"It is a special honour to receive an honorary degree from Addis Ababa University," Gates said, after receiving the degree from the university.
"This is one of the leading institutions of higher learning in Africa – a continent whose future has been a central interest of my career ever since my wife and I began our foundation nearly 15 years ago."
His speech at Addis Ababa University marks 20 years since he first set foot on Africa, which inspired the establishment of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Addressing students at the university, Gates said: "Africa is now in an incredible position to shape its own destiny for the better, for one very simple and powerful reason: the countries of Africa are learning from each other".
He acknowledged the development gains made through foreign governments, international aid, and non-profit organisations, such as his organisation towards developing the continent.
"The real fuel for development will be the resources of African nations themselves - whether that's in the form of government funding, private-sector investment, or just plain human creativity at all levels of society," Gates continued.
"This is where the idea of 'African countries learning from each other' becomes so important. If you want to spend your national budgets as effectively as possible, there is now a clear path for doing exactly that - and Africans themselves are defining that path, for others to follow if they choose."
Gates, the world's richest man, also heaped praise on Liberia, Malawi, and Tanzania, for the great progress made in reducing child mortality rates, but acknowledged that there is still a long way to go before Africa reaches its full potential.
"There is no path to lasting growth within Africa that is not widespread growth. It's not possible. If Africa seeks prosperity, it must provide for the health and nutrition of all - including the poorest," he said.
After stepping down as Microsoft chairman, Gates has directed his focus to his foundation's efforts to tackle health issues in Africa.
In recent efforts to eradicate polio, he secured $335 million in pledges from six fellow billionaires – including $100 million each from Mexico's Carlos Slim and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
He has also been credited for getting other wealthy personalities involved with philanthropy.
According to Forbes, Gates and Warren Buffett have so far convinced more than 100 of the super-rich to sign on to the Giving Pledge, a promise to donate at least half their net worth to charity.