Africa cannot wait the 30 years it took Asia to industrialise, Mohamed El Kettani, chief executive of Morocco-based Attijariwafa Bank, says.
Speaking at the Africa CEO Forum 2012 in Geneva on the public policies that can help develop Africa's private sector, Kettani said the political uprisings of the Arab Spring showed a real sense of urgency to move forward with industrial policy that can bring employment, fast.
"People cannot wait anymore. This sense of urgency [started] yesterday, and not tomorrow," said Kettani.
The high-level panel locked horns on the priorities for governments creating an industrial policy that can both boost GDP and create jobs.
With African policymakers looking around for previous examples of good policy choices, Ho Meng Kit chief executive of the Singapore Business Federation said Singapore did not start out with knowledge-intensive industries.
Different phases of the Asian country's development process saw low-skilled workers brought in from Hong Kong first, before a shift to a more capital-intensive policy.
However, Amine Tazi-Riffi of consultancy McKinsey in Switzerland said: "Africa cannot simply reproduce another model."
"We are late and we need to hurry up," he said. "The next 10 or 15 years are going to be vital. There are strategic choices to be made."
Cote d'Ivoire finance minister, Charles Diby Koffi, said "Everything has to be a priority for us, we have to rebuild a whole country. You have to have a clear and ambitious vision. You have to cost everything and then act."
Other panellists made it crystal clear that governments must grasp the lead when it comes to managing resource and industrial policy.
Albert Yuma Mulimbi, chair of Congolese state mining company Gecamines, described the licensing of foreign miners to dig the Democratic of Congo's resources was a mistake.
"I think things must be managed nationally because the policies must be specific to the country," said Mulimbi. "International groups are not as sensible to industrialisation and they tend to export."
Valentine Rugwabiza, deputy director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), said the African private sector was "too silent" as a lobbying force.
She echoed a lament of former telecoms CEO and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim when he told Africa CEOs at the forum that they had been "too shy to speak up on the need for better inter-African trade".
"It is a myth that the WTO rules are strict and don't allow for flexibility; there are plenty of flexibilities that are not used by African countries," said Rugwabiza.
"The problem is they are not being used to their full potential. Where we see a deficit, it is a deficit in a dialogue between African governments and African private sector," she said