The article examines Africa's role in formation of a polycentric world order. The extreme danger and obvious undesirability of direct confrontation between "old" and "new" players have augmented geostrategic and militarypolitical significance of the "peripheral" zones of rivalry, including that of Africa. Here, nationalism, separatism and religious extremism act as both catalysts of conflicts and convenient tools for external intervention. In order to preserve the old configuration of the world order and the paradigms of global governance, some "old players" are ready to use such means as bribing corrupt elites, manipulating ethno-confessional contradictions, instigating the forces of international terrorism. At the heart of the contemporary expansion into Africa, there is not only the players' desire to strengthen their positions with regards to supplies and consumption of strategically important resources, but also vying to secure lasting positions and zones of influence as part of the competitive struggle in the world economy by the 2020-2050s. By that time, according to forecasts of the leading "think tanks", the African continent will have turned into the main source of global work power, consumer demand and nature-dependent prerequisites for the development of world economy. The econometric forecast analysis carried out at the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences has shown that in 2020-2025, the curve of the indicator "external players' strategic solicitude/ involvement in the region" rapidly changes the angle and fluency of the rise from "smooth and gentle" to "sharp and steep". At the same time, the importance of subregions on the African continent will increase asynchronously. Today, the focus of old and new players' strategic interests tends towards and beyond the zone of the Southern Mediterranean, i.e. includes not only North Africa, but also the Sahel. In the 2020s, strategic attention will sharply intensify vis-à-vis the "Great Red Sea" zone, partially overlapping with the southern Mediterranean zone. Beginning from the late 2020s, there will be a rapid growth in the importance of the southeastern and southern subregions (Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and associated territories), known in Western strategic literature as the Southern Cone of Africa. Countrywise, there are three potentially significant regional centers of power in sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia) and one in North Africa (Egypt). However, notwithstanding the undeniable growth of political weight and influence in the international arena of the four countries mentioned, and despite their severe desire to emerge as a universally recognized sole "leader of Africa", the African pole of the polycentric world is unlikely to be formed around one state. All named candidates for leadership are highly vulnerable to destabilization from within and from outside. A scenario of maturation of a single Pan-African pole as a center of global significance is more likely. In this regard, it is imperative to radically increase the attention of the Russian Federation to the African direction, including political, economic and cultural (especially educational and training) components. © 2018 Nauka Publishing House. All rights reserved.