African countries are "artificial members of the UN," Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said at the opening of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa on Saturday as he demanded equal representation for the continent in the organization.

If the UN is to survive, Africa must be treated equally with at least two permanent members on the Security Council, Mugabe said at the summit that was attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of state and foreign ministers from 54 African countries.

"We can't continue to be artificial members of it," Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since 1980, said to cheers and applause from the delegates. 

He criticized the dominance of "a handful of people ... in fact it is only Americans and Europeans, those who say they are white-skinned."

Mugabe, who called Ban a "a good man," said he wanted the UN secretary general to tell the states on the Security Council that Africans "also are humans."

"Every year [in] September we are there [at the UN General Assembly]. We pay lots of money to go there," Mugabe said.

"And in the general assembly, we make speeches. We go back home. Year in. Year out.

"Tell them we are not ghosts, that we also belong to the world," he said to laughter from the delegates.

"Part of the world called Africa - and Africans - shall no longer tolerate a position of slavery."

Ban, in his speech, commended African leaders who respected constitutional limits. "I call on all to follow their example," he said.

"Leaders must protect their people. Not themselves."

The official theme of the two-day meeting in the Ethiopian capital is human rights, with a political crisis in Burundi expected to be one of the dominant topics on the agenda.

Burundi has been gripped by violence since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in April that he would seek a third term in office, despite the constitution setting a two-term limit.

More than 400 people have been killed in violent protests, clashes between police and government opponents, and attacks since April, according to the UN.

The AU is expected to vote at the summit on whether to send 5,000-strong peacekeepers to the country, despite vehement opposition from its government.

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