Africa's economic outlook is brighter than ever and the continent is positioned to help boost global growth for the first time in history, African officials said Saturday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington, officials from Cameroon and Nigeria painted a rosy picture of the continent's prospects.

"Africa is the continent that will allow us to catch up with global growth," Cameroon's Finance Minister Alamine Ousmane Mey said, pointing to the continent's vast natural resources, youthful population and rapidly increasing middle class. "So many pillars for global growth. "

Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was similarly bullish.

"Africa is a different place," she said. "For the first time, we are able to contribute to the global growth. We are in a good place."

Sub-Saharan Africa's economy is expected to increase by 5.6 percent this year, according to IMF forecasts released Tuesday.

Eighteen countries in the region will show a growth of at least six percent, while only two -- Equatorial Guinea and Swaziland -- are in recession.

South Africa, the continent's biggest economy, is struggling to keep pace with regional growth forecasts, with only a rise of 2.8 percent expected.

Africa, however, remains vulnerable to external shocks, the ministers said, noting that growth had been derailed by between one and two percent during the global food crisis of 2008-2009.

"There is absolutely no doubt we have vulnerabilities. The global economic environment matters hugely," Okonjo-Iweala said, identifying sluggish growth in the eurozone as a potential problem.

"We are concerned. If we continue to see slow growth in the eurozone which provide a large market for many African countries, if their growth (in emerging countries) slows, then we will be more vulnerable."

[Image via Agence France-Presse]