An African summit has debated the possibility of a United States of Africa, billed by Libyan leader Moamar Gaddafi as the only way to address the continent's problems.
Colonel Gaddafi's dream is for a single state stretching from the Mediterranean to the Cape, but other leaders warned of tough obstacles on the way to that goal.
He has long campaigned for a United States of Africa as the only way to address the continent's grinding poverty and myriad other problems, including the challenges of globalisation.
In an impassioned speech on the eve of the three-day African Union summit in Accra, Ghana, he told cheering activists and students that "Our continent is backward, poor, suffering from illnesses, divided and exploited ... shall we allow such a situation to continue?"
But while Col Gaddafi ardently backs the immediate creation of a continental government, most of his fellow leaders feel this is an unrealistic, if noble, dream that distracts from urgent crises in Sudan, Somalia and elsewhere.
That view is shared by many ordinary Africans canvassed by Reuters.
"The task before us is enormous. We are at the crossroads and at the same time at the threshold of a new era," said Ghanaian President and African Union (AU) chairman John Kufuor.
Top AU diplomat Alpha Oumar Konare supported an integrated continent in his summit opening speech but said many problems must be overcome, including the future of existing pan-African bodies and regional economic blocs.
"A strong African leadership must grapple with these issues ... we need to take the bull by the horns, we need to move towards a new country that is Africa," he said.
"We want to liberate the continent from misery and hardship and this is the aim of integration."
The summit coincides with the 50th anniversary of independence in Ghana, the first black nation in sub-Saharan Africa to end colonial rule under the iconic leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, himself a standard bearer for African unity.
"From Ghana came the cry of unity. So now from the same place, from the country of Nkrumah, Africa should become a reality," Col Gaddafi declared at a local university.
"Long live the United States of Africa, long live African unity."
The Libyan leader, who says African unity should be decided by the masses and not leaders closeted in a conference hall, did not attend the summit's opening session.