The Russia-Africa summit set for this month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, only raises the stakes in the ongoing courtship of the continent by the global powers. The US-Africa summit is set for December in Washington, DC, while the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) is still sifting through its broad three-year action arising from its 8th Ministerial Conference held in November last year in Dakar, Senegal. The point of these summits is trade and investment, but also to gain advantage in global balance of power. Let’s therefore be blunt about it and borrow from the familiar fable of the bride in African folktales. Africa is like that irresistible bride (or groom, if you prefer). If she knows what is good for her, she must test her many suitors. She could decide on one and be content. Or, if she finds it more profitable, she could play one suitor against the other to get what she wants. In international diplomacy, this is what realpolitik is about. The bride could also play all the suitors at once. What are her choices? I would bet on the latter: She could play all of them at once. It is the world we are living in, taking the situation as currently obtains. Like much of the world, African countries are still struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and its destabilising effects including economic regression, loss of productivity and worsened inequalities. The effects threaten to derail development progress. The war in Ukraine has only added fuel to the fire (pun intended). Fuel, as well as food, account for over one-third of the consumer price index in most African countries. Supply of both these crucial commodities has been disrupted by the war, leading to runaway inflation in the continent and around the world. This has been exacerbated by the rise in interest rates in the United States leading to currencies in Africa and around the world weakening against the U.S. dollar. There is also the drought because of climate change, which has been ravaging much of the continent threatening millions with hunger. No matter where any particular blame lies as to the cause of all of these problems, their being experienced globally only emphasises how interdependent the world has increasingly become. The twist is that the world is now multipolar with nations such as China and Russia jostling to dislodge the United States from its perch in the global power play. In a multipolar and highly interdependent world, therefore, it might seem that Africa, both as the continent and its constituent countries, has little choice but collectively work with the powers courting it. The global nature of the issues demands multilateral action enjoining the rest of the world, not just the global powers. Yet it might appear Africa is conflicted about who it must work with, especially regarding the superpowers courting it, if it is to effectively pursue its interests. The war in Ukraine brings into sharp focus the contradictions in Africa’s multilateralism vis-à-vis its best interests. The division exhibited in the African votes on the war at the United Nations last March has led to a questioning of the continent’s vaunted non-aligned position, and whether it is for its own good. Recall that it is the dispute that has caused the war that partly contributes to the economic woes Africa is also experiencing. As causes, disputes require a principled stand to address them before they turn ugly. Thus, the African Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS) recently wondered, does Africa’s tentative stance on the war show a rejection of key African Union principles, such as respect for territorial integrity, the inviolability of borders and the peaceful settlement of disputes? The analysis notes that “to justify their indifference towards the Ukraine conflict, some African authorities compare it to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq or Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s ousting by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in 2011. An infringement of international law (Iraq) or a generous interpretation of a UN Security Council resolution (Libya), is considered similar to Russia’s war of occupation in Ukraine – an infringement of the international order.” The point is Africa can’t claim non-alignment and still take sides, however valid ideological and historical grievances that inform African countries’ choice of who to be for or against. Yet not taking sides also means options are open to solve the issues that currently afflict the world and that Africa stands to gain by remaining clear-eyed to its interests. Africa might therefore want to ponder the conclusion of the ISS analysis: Rather than schadenfreude, or the vengeful anti-imperialism that seems to guide many Africans, the Ukraine war should inspire a self-assessment of Africa’s ability to agree on how to solve conflicts. In the absence of principled consistency, non-alignment may look like short-sighted opportunism.