IRD 2104: Politics of Sub-Saharan Africa










Fridays, 9 - 11am: C304




This module aims to examine the Politics of Sub-Saharan Africa; that is to say the region of the Africa continent that exists between the countries along the northern coast that borders the Mediterranean sea and the top of Southern Africa which includes Zimbabwe and South Africa.


This said, the module does not aim to explore this area country by country but rather chooses to be led by concept-led political science analysis informed by empirical case studies that can be open to critical reflection of the play of variables and pattern of explanation involved in competing literatures.


As such, notions including tradition, culture, religion, topology, borders, tribe, group, colonialism, leadership, parties, coups, revolution, terrorism, political and economic transitions, corruption, civil war, modernization, globalisation, federalisation, succession, ideology and so forth will all be examined for the part they play in assessing how best to characterise old as well as new forms of the politics of Africa.


In the first term we will place emphasis upon the history of Africa from the pre-colonial societies and the making of nations and states through the gradual build up of both African and Western Empires and the new setting of boundaries according to anthropological ideas of tribe and geography. Herein we shall look at some classic early works on the politics of Africa as seen through the eyes of British analyses such as those of Lord Lugard and his idea of the Dual mandate: administration and economic benefits for the metropole, as well as the “native’s” uplifting.. This contrasts markedly with the imperial policies of France.  Subsequent we shall examine the emergence of independence movements and the recognition by Western states for various reasons, that they should permit de-colonisation and that Empires should fade away. But nonetheless the shadows of the past lived on in the form of an effort to expect that African nations will adopt a broadly democratic form and in the post-war period be part of the United nations and be accountable within the terms of modernization as defined by largely modern western notions.


The late 40s and through to the early 60s saw the adoption of such images of nation-hood perhaps in part determined by her return of new leaders who were trained in British and American universities whilst at the same time leaning towards a form of socialism to some extent that was later captured within an African style of discourse such as Nkrumah's neo-marxist philosophy 'Consciencism' or the politics of Ujamaa in Nyerere's Tanganyika/Tanzania setting out grounds for the one party state as community. As a result, such development of an african style of political thought gives rise to a dialectic of modernisation and an african way of political economy that does not entirely fit with Anglo-American foreign policy goals - given that any lines of african development are made sense of within the wider frame of the Cold war and the competition for client states.


A key part of the module will be on the fragility of the adoption of the democratic process and the forms of political violence (including the period in Nigeria from 1959 - 1969 and the subsequent brutal successionist Biafran war) rooted in parties, tribes, religion and leaders that pre-occupied the 60s and the 70s especially in Nigeria and Ghana.


In the Spring term, we will focus in on new forms of (if you like) imperialism - or might it be neo-colonialism?) that comes with the scramble for oil and mining rights accompanied of course by investment as the price to be paid for what may be seen as forms of exploitation. And herein perhaps lies the tension between say, neo-liberal and marxist critiques of the fortunes of some African states. All of this, it will be seen, is wrapped up in the history of continuing dependence upon often former colonial states as well as the post-colonial wars that stop and start and are quelled and then emerge once more through opposing liberation movements that occupy differential ideological and often tribal and geographical terrain that attracts the support or the intervention of various non-African countries, not least the US (CIA), Soviet Union/Russia and China. With this in mind we will look at the complexity of the Angolan war and the struggles of Zaire under Mobutu.


All of these post-colonial struggles for a reconciled nation-hood have in recent years been subject increasingly to mediation by both the UN and its agencies as well as NGOs. Thus we shall trace the development of various initiatives for intra-state settlements in Africa by the  setting up of organisations such as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) onwards.








6th Oct

Introduction to Module


13th Oct

Making up Countries: setting the boundaries


20th Oct

Anthropology: People, tribes, kinship


27th Oct

Belief: myth and magic and religion


3rd Nov

Beginning of Africa as the 'Dark Continent' and its opening


10th Nov

Imperialism and theories of the purposes of Empire


17th Nov

Reading Project


24th Nov

Britain in Africa: Lugard and the Dual Mandate


1st Dec

France in Africa


8th Dec

Germany, Portugal and Belgium in Africa


15th Dec

Case study: The Belgian Congo








12th Jan

British critiques of Empire and the post-war push for de-colonisation


19th Jan

Hope for a democratic Africa and future leaders of Independence


26th Jan

Reading African Ideological discourse: Nkrumah and Nyerere


2nd Feb

The case of Nigeria: 1959 - 1969: Federalism & Elections,


9th Feb

Nigeria 1966-1972: Coups and counter-coups & the  Biafran succession


16th Feb

The Military in Africa


23rd Feb

Essay preparation


1st March

University closed due to weather


8th March

Relative stability: Ghana: almost a peaceful nation; Kenya: Autocracy of Leadership


15th March

Dictatorship and corruption in Africa - Mobutu's Zaire (Dem Rep of Congo)


23rd March

Portfolio Preparation workshop






Essay Questions:


1) Evaluate the politics of borders as key to the 'scramble for Africa'.


2) Drawing on anthropological literature and commentary to what extent have African societies been seen as political societies?


3) Critically analyse the role of  sorcerers, witches and magicians and their 'craft' in traditional as well as modern African society


4) How important was the Berlin Conference of 1884-85?


5) Does a marxist theory of imperialism help us explain the colonialisation of Africa


6) How important was Lord Lugard and the idea of the 'dual mandate' in shaping colonial policy and practice?


7) 'The long-term success of French colonialism and the post-colonial outcomes was the result of  assimilationism'. Discuss.


8) What was the point of Portugal's being involved in Africa and why did it take them so long to get out?


9) From Leopold's eccentric ambitions through to the moment of independence, Belgium's rule in the Congo was a study in ruthless violence and political incompetence' Discuss.


10) Was British indirect rule better than French assimilationism?


11) Were both the Labour Party as well as the Conservative party reluctant to de-colonise?


12) Evaluate the different strategies and systems of shared and/or devolved power that the colonial power devised to prepare for the transition to post-independence politics.


13) 'The first wave of post-independence leaders were more Western than African.' Were they?


14) What was 'African Socialism'?


15) In the context of post-1960 African politics, do leaders need parties; if so why?


16) Could we describe Nigeria as peaceful in the 1960s?


17) How and why has France persisted in being involved with its former colonies?


18) With reference to Africa, do coups come from the top or the middle or the lower ranks of the military?


19) Is the road to autocratic and corrupt leadership in Africa paved with the promise of democracy and freedom?


20) To what extent have some African states been used as a proxy for international political and economic rivalries?


21) The depressing history of African states since the 1980s to today is of a passage from political fragility to political failure' Discuss.


22) Is democracy in Africa possible?


23) Does international economic intervention of any type from advice to aid, help or hinder development in Africa?


24) Have 'liberation' struggles in Sub-Saharan Africa been anything but expressions of tribal, political party or leadership rivalries?


25) Have any 'pan-African' political organisations been successful in forging an African political identity?







Produce a Sub-Saharan (one or two) country case study evaluating:


1) the conditions in which it was either newly created, or  left at and after independence and thus its potential for political, social and economic stability

2) any transformations it has undergone due to being re-named, its borders extended, or re-constructed in a new constitutional form e,g, federalisation, by succession etc.

3) Political and military crises it has suffered - coups, revolutions, leadership struggles, abandonment of a democratic path; emergence of one-party state forms etc.

4) the state of the economy then and today - has it been successful and then collapsed...or vice-versa?

5) the state of its international relations with reference to a) other African states and b) other (non-African) countries






2500 words

9th April


2500 words

1st May



28th June

Reading for module as a whole: Alex Thompson: an Introduction to African Politics 3rd ed. (Routledge)







All items with a star (*) cannot be changed without approval.




Business & Law


Economics, International Relations & Development


Economics, International Relations & Development


The Politics of sub-Saharan Africa









Charlotte Cross













This module has no supplementary regulations                


This module provides a broad overview of issues in contemporary sub-Saharan African politics, incorporating insights from political science, history and anthropology. The module will address critical theoretical and thematic debates, including the nature of the African state, the extent to which political liberalisation has altered African polities, and how African governments are dealing with contentious contemporary challenges such as the sometimes violent nature of political competition. In addition, students will engage with country-specific case studies, and will explore the role of international actors in shaping the politics of African states.



