Achieving sustainable development and resolving regional conflicts are likely dominate discussions at the 20th African Union (AU) summit that opened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Sunday.
At least 36 African heads of state, including South African President Jacob Zuma, are attending the two-day summit, being held under the theme of "Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance".
Africa 'must seize its opportunity'
Addressing the summit's opening, African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, said Africa was at a point where it had to seize the opportunity to fast-track its economic development.
The summit is taking place as the AU prepares to celebrate its golden jubilee - the 50th anniversary since the establishment of the former Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
It was also the first summit since Dlamini Zuma, South Africa's former Home Affairs minister, took up the position of chairperson of the African Union Commission in July 2012.
Dlamini Zuma said that Africa had to remain united if it was to achieve its goal of pulling millions of people out of poverty.
UN chief hails African growth
Also addressing Sunday's opening, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Africa had the experience "to forge solutions to its own challenges and contribute to our global goals of inclusive growth, social justice and protecting our environment."
Ban hailed Africa's fast economic growth in recent years. "There are visible and tangible gains that are evident as a result of Africa's development growth now taking place ... Some of the world's fastest-growing economies are in Africa," he noted.
African countries averaged a remarkable 5% growth over the past decade and are projected to have an even higher growth in 2014. However, despite steady growth prospects, poverty remains a big challenge on the continent, the UN chief said.
Mali, DRC, Sudan, Somalia
Ban also urged Africa and the international community to make joint efforts to "bring greater stability to Africa", against the backdrop of regional conflicts which have drawn worldwide concern, especially the escalation of the Mali crisis.
On the Mali crisis, Ban said: "I welcome the timely bilateral assistance to the Malian army in response to the government's request."
He also expressed his resolution to help the suffering people in Mali. "I personally committed to ensuring that the UN stands ready, once the regrettably necessary combat operations are over, to undertake a major system-wide effort for peace building, governance and security sector reform, physical reconstruction and regional cooperation."
On the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ban said the UN was considering establishing a peace enforcement capacity with the UN mission MOUNUSCO to deal with the threat of armed groups in the eastern DRC.
Speaking about Sudan and South Sudan, Ban said he was "especially concerned about the dangerous humanitarian situation in Southern Kordofan and Bule Nile States.
"I call on the authorities in Sudan and South Sudan to immediately begin direct talks to allow urgently needed humanitarian assistance to reach affected civilians."
He vowed further efforts to improve the situation in Somalia, saying he would present recommendations to the UN Security Council this month on a new UN presence in the Horn of Africa nation, including those on a better UN-AU partnership on the ground.
He also pledged "to secure urgently needed funding" for AMISOM, the African peacekeeping mission in Somalia.