The Politics of Africa

Course Material 2023/24

This paper explores the rich and diverse politics of this century's fastest growing continent (in population terms). From the past to the present, it probes the domestic and international factors that have influenced the social, economic and political trajectories of African states and citizenries. Bringing a perspectival approach to political studies, students will consider how the study of Africa can challenge ways of understanding politics that have been grounded primarily in the western experience, as well as how discourses on ‘Africa’ or ‘the global south’ relate to the economic, strategic and ideological projects of those who shape and deploy them. Students are also encouraged to seek out and understand political experience through the agency and voices of African peoples and political actors, alongside the powerful external actors and knowledge-creators on the continent from colonialism until the present day.

The course is taught thematically, examining central themes such as state formation and political organisation, state and society relations, violence and war, identity and ideology, mobilisation and authority, economic development, global political order, resistance and struggle, etc, through historical and contemporary lenses. Students develop case study knowledge of the diverse range of African countries’ experiences through readings, essays and seminars.

The paper begins with a critical reflection on where 'Africa’ fits into world politics. We consider the continuities and changes in Africa’s position in the global order, from European colonialism through independence and the Cold War, to humanitarian and security agendas of recent western policy, the rise of China and the emergence of south-south solidarity. This understanding of the international context will frame our analysis of the history of state formation on the continent, looking at precolonial and colonial systems of rule, the ideologies and strategies of anti-colonial struggle, and their legacies in post-independence politics. We will then probe deeper into the nature of political authority, mobilisation and legitimacy in independent Africa, and how these relate to different forms of political participation and domination, order and disorder: one-party rule, multiparty democracy, popular protest and conflict. Finally, we chart different African futures as anticipated in the present, including youth and urbanisation and changes brought about through digital communications.

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