     To introduce students to theoretical debates and critical contemporary issues in African politics.

     To enable students to develop in-depth country-specific knowledge and awareness of the diversity of African political systems.





On successful completion of the module students will be able to:


Knowledge and Understanding


a)      Explain key concepts and theoretical perspectives related to the study of African politics.

b)      Describe major trends that have infuenced African politics in the post-colonial period.

c)      Demonstrate in-depth knowledge of a chosen country, and an awareness of the country’s positioning within a broader comparative context.


Subject - specific Skills


d)      Evaluate the utility of a range of theoretical perspectives in explaining issues in African politics.

e)      Compare and contrast the political histories, structures and processes of African states.


Key Skills


g)      Communicate ideas clearly and effectively in writing.

h)      Use a range of quantitative and qualitative primary and secondary data to     construct and support an argument.

i)       Select appropriate empirical examples to support theoretically informed arguments.



·         The module will combine broad theoretical and thematic content with detailed country-specific case studies, drawn from across the continent.

·         The module will be organised in three sections. Students will firstly explore approaches to understanding the development of nation-states in Africa, and implications for contemporary political systems. Issues to be addressed include:

o         the legacy of European colonialism

o         nationalism and independence from colonial rule

o         the development of authoritarian states following independence.

·         Building on this foundation, the second section of the module addresses critical contemporary issues in African politics, including:

o        The uneven process of political liberalisation across the continent

o        Dynamics of political competition, including the salience of ethnicity and religion

o        The political role of ‘non-state’ institutions, including traditional authorities, organised criminal networks and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)

o        The role of international actors in African politics and the politics of international aid.

·         The final section draws upon theoretical approaches and concepts explored throughout the module to consider why political competition in some African countries has entailed violent intra-state conflict, in contrast to the relatively peaceful experience of others. 

·         Throughout the module, students will be encouraged to reflect upon how ‘knowledge’ about Africa has been created and by whom, and how this affects our understanding of the politics of the continent.


This module is delivered in a face to face form to student cohort(s) taught by UN staff.


Lectures will provide an overview of key theoretical concepts and themes pertinent to the study of politics in Africa. Seminars will stimulate critical discussion, and will provide the opportunity to compare and contrast individual country cases in relation to the approaches presented during lectures. The assessments are also designed to provide a balance in terms of assessing continent-level thematic and theoretical knowledge, and a detailed empirical focus on one country. The workshop will introduce students to online quantitative data sources for the study of African politics, such as the Afrobarometer (nationally representative public opinion surveys conducted in 35 African countries).

Teaching, learning + assessment activities

Study hours

All contact hours


24 x 1hour lectures


24 x 1 hour seminars


1 x 2 hour workshop


Independent study hours


24 x 3 hours reading and seminar preparation


Tutorials and skills development


Assessment Hours


   2,500 word essay


   Portfolio – country case study









Assessment Items                                       Units Weighting Learning Outcomes

AS1 – 1 x 2500 word essay                            2.5    50%          a,b,d,g,i

AS2 – 1 x portfolio – country case study         2.5    50%          a,b,c,e,g,h



The 2,500 word essay, is designed to assess students’ capacity to construct a theoretically informed argument related to an aspect of African politics and to support their argument through the use of relevant empirical examples. The essay will be assessed on the basis of:

·         Content, referring to the scope of material covered and level of understanding of issues presented

·         Level of critical analysis including use of theory

·         Clarity and coherence of written communication

·         Scholarly practice (e.g. accurate referencing).

The portfolio requires students to select one state. Through directed tasks over the course of the module, they will produce a country case study, based on the use of recommended readings and additional online resources, including governance indices and national survey data produced by Afrobarometer. Tasks will require students to compare and contrast their case to other African states. Students will be assessed on:

·       Ability to analyse a range of types of data.

·       Quality of research, in terms of scope and relevance of material included.

·       Analysis and explanation of the similarity and/or differences between the selected case and other African countries.



Date of approval:   August 2016. Module recoded. Was SOC2104

January 2017 – all sections reviewed for CAIeRO