Pesa lets them go to stores that sell cellular services and put their finances on their phones, even letting them borrow microfinance loans with a swipe of the screen.

Sub-Saharan Africa is diverse and so are its economies; some, like Côte D'Ivoire's, are showing new stability and strength, others less so. It's also vast – the entire continental United States could fit into the landmass of the widest part of Africa, where the sub-Saharan region begins.

It helps if prospective investors look beyond the market news of today and focus on the potential for growth tomorrow in emerging markets like this, says Jason McKay, Vice President of Global Investment Strategies for Invesco Canada. Investors can buy low right now.

"From a valuation standpoint, emerging markets are the most attractive place to invest."

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