And in a sign that Libya intends to become an international player once more, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi treated African heads of state to a display of military might on the eve of the meeting, which will discuss his vision of a United States of Africa.
Soldiers from across the continent - from countries embroiled in the Democratic Republic of Congo conflict to a contingent of women fighters from Eritrea - joined a huge military parade commemorating 30 years of the Libyan revolution.
As the Libyan leader saluted the troops, long-range missiles, warplanes and tanks passed in front of the leaders for their approval.
Pursuing the dream of a "United States of Africa"The traditional revolutionary parade was postponed from 1 September, the anniversary of the 1969 coup which brought Colonel Gaddafi to power, to coincide with the arrival of the African leaders.
The commemorations are the largest since the United Nations suspended international sanctions in April, after the country handed over two suspects in the bombing of a Pan Am plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
Although a number of the leaders broke the UN sanctions to visit Tripoli, correspondents say the presence of more than 20 heads of state gives Colonel Gaddafi the legitimacy he needs to claim an international role.
The central issue of the summit, which is taking place in the coastal city of Sirte, 250 miles (400km) east of the capital, Tripoli, will be Libya's proposal to move towards the creation of a "United States of Africa".
Colonel Gaddafi has accused Arab countries of failing to stand by him during the sanctions and is now turning his attentions to Africa.
And to drive home the point, banners proclaiming that "Africa is for Africans," and "The imperialist West is responsible for Africa's backwardness" and "Yes to the project of the United States of Africa", lined the route of the revolutionary parade.
But the continent's leaders themselves appear to be treating the idea politely, but with no great enthusiasm, according to the BBC's John Simpson in Tripoli.
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe said diplomatically that everyone cherished the principle that one day Africa should be united.
The Ugandan leader, Yoweri Museveni, said the real debate should be between pan-Africanism and the need for regional union in Africa - and he made it clear he thought it was regional union that mattered.