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Department of Politics and International Studies

Government and politics in Africa

Course Code:
15PPOC205
Unit value:
1
Taught in:
Full Year

This course examines theoretically and empirically the government and politics of Africa, focusing in particular on sub-Saharan Africa, insofar as it is possible to explore a vast continent of 53 states, 48 of which lie partly or entirely below the Sahara. The study of African states and their internal politics necessarily involves the study of governance, governing ideologies, forms of ethnic and political pluralism, monopolisation of political and economic power, popular resistance to power, convergences with and fractures from international society, chronic underdevelopment and maltreatment of citizens, the emergence of active polities nonetheless, and the use and abuse of cultural linkages amid great dynamism and widespread violence. Many theoretical approaches have evolved to address the issues of African politics. Not all are helpful – and that includes those developed both in the West and Africa itself. The course will examine many of them, without being star-struck by any of them. 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of the course it is anticipated participants will be able:

  1. To consider various theoretical frameworks for the analysis of African politics.
  2. To disaggregate the governments and politics of sub-Saharan African states.
  3. To establish thematic groupings for the purposes of considering and debating the governments and politics of sub-Saharan Africa.
  4. To evaluate accounts of the social and cultural origins and animations of sub-Saharan African politics.
  5. To consider normative approaches to the politics of sub-Saharan Africa and to contemplate informed alternatives for the future.
  6. To relate the governments and politics of individual sub-Saharan states to Africa-wide developments, to international pressures, and the global political economy.
  7. To pay particular attention to rural and urban political formations, and their expressions in literature, culture, religion, crime and technology.

Scope and syllabus

TERM 1

Week 1: Introduction – Theorising Politics, Diversity and Disorder in Africa

Week 2: Shackles and Enduring Structures of History – Colonialism, Independence and Self-Determination

Week 3: Sovereignty, State Formation and Governance

Week 4: Pan-Africanism, the African Union and Regional Formations

Week 5: Personal Rule and Cults of Personality – Patronage, Neopatrimonialism, Clientilism and Corruption

Week 6: READING WEEK

Week 7: Military Rule and Military-Civilian Relations

Week 8: Facilitating Political Change – Elections, Democratic Transitions and Consolidation

Week 9: Sources of Cohesion and Division I: Ethnicity and Nationalism

Week 10: Sources of Cohesion and Division II: Religion

Week 11: Sources of Cohesion and Division III:  The Politics of Race and Class

 

TERM 2

Week 12: Below and Beyond the State – Informal Networks, Civil Society and Social Movements

Week 13: Resistance, Overthrow and Revolution

Week 14: Violence, Civil War and Genocide

Week 15: State Failure and Collapse

Week 16: Responding to Conflict: Peacebuilding and Transitional Justice

Week 17: READING WEEK

Week 18: Poverty, Famine and Humanitarian Intervention

Week 19: Development or Dependency? Challenging Aid, Debt and the Role of Donors

Week 20: African Cities, Urbanisation and the Rural Imagination

Week 21: Reconceiving ‘Home’ – Refugees, Diasporas and Contested Identities

Week 22: Course Conclusion and Exam Revision

Method of assessment

Assessment is 50% Coursework and 50% unseen examination - all coursework is resubmissible

Suggested reading

A Brief History of Leading Literature

It is important that all students become familiar with the bodies of academic literature dealing with African politics. It is these, together with the pronouncements and writings of African leaders, the articulations of African citizens and civil societies, and the articulated view of international actors that comprise the discursive formation inspired by Africa and within which Africa sits. A selective sample of bodies of academic and other literature is as follows:

  1. There is a current vogue for voluminous tomes that seek to describe Africa for readers unfamiliar with the continent. These are either vast travel documents (in a line from Mungo Park) or purport also to analyse Africa – usually superficially and gloomily. The contemporary specimens by Martin Meredith and Guy Arnold fall into this category.
  2. There is a still highly influential body of writing by first-generation African political scientists, i.e. those writing at the time of independence – some of these people are still writing – and many of their works are regarded as ‘classics’. Scholars such as Zolberg, Bayart, Villalon, Rotberg and (Crawford) Young merit consultation by today’s new generation. Excerpts from some of their work are represented in Tom Young, Readings in African Politics, Oxford: James Currey, 2003.
  3. African scholars have long sought to represent their own continent’s condition, often positing a philosophical apparatus by which Africa might be viewed. The pioneer’s work has now been reprinted:
    Edward W. Blyden, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, Baltimore: Black Classic, 1994.
    The two most influential contemporary political/philosophical writers are:
    Valentine Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.
    Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.
  4. There are two outstanding British Africanists whose work will, even amidst controversy, enter the realm of ‘classics’. The broadest sweep, with depth – in a way no one else should even attempt – has been accomplished by:
    John Iliffe, Honour in African History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
    John Iliffe, The African Poor: a history, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
    He has maintained his best qualities in his crusading but immaculately scholarly book:
    John Iliffe, The African AIDS Epidemic: a history, Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006.
    More geographically focused in East and Southern Africa, the work of Terence Ranger is unavoidable, e.g.
    Terence Ranger, Peasant Consciousness and Guerilla War in Zimbabwe, London: James Currey, 1985.
  5. Not as scholarly, briefer and protagonising, are ‘agenda’ efforts, such as:
    Greg Mills, Poverty to Prosperity: Globalisation, Good Governance and African Recovery, Johannesburg: Tafelberg, 2002, which predated and was better than the report of the Commission for Africa, and
    Stephen Chan, Grasping Africa: A Tale of Tragedy and Achievement, London: I.B. Tauris, 2007, which reacted revisionistically to the Commission’s work.

Each of the 22 lecture topics detailed in the syllabus information is accompanied by readings. These have been kept to a workable minimum. Students are therefore advised to become familiar with them. Ambitious students, e.g. those contemplating doctoral studies, should add to them from their own library and electronic searches. All students should become familiar with key periodicals, e.g. African Affairs, The Journal of Modern African Studies, The Journal of Southern African Studies, and Politikon.