Reports like the Mo Ibrahim Index 2017 showed that the quality of governance across the continent is generally low compared to other regions of the world, a factor that has undermined progressive economic development in most African countries.
To devise solutions to this challenge, a high-level panel at the 12th African Economic Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, reflected on the theories and practices for structural transformation in Africa, and assessed the leaders' role in undermining good governance.
According to Edward Edokat Tafah, Vice-Chancellor, University of Bamenda, Cameroon, who took part in the panel, leaders in Africa tend to think of their personal interests ahead of the interests of their communities, a factor that should change in order for their countries to reach the desired level of socio-economic transformation.
"Africa needs a mental transformation. Leaders should stop thinking of their interests all the time for political purposes. Some leaders focus a lot on developmental theories without thinking of good governance indicators such as the rule of law and democracy," he said.
"Economic growth alone cannot bring long term development unless it is founded in democratic principles and provision of quality public services."
He also called for a drastic change in the education curriculum on the continent, as well as in the education priorities for countries that tend to inject fewer funds in elementary education.
"We need to change to a bottom-up approach to education because what we have now is not realistic. Shaping young Africans should start from when they are young in elementary school, but, unfortunately, most public and private funds meant for education go towards higher learning education," he said.
David Booth, the Principal Research Fellow, Politics and Governance Programme at the Overseas Development Institute, argued that although there is no textbook solution to development, leaders should have the courage to experiment with different approaches to development.
"So many development models have been employed across the world; some have failed and others have worked. Therefore, we now have a clue as to what can work and what cannot. To enhance targeted problem-solving efforts, African governments need to try out different things and learn from their own experiences," he said.
Another important area of concern that the high-level panel discussed was agricultural transformation.
They argued that with over 70 percent of Africans making a living through agriculture, it is imperative to develop better agricultural transformation and rural development strategies in order to truly make the continent develop.
"More investments in agriculture must be made. We have no excuse to continue exporting raw materials to other countries, yet we can develop our own capacities to industrialise and produce finished agricultural products," Maria Kiwana Kiwanuka, Senior Presidential Advisor, and former Minister of Finance of Uganda, said.
Dr. Ibrahim Elbadawi, Managing Director of the Economic Research Forum, added that the youth in Africa are largely unemployed because their education background does not match job requirements in the private sector.
This, he said, has to be taken seriously by governments - and it is a disappointment that many African countries have failed to tackle youth unemployment through entrepreneurship programs.
"This focus on white collar jobs has to end if the continent is to realise an end to widespread youth unemployment. On top of readjusting the education curriculum, there is need to advance entrepreneurial skills ahead of a mentality that focuses on finishing school to look for jobs," Dr. Elbadawi said.
The Mo Ibrahim Index 2017 states that although a third of the countries on the continent are driving overall improvement in governance, many fail to build on prior progress.
The African Development Bank in 2000 adopted the Good Governance Policy to support the continent's governance reform.
The policy seeks to strengthen good governance by providing the basis for defining guiding principles for delivering results and achieving impact, as well as enabling environment for private sector development, economic competitiveness, debt management and, public expenditure management among others.
Organized by the African Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the 2017 African Economic Conference is taking place December 4-6 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the theme "Governance for Structural Transformation".