Leaders and senior officials of the 53-member African Union (AU) opened their summit on Monday morning in the Libyan seaport city of Sirte.
It is expected to highlight poverty reduction, the continent's integration and a common position on the UN reform.
AU President Olusegun Obasanjo declared the opening of the summit and Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi, whose country hosts the summit, delivered the opening speech.
Some 40 leaders of the 53 member states of the AU attended the two-day conference, which is expected to send an appeal to the coming Group of Eight (G8) summit for more debt relief and aid.
With a population of about 830 million, or 13 percent of the world's total, Africa accounts for only 1 percent of global foreign direct investment, 1 percent of global gross domestic product and 2 percent of world trade.
The continent is home to 35 of the world's 48 poorest countries, and more than 40 percent of the sub-Saharan population lives on less than 1 US dollars per day, the international poverty threshold.
The G8, grouping world industrial powers of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, the United States, Canada and Russia, is due to hold a high-profile summit starting on Wednesday in Scotland. African poverty reduction tops the agenda.
In addition, the AU summit, the fifth in succession, will also approve a resolution on the continent's common position over the UN reforms.
African foreign ministers agreed on Saturday that Africa would like to have two permanent seats with veto right in the UN Security Council.
Conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, the situation in Ivory Coast and Somalia, the continent's integration, the establishment of a continent-wide standing army and the creation of a new aid fund will also be covered at the summit.
The AU, modeled on the European Union, succeeded the Organization of African Unity in 2002. Comprising 53 member nations, the pan-African bloc aims to propel a united continent toward peace and prosperity.