Obama noted that when his father, Barack Obama Sr., traveled to the United States from Kenya in 1959, the African nation had a higher per capita income and gross domestic product than South Korea.
"Today, obviously, South Korea is a highly developed and relatively wealthy country, and Kenya is still struggling with deep poverty. And the question I asked in the meeting was, 'Why is that?'" the president said.
Obama said that despite talk of the legacy of colonialism, he made the point to the African leaders that the government of South Korea was able to work the private sector and civil society to set up institutions for economic progress.
"There was no reason why many African countries could not do the same," he said.
Later today, Obama heads to Ghana, where he will hold up the West African nation as a model of good governance and successful democracy.
Obama leaves the three-day G-8 summit with modest tangible results.
There was no unanimity among the leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations about whether Iran should be further punished with tougher sanctions, and in the end, the group opted for a toughly worded statement.
Obama denied reports that he was disappointed that the leaders did not issue a stronger message on Iran's nuclear weapons programs or outline sanctions.
"This notion that we were trying to get sanctions or [that] this was a forum in which we could get sanctions is not accurate," he said. "What we wanted was exactly what we got, which is a statement of unity and strong condemnation about the appalling treatment of peaceful protestors post-election in Iran as well as some behavior that violates basic international norms."
Obama said a time frame was established, and there will be an evaluation of Iran's posture toward negotiating a halt to its nuclear weapons program at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh in September.
"The international community has said here's a door you can walk though which allows you to lessen tensions and more fully join the international community," the president said. "If Iran chooses not to walk though that door, then you have on record the G-8 to begin with, but I think potentially a lot of other countries that are going to say we need to take further steps."
G-8 leaders agreed to work toward a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by 2050, with a global reduction for developed countries of 80 percent, hoping to limit the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But this was a nonbinding goal.
"We still have much work ahead on climate change. But these achievements are highly meaningful, and they will generate significant momentum as we head into the talks at Copenhagen and beyond," he said, referring to the United Nations conference on climate change at the end of the year.
"After weeks of preparation, and three days of candid and spirited discussions, we've agreed to take significant measures to address some of the most pressing threats facing our environment, our global economy and our international security," Obama said. "We did not reach agreement on every issue."