Politics of Central Africa: Social Rupture and Reconfiguration

Key information

Module not running
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Politics and International Studies

Module overview

This module examines historical and contemporary trends of social rupture and reconfiguration in the African Great Lakes region, focusing on four countries: Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Beginning with key political, social and economic dimensions from the pre-colonial and colonial periods, this module adopts a comparative approach in analysing key societal dimensions that shape modern politics in central Africa - a region of immense dynamism and volatility, with major repercussions for the continent as a whole.

The module centres on seven thematic weeks (state formation and the evolution of political systems; the political economy of the military; the development of social order and key social identities; political parties and electoral dynamics; the causes and impact of mass conflict; political, legal and socio-economic responses to mass violence; and external relations, including economic development and donor dynamics), explored comparatively, to understand deep trends within these states as well as important regional dynamics. These weeks include controversial topics such as the role of ethnicity in the national politics of these four states, the politics of land and expansionist political agendas, the Congo wars of the 1990s (which embroiled all four states), the use of cross-border political, economic and military proxies, and debates around the authoritarian instrumentalisation of foreign aid.

Adopting a political lens in examining the extensive historical, anthropological, sociological and development literatures on the region - including those produced by central African scholars - this module aims to unearth important continuities and fluctuations across the Great Lakes. In doing so, it also shows the vital intertwining of macro-political developments (both nationally and regionally) and everyday politics at the level of clans and communities.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • Discuss fluently and knowledgeably the history, politics and society of central Africa.
  • Address both discretely and comparatively these dimensions in the four states that comprise the region.
  • Examine critically the theoretical, methodological and normative contexts in which the region is researched, analysed and debated.
  • Appreciate the role of this region within wider patterns across Africa and internationally.
  • Acquire a body of knowledge applicable in both academic and policy/practitioner roles.


2 hours seminar per week

Scope and syllabus

Week 1 - Introduction: Historiography, Myth-Making and the Role of Scholarship

Week 2 - Pre-Colonial Patterns: The Deep Order of Great Lakes Societies

Week 3 - Colonial Ruptures: Invasion, Co-option and Lasting Configurations

Week 4 - The Formation of States and Political Systems

Week 5 - The Political Economy of Military Regimes

Week 6 - New Social Orders: The Evolution of Core Social Identities and Divisions

Week 7 - Ballots and Bullets: The Role of Political Parties and Understanding Electoral Dynamics

Week 8 - War, Resistance, Genocide: Regional Patterns and Proxies of Mass Violence

Week 9 - Justice for Genocide? Responding to Violence across the Great Lakes

Week 10 - The Region and the World: Development, Donors, Dependencies

Method of assessment

Assessment is 100% coursework (one 5000 word essay).

Suggested reading

  • Booth, D., et F. Golooba-Mutebi. 2012. « Developmental Patrimonialism? The Case of Rwanda ». African Affairs 111(444): 379 403
  • Burihabwa, Ntagahoraho Z., and Devon Curtis. 2019. « The Limits of Resistance Ideologies? The CNDD-FDD and the Legacies of Governance in Burundi ». Government and Opposition 54(3): 559 83.
  • Lemarchand, René. 1996. Burundi: Ethnic Conflict and Genocide. Cambridge University Press
  • Newbury, Catharine. 1988. The cohesion of oppression: clientship and ethnicity in Rwanda, 1860-1960. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Newbury, David and Catharine Newbury. 2000. « Bringing the Peasants Back In: Agrarian Themes in the Construction and Corrosion of Statist Historiography in Rwanda ». The American Historical Review 105(3): 832 77
  • Nzongola-Ntalaja, George. 2002. The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A People's History. London: Zed Books.
  • Prunier, Gérard. 1997. The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide. London: C. Hurst & Co. Publishers
  • Reyntjens, Filip. 2009. The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geo-Politics, 1996-2006. Cambrige University Press.
  • Vansina, Jan. 2005. Antecedents to Modern Rwanda: The Nyiginya Kingdom. University of Wisconsin Press
  • Watt, Nigel. 2016. Burundi Biography of a Small African Country. London: Hurst


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules