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Africa now paying a 'democratic dividend'

Lawmakers and business leaders warned Wednesday that while Africa has become more politically stable, the continent still faces challenges to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum for CNBC Africa, Goodluck Jonathan, the president of Nigeria, said that most countries on the continent are enjoying stable governance despite several "sour" areas of conflict.

John Dramani Mahama, the president of Ghana, agreed with his sub-Saharan neighbor, adding that investors were now enjoying a "democratic dividend". He said that this stability, respect for human rights and rule of law has created jobs, growth, new investment and an atmosphere for young people to be creative and innovative.

(Read More: Africa needs education to harness growth: Dangote)

But there were also calls for Africa to move forward and grow its economy. The Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote, who is president and CEO of the Dangote manufacturing group, believes that Africa needs to start manufacturing the raw materials it exports into products -- effectively moving itself up the value chain.

"There is no (African) government that is against business," he said, urging investors to learn more about the continent. He added that future governments would almost certainly be pro-business and investors wouldn't "make mistakes" by contributing to its economy.

Africa's population now stands at over 1 billion according to the United Nations, with a 26 percent increase over the last decade. Africa's population is expected to more than double, rising to at least 2.4 billion by 2050, according to a 2013 study by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB).

And its these demographics that inspire hope from lawmakers and business leaders despite significant setbacks with recent conflict in Mali and the Central African Republic. Winnie Byanyima, the executive director at Oxfam, and another guest on the panel, raised her own concerns.

She said that growth is positive but sometimes "overplayed", adding that it was actually a "race to the bottom" with tax breaks, illicit flows of funds and concessions that held back growth.

"(We) now need a race to the top," she said. She believes in policies and regulations that protect people's rights, the environment and reduces poverty and challenged governments to pass laws that benefits ordinary people.

(Read More: Global tax system 'needs overhaul', say CEOs at Davos)

The Nigerian and Ghanaian presidents also raised the drawbacks of their own countries.Goodluck Jonathan said that transport between African nations was problematic, with some travelers having to fly to Europe in order to continue their onward journey.

Mahama said he was "ashamed" of the low amounts of trade between the countries and vowed to crack down on illegal collections at border checks.

"We need to take down the barriers, take down the border posts," he said.

(Read More: Robert Shiller: I'm still investing in the stock market)

Meanwhile Julian Roberts, the group chief executive of investment firm Old Mutual added to the conversation. He said that the company had invested heavily into the continent, but explained that with one of its projects being nationalized, it showed the lengths that still needed to be reached.

"Africa cannot succeed without a real handshake between private enterprise and the public sector," he said. He added that exports can take a long tome to leave the country and bemoaned visa application issues. But more broadly, Roberts remains very bullish on Africa.

"Africa is on the move and it's moving forward," he said.

"We wouldn't be investing in the rest of Africa if we didn't absolutely believe that Africa is going to be the success story over the next few decades."

By CNBC.com's Matt Clinch. Follow him on Twitter @mattclinch81

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