frican leaders on Wednesday underscored the urgent need to fast-track the continent\u2019s regional integration process in order to accelerate Africa\u2019s economic transformation.\r\n\r\nThe call was made at the opening ceremony of the Bank\u2019s 2019 Annual Meetings, in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, with the theme: \u201cRegional Integration for Africa\u2019s Economic Prosperity.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cApart and divided, Africa is weakened. Together and united, Africa will be unstoppable,\u201d the Bank\u2019s President Akinwumi Adesina told delegates at the packed Sipopo Conference Center.\r\n\r\nAdesina urged African governments to work toward the elimination of non-tariff barriers. \u201cPulling down non-tariff barriers alone, will spur trade by at least 53%, and potentially double trade,\u201d he said.\r\n\r\nThe opening ceremony was presided over by the host nation\u2019s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Also in attendance were King Letsie\u00a0III\u00a0of Lesotho; President F\u00e9lix Antoine Tshisekedi\u00a0of the Democratic Republic of Congo; and Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini, Prime Minister of eSwatini. High-level government officials from Rwanda, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and C\u00f4te d\u2019Ivoire were also present.\r\n\r\nIn his opening speech, President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo recalled that Equatorial Guinea, once one of the poorest countries in the world, has since been radically transformed with one of the highest per capita incomes on the continent.\r\n\r\n\u201cFor me, development is not about per capita income, it is about expanding the opportunities for the people to live a more dignified life,\u201d Obiang Nguema Mbasogo said.\r\n\r\n\u201cEquatorial Guinea is open for business. We are committed to regional integration for shared prosperity. We count on the African Development Bank to help us achieve economic diversification and the consolidation of social equality.\u201d\r\n\r\nRegional integration is one of the Bank\u2019s strategic High 5 agendas to rapidly advance Africa\u2019s economic transformation.\r\n\r\nIn the past several years, the African Development Bank\u00a0has invested over $13 billion in the central African region. \u201cAnd for every dollar invested, the region has leveraged $36, an incredible rate of return of 36 times,\u201d Adesina noted.\r\n\r\nThe Bank\u2019s investments include the construction of the Central African fibre optic network that connects the population with faster and less expensive access to the Internet, and is boosting\u00a0businesses and regional integration.\r\n\r\nIn his remarks, Equatorial Guinea\u2019s Finance Minister Cesar Mba Abogo said: \u201cProgress is the realisation of utopia. This is a country of utopia in Africa, with independence and the ability to control our own destiny. It seemed impossible at first in the last century but it was done. Now our utopia is regional integration.\u201d\r\n\r\nMore than 2,000 participants are attending the Annual Meetings, a unique opportunity to share the Bank\u2019s perspectives on the state of Africa\u2019s economy. The meetings also provides updates on the Bank\u2019s work and serves as a platform for the exchange of views on emerging issues shaping the future of the continent.\r\n\r\nThe Prime Minister of Equatorial Guinea, the president of the Senate, members of governments, the diplomatic corps as well as the African Development Bank\u2019s Governors, Executive Directors, and other dignitaries attended the opening ceremony.\r\n\r\n\u201cThere\u2019s excitement in the air on Africa\u2019s economic opportunities, and those opportunities are boundless. The newly ratified Africa Continental Free Trade Area will make Africa the largest free trade zone in the world, with a combined\u00a0GDP\u00a0of over $3.3 trillion,\u201d Adesina said.