Dakar - Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade on Saturday called for the creation of a United States of Africa during the unveiling of a controversial statue which he said marked the moment for the continent to "take off".
"The time has arrived for Africa to take off," he said in a speech at the foot of the bronze statue, built by North Korea and higher than the Statue of Liberty.
Addressing a large crowd and 19 African heads of state, Wade called for "the exploration of new horizons" and the formation of a "United States of Africa" modelled on "large unions" such as the US and European Union.
Faced with new challenges of globalisation "only a political integration of the United States of Africa will shelter us from potentially fatal marginalisation" of the world's poorest continent, which holds the richest economic potential, he added.
After "five centuries of ordeals, slavery, Africa is still there, folding sometimes, but never breaking. She is upright and resolute to take her future in hand", Wade said.
"The slave traders have left, the last colonialist has left. We have no more excuses. We must seize this opportunity so that history does not repeat itself."
Symbol of unity
Despite local resistance against the cost and style of the monument, African leaders seized it as a symbol of unity, praising Wade and urging the continent to throw off the shackles of its past.
Former Nigerian president and African strongman Olusegun Obasanjo who cut a ribbon in the colours of the Senegalese flag, said the statue was "a monument for black people all over the world".
"We have a symbol to remind us, to inspire us" of and against years of slavery and abuse. "A united union of Africa can make it not happen again."
African Union chief and Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika praised Wade, saying he would go down in history as "a man with vision, a man with courage, a man with great resolve".
He also urged a new African unity: "We have more things that unite us, than those that divide us... Let us return to our countries with a new hope of a new Africa."
United States activist Jesse Jackson, praising the symbolism of the monument said: "I wish so much Martin Luther King could be here tonight."
Long on the table, a United States of Africa has been planned by the African Union by 2025, but doubts have been raised about the ability of the continent to unite amid widespread poverty and conflict.