Tony Blair hailed a “new sense of hope and confidence” about Africa today as he claimed the continent could end its dependence on aid within a generation.
The former prime minister acknowledged that the challenges posed by poverty and conflict remained "immense", but stressed there had been significant advances in economic growth, democracy and leadership.
"Africa is changing for the better, the perceptions of Africa are also changing for the better," he told The Times CEO Africa Summit in London.
"There is a new sense of hope and confidence, an optimism and an expectation that is based on evidence not dreams.
"Above all, I am noticing in my frequent visits there that there is a new generation of leaders in politics, business and civic society who don't simply have a new competence about how they approach their tasks, but a new attitude, a new frame of thinking, a new way of looking at their own situation."
Mr Blair, whose Africa Governance Initiative seeks to help the continent's leaders improve their structures of government, called for a new relationship between rich and poor countries in the provision of aid.
"African countries must be in the driving seat of their own development, setting the priorities and making the decisions," he said.
"Where aid is needed, it should get behind these priorities and use and strengthen the government's own systems.
"I believe, with the right kinds of support and the right policies, Africa can be free of dependence on aid within a generation."
He said the latest generation of African leaders realised that the "destiny" of their continent would be determined by their own efforts, rather than "passively" receiving aid from richer nations.
Mr Blair said the biggest obstacle to African development was governance, an "utterly fundamental" need for countries wanting to attract investment.
"This is not only about transparency - that is, honest government - important though that is. It is also about effective government," he said.
He also warned that improvements were needed in infrastructure, particularly power, and increased levels of foreign investment, better education and freer markets within Africa.
"The new Africa needs a new approach from African leaders, from the development community, and from the private sector," he said.
"For African leaders, the opportunity is there truly to transform their countries. To get there they must set out a clear, and ambitious vision for the development of their countries, and, crucially, build their systems of government to deliver it."
He insisted Africa was a "great" place for private investors to put their money, saying "the returns are there, the trajectory is positive".
"Investment done right holds the key to Africa's future," he said.
Marie Staunton, chief executive of aid agency Plan UK, said: "The key to growth is that it benefits all, even the poorest. That's why it needs to be accompanied by good governance.
"Only then can communities ensure they have access to health care, to education, to all the building blocks of development.
"Effective states are crucial in ensuring the effective delivery of national development policies, as well as creating an enabling environment for private sector driven growth.
"Strong national level governance must be accompanied by mechanisms that enable citizens, including children and young people, to participate in decision-making processes and to hold government to account for the delivery of essential services at the community level."
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