International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde has hailed the leaps made by African economies in the past decade as “nothing short of remarkable”.

Lagarde told an IMF conference in Maputo on Wednesday that it was time to kick-start the “next phase of its economic development”.

Growth in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to exceed 5 percent again this year, according to the IMF’s latest projections. But there was a note of caution.

“There is still a long way ahead to meet the aspirations of the continent: extreme poverty is still too prevalent and there are new challenges posed by the global economy,” Lagarde said.

As policymakers take stock of Africa’s strong economic performance, many are looking at the risks that lie ahead. The region could face lower demand for its exports should growth slow in important emerging markets like Brazil, India and, in particular, China.

Beijing is a top buyer of African resources from copper to oil and gas.

In rapidly growing cities like Maputo, the Chinese presence is manifest, from a Chinese-built airport to businessmen chattering on cellphones as they walk to meetings.

But poverty remains the continent’s biggest challenge.

Before the conference, rights groups questioned the optimistic view of “Africa’s rise”.

“Africa is not rising for ordinary citizens,” said Oxfam International’s executive director, Winnie Byanyima, adding that she intended raising issues of inequality at the conference.

She said that tax dodging multinationals were draining revenue from the continent.

“We have six of the top 10 fastest-growing economies in the world, and the fastest rising number of dollar millionaires of any other region in the world.

“Yet sub-Saharan Africa is home to six out of the 10 most unequal countries in the world. The 50 richest people in Africa own about 15 percent of Africa’s gross domestic product.”

The conference’s host nation provides a stark example.

Two decades after a civil war, Mozambique is experiencing vast foreign capital inflows on the back of coal and natural gas discoveries.

Despite recording galloping economic growth of over 7 percent a year over the past decade, Byanyima said it was still one of the poorest countries in the world. – Sapa-AFP