African nations are attending this year's Dubai Expo 2020 in force, hoping to project an image of a modern and ambitious continent and shed stereotypes of conflict and underdevelopment.
The six-month mega-event, delayed by the Covid pandemic, is a milestone for the wealthy Gulf emirate.
It has spent some $8.2 billion transforming a barren stretch on the outskirts of the city into an eye-popping site bristling with high-tech pavilions.
As the huge project nears completion ahead of the scheduled October 2021 opening, African delegates touted their ambitions to generate trade and investment at a high-level meeting this week.
With nearly all African states represented for the first time, Expo provides a stage to advertise a "continent that is ready to move forward" and "a secure place to do business," Levi Uche Madueke from the 55-member African Union told AFP.
"The time has come for us to actually reach out to the world, and for the world to understand us, and also see how they can collaborate with us," said Madueke, the AU's head of strategic partnerships.
Since the first World Expo was held in London in 1851, global fairs have been used to showcase innovations and as a branding exercise for participating countries.
And in its quest to gain influence on the international scene, the United Arab Emirates has increased its political and economic presence in Africa in recent years, particularly in the eastern Horn.
- 'That's in the past!' -
Africa witnessed 25 years of growth before falling into a Covid-induced recession in 2020. It continues to dominate the bottom half of the global Human Development Index.
Aside from exceptions such as Rwanda, Morocco and Kenya, African states also fare poorly on indices that measure the ease of doing business.
But Madueke said that despite the need to develop infrastructure and the existing barriers to international trade, Africa has "a lot to offer" thanks to its rich natural resources and youthful population.