[skip to content]

Department of Politics and International Studies

African Political Thought

Course Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Term 1

It will be the key Africanist contribution to the new and wide-ranging MSc in Comparative Political Thought, mounted by the Department of Politics and International Studies.

Flash player 8 or above needed
And JavascriptGet Flash Player

African Political Thought

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  • Understanding of African political thought and debate throughout the period leading to decolonisation, the years of independence, and reflective thought some 50 years after independence.
  • Application of learning to the understanding of contemporary African politics.
  • Appreciation of different strands of political thought in different parts of Africa, their relationship to distinct histories and cultures, and their efforts towards a unified body of thought in the face of analyses and diagnoses of contemporary globalisation.
  • The ability to problematise African political thought by means of both critique and contextualisation.


Two lectures and one tutorial per week for 10 weeks. 

Scope and syllabus


  • Antecedents: race and romanticism in Africa – from WEB du Bois to the Manchester Conference to Senghor’s ‘negritude’.
  • The thought of liberation: Cabral and the Lusophonic thinkers; the ‘pacific’ counterpoint of Kaunda
  • The New African Man: the political thought of transformation – Kaunda, Nyerere, Obote, Nkrumah.
  • The degeneration into ‘Big Men’: case studies of Mobutu and Banda; the critique of Mbembe.
  • The coup ‘artists’ and the new nationalisms-on-command: from Gowon to Rawlings; the contrasts between Sankara and Amin; the contrasts and similarities between Obasanjo and Abacha.
  • The old liberationists and their reassertion in new nationalisms: Mugabe’s political thought.
  • Africa in the world: Mbeki’s African Renaissance – nostalgia and the toleration of the carnivalesque; Ngugi’s linguistic chauvinism; Mandaza’s neo-Marxist retrospection.
  • The call for democracy: the critique of Soyinka; new constitutionalisms and the looking eastwards to China, Singapore and Malaysia; the model of Russian democracy.
  • Pan-Africanism today: thought on the African Union.
  • African intellectual currents and philosophy today: going it alone vs integration with a hegemonic world; Africa and the ICC, Africa and electronic globalisation; the thought of the outlawed commons.

Method of assessment

Unseen written examination contributing 70% to the total mark.

3000 word essay contributing 30% to the total mark. 

Suggested reading

  • Edmond Wilmot Blyden, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, Baltimore: Black Classic, 1994
  • WEB du Bois, The Souls of Black Folks, New York: Penguin, 1996.
  • CLR James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, New York: Random House, 1963.
  • John Henrik Clarke with Amy Jacques Garvey (ed.), Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa, New York: Random House, 1974.
  • Patrick Chabal, Amilcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
  • Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia Shall be Free, London: Heinemann, 1962.
  • Stephen Chan, Kaunda and Southern Africa, London: IB Tauris, 1992.
  • Kwame Nkrumah, Africa Must Unite, New York: International Publishers, 1970.
    David Birmingham, Kwame Nkrumah: The Father of African Nationalism, Athens: Ohio University Press, 1998.

  • Julius Nyerere, Freedom and Socialism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968.
  • Henry Bienen, Tanazania: Party Transformation and Economic Development, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967.
  • Milton Obote, ‘The Common Man’s Charter’, radiorhino.org
  • Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.
  • Michela Wrong, In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Zaire, New York: Haper Collins, 2001.
  • Robert I. Rotberg, The Rise of Nationalism in Central Africa, Camb. Mass: Harvard University Press, 1965.
  • Stephen Chan, Grasping Africa, London: IB Tauris, 2007, Chapter 4.
  • Paul Collier, War, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places, New York: Harper Collins, 2009.
  • Christopher Cramer, Civil War is not a Stupid Thing, London: Hurst, 2006.
  • Stephen Chan, Robert Mugabe: A Life of Power and Violence, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003.
  • Stephen Chan, Citizen of Zimbabwe: Conversations with Morgan Tsvangirai, Harare: Weaver, 2010.
  • William Mervin Gumede, Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC, London: Zed, 2007.
  • Stephen Chan, Southern Africa: Old Treacheries and New Deceits, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.
  • Reinhard Sanders and Bernth Lindfors (eds.), Ngugi wa Thiongo Speaks, Oxford: James Currey, 2006.
  • Ibbo Mandaza (ed.), Zimbabwe: The Political Economy of Transition 1980-1986, Dakar and Harare: CODESRIA, 1987.
  • Wole Soyinka, The Open Sore of a Continent: A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Samir Amin, Global History: A View from the South, Cape Town: Pambazuka, 2011.
  • Samir Amin, Eurocentrism, Cape Town: Pambazuka, 2011.
  • Samir Amin, Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism, Cape Town: Pambazuka, 2011.