SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

The Politics of Africa

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Broadly orient themselves to the history of Sub-Saharan Africa from the pre-colonial era to the present day.
  • Critically evaluate central theories and concepts from comparative politics, sociology, international relations and the political economy of development, and be able to demonstrate their uses and limits in relation to Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Make clear-headed arguments about contemporary political dynamics and events in Sub-Saharan Africa and connect broad theorisations to particular cases.
  • Acquire a body of knowledge applicable in both academic and policy/practitioner roles.   


2 hours Seminar per week

1 hour Tutorial per week

Scope and syllabus

The syllabus is divided into four blocks of five lectures each:

  1. African states and politics (Pre-colonial and Colonial adminstration; Nationalism and Decolonisation; Coups and One-party states; Democratisation and Party Political systems; Hybrid Regimes)
  2. Political sociology (Ethnicity and Religion; Workers and Peasants; Neopatrimonialism and Elite Networks; Associational Life and Social movements; Mass Communication and Popular Culture)   
  3. African states in the world system (Pan-Africanism before Decolonisation; Continental Diplomacy in the Post-Colonial Moment; Africa in the Cold War; Intervention after the Cold War; The War on Terror).
  4. The political-economy of development in Africa (Slavery, Extraction and Dependency; Efforts to Overcome Dependence - the NIEO; Structural Adjustment; ‘After’ conditionality; Regional economic integration). 

Method of assessment

Assessment is 25% coursework (one 1000 word essay and one 2500 word essay), 75% unseen examination (3 hours).


Suggested reading

  • Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale, Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa. Oxford: James Currey (1992).
  • Jean-Francois Bayart, (1993) The State in Africa: the Politics of the Belly. Longman.
  • Stephen Ellis and Gerrie Ter Haar, (2004) Worlds of Power. Religious Thought and Political Practice in Africa. New York, Oxford University Press.
  • Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz, (1999) Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument (The International African Institute and Indiana University Press.
  • V.Y. Mudimbe, (1994) The Idea of Africa (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana.
  • Achille Mbembe. (2001) On the Postcolony, Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Timothy Murithi (2005) The African Union: Pan-Africanism, peacebuilding and development, London: Routledge.
  • Elizabeth Schmidt (2013) Foreign Intervention in Africa: from the Cold War to the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Frederick Cooper, (2014) Africa in the World, Harvard University Press.
  • James Ferguson (2006) Global Shadows: Africa in the neoliberal world order. Durham: Duke University Press). 


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules