Overview and entry requirements
Our MSc Politics of Africa offers a wide range of modules in which students learn about historical and contemporary periods of African politics, as well as debates informed by the major sub-disciplines of politics: international relations, comparative politics and political theory.
We also use our knowledge of Africa to talk back to the discipline, and to show that African politics is not in any sense marginal but has a strong influence on how we see and engage with the world.
SOAS is one of the few universities in the world to offer a Masters degree in the politics of Africa. There are many ‘African Studies’ degrees, but politics typically makes up only a part of their programmes.
See Department of Politics and International Studies
Why study MSc Politics of Africa at SOAS
We’re ranked 5th in the UK for Politics (QS World University Rankings 2021).
SOAS itself is unique — our global student body, multi-disciplinary approach, critical and questioning attitude moves well beyond the focus on basic ‘skills training’ found in so many other programmes.
SOAS is the home of three of the most important institutions focused on African Studies in Europe
- The Centre for African Studies brings together researchers from SOAS across disciplines and runs an array of events at the school, frequently hosting African Presidents, opposition figures and important thinkers.
- The Royal African Society is a membership organisation that runs, amongst other things, African Affairs (the highest ranking ‘Area Studies’ journal in the world); the influential ‘African Arguments’ blog; and also hosts a huge range of speaker events, film and fiction writing festivals.
- The International African Institute is a scholarly publishing institute that publishes a number of important book series and the influential journals Africa and African Cultural Studies.
Start of programme: September intake only
Mode of Attendance: Full-time or Part-time
Who is this programme for?:
Anyone interested in the politics of Africa, whether that concerns particular countries or from a wider regional perspective. You should have an undergraduate degree with good marks in social science or humanities subjects (politics, history, philosophy, development, economics, etc) and some prior knowledge of the African continent.
But we don’t require all of that in any candidate, and also value applicants with substantive practical experience in the field. What we are looking for, ultimately, is a genuine interest in political dynamics in Africa, as well as enthusiasm to learn and to engage the remarkable community of people this degree brings together.
- We will consider all applications with 2:ii (or international equivalent) or higher. In addition to degree classification we take into account other elements of the application including supporting statement and references.
- One calendar year (full-time);
Two or three years (part-time, daytime only) Students usually complete their core modules in Year 1, and their option modules and dissertation in subsequent years.
How is this course structured and taught?
Students take two core modules: 'Government and Politics of Africa', and 'International Politics of Africa' which enable them to develop a broad knowledge of Africa’s historical trajectory and its contemporary dynamics, and to understand how Africa has been approached by the main sub-disciplines of Politics: international relations, political economy, comparative politics and political thought. Weekly, two-hour interactive lectures on each module typically begin with faculty members delivering short lectures as a prelude to student-led discussion, both in the round and in smaller group sessions through which students explore weekly set readings more closely.
Students are then invited to select specialist modules that focus on smaller sets of countries (The Great Lakes, or Southern Africa for example), or on particular themes (Politics in African Cities, Gender and Security in Africa, or African Political Thought for example) that match their particular interests (these are listed under ‘List B’ on the ‘Structure’ tab on this course page). These modules grow closely from the cutting-edge research of faculty members. They are taught in weekly, two-hour small group seminars, and are designed to help students engage with the contemporary literature on these topics, develop specialist expertise, and identify dissertation topics that are provocative and researchable.
Dissertations involve writing a 10,000 word thesis on a topic of each student’s choice. All students work closely with a supervisor who can help guide their research. In addition, students follow a methodology course which builds confidence and skills to do research on African politics, and provides them with many useful skills for their careers. Many of our best student dissertations have been publishable in academic journals and have helped students to build up PhD proposals that secure admission and scholarships to the world’s top universities.
There is space in the degree structure for students to take modules outside of African Politics, selecting other options from the SOAS Politics Department, famous for its critical, non-Eurocentric approaches, or from courses in African History, Economics, Law and other disciplines from across the School (these are listed under ‘List C’ on the ‘Structure’ tab on this course page). Many of our students also choose to take an African language as one of their options, and SOAS offers an unrivalled selection of African languages which can be taken at any level, depending on prior knowledge.
Who will teach me?
Uniquely for a Politics Department in the UK, SOAS boasts six full-time Africa specialists, including three professors, who research and teach on African Politics in all its dimensions and have specialist regional and country specific knowledge. There is a huge range of research going on amongst faculty and the post-doctoral and doctoral researchers they supervise. The teaching on our Masters degree derives directly from this innovative research and specialist knowledge. Find out more about who will teach you: Stephen Chan, Awino Okech, Phil Clark, Alastair Fraser, Julia Gallagher, Amelia Odida.
What skills will I learn?
The course encourages students to develop a critical approach to reading and a clarity in the way they argue and write about academic issues. It develops their conceptual thinking and the ability to evaluate, criticise and interpret different kinds of arguments and data and, from that, to develop plausible and persuasive arguments. Finally, it helps students to present and communicate their ideas in presentations, essays and longer dissertations.
What types of things do your students do next?
A degree that combines a disciplinary and a regional focus enables those graduating to evidence not just their analytic and writing skills, but rare and valued expertise. By the end of the degree students will be fully equipped to carry on to doctoral study about African Politics, or to work in journalism, diplomacy, think-tanks, commerce, development or human rights NGOs, or many other fields that require analytic skills, expert regional knowledge and the ability to communicate fluently about African Politics.
What's it like being in London?
SOAS hosts three of the most important institutions focused on African Studies in Europe: The Centre of African Studies, The Royal African Society and The International African Institute. These centres publish top academic journals, run vibrant blogs, film and fiction writing festivals. We’re also in the middle of London, home to one of the most vibrant and broad-ranging African diasporic communities in the world, Chatham House Africa Programme, The Africa Centre, and The Africa Research Institute. Most nights of the week there is a seminar, conference, musical or poetry performance, film or food festival themed on Africa that you could attend, or better still organise.
Degree programmes at SOAS - including this one - can include language courses in more than forty African and Asian languages. It is SOAS students’ command of an African or Asian language which sets SOAS apart from other universities.
Students take taught modules to the value of 120 credits PLUS a 10,000 word dissertation (15PPOC999) worth 60 credits.
Credits must be taken in the following combination:
This would focus on some aspect of African Politics.
A minimum of 30 credits from List B
A maximum of 30 credits from List C (including language options)
The information on the programme page reflects the intended programme structure against the given academic session. If you are a current student you can find structure information on the previous year link at the top of the page or through your Department. Please read the important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.
Teaching & Learning
Modules are taught by a combination of methods, principally lectures, tutorial classes, seminars and supervised individual study projects.
The MSc programme consists of three taught modules (corresponding to three examination papers) and a dissertation.
Most modules involve a 50-minute lecture as a key component with linked tutorial classes.
At Masters level there is particular emphasis on seminar work taking place in two-hour sessions. Students make full-scale presentations for each unit that they take, and are expected to write papers that often require significant independent work.
A quarter of the work for the degree is given over to the writing of an adequately researched 10,000-word dissertation. Students are encouraged to take up topics which relate the study of a particular region to a body of theory.
SOAS Library is one of the world's most important academic libraries for the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, attracting scholars from all over the world. The Library houses over 1.2 million volumes, together with significant archival holdings, special collections and a growing network of electronic resources.
SOAS Politics and International Relations students leave SOAS not only with a knowledge and understanding of the complex political and cultural issues of our time, but also with a portfolio of widely transferable skills which employers seek in many professional and management careers.
Recent graduates from the Department of Politics and International Studies have been hired by:
- BBC World Service
- British Red Cross
- British Council
- Center for International Peace Operations
- Channel 4
- Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA)
- Department for International Development (DfID)
- Eversheds LLP
- Financial Times
- Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)
- Global Policy Institute
- Go East Consulting
- Grassroot Diplomat
- Palestine Red Crescent Association
- Save the Children
- UNICEF Ethiopia
- United Nations
Find out about our Careers Service.
A Student's Perspective
Dong-Kyung Lee, Korea University
You might not be able to find a department dedicated to your major... However, because SOAS has many courses that are interdisciplinary, you also might be able to find courses of your interests. For example, for SOAS does not have a dedicated philosophy department, I, a philosophy major, looked for courses in other departments that cover philosophical discourses. My experience here of studying Buddhism and Taoism was highly inspiring.