IRD 2104: Politics of Sub-Saharan Africa









Fridays, 9 - 11am:




1, 18-24

SN 106

2, 4-5, 7-11

SN 312


LH 121

6, 16

LH 319

17, 25

SN 305


SN 210




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) and the African Union (AU) onwards.








5th Oct

Introduction to Module


12th Oct

Making up Countries: setting the boundaries


19th Oct

Anthropology: People, tribes, kinship


26th Oct

Belief: myth and magic and religion


2nd Nov

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


9th Nov

Britain in Africa: Lugard and the Dual Mandate


16th Nov

Imperialism and theories of the purposes of Empire


23rd Nov

France in Africa


30th Nov

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


7th Dec

Portugal in Africa


14th Dec

Re-cap on term's topics








11th Jan

Case study: The Belgium and the Congo


18th Jan

Hope for a democratic Africa and future leaders of Independence


25th Jan

Reading African Ideological discourse: Nkrumah and Nyerere


1st Feb

Post-Independence Leaders: Black nationalists or African Nationalists


8th Feb

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


15th Feb

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


22nd Feb

Essay preparation


1st March

The Military in Africa


8th March

Political Parties, Leadership, Social Movements and mobilisation of the people


15th March

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


22rd March

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


29th March

Portfolio Preparation workshop


5th April - 9.30am-11am

Individual Tutorials Learning Hub, 2nd Floor Open Area






Assessment Activity

Learning Outcomes


Hand in dates

Resit dates


ASS Type








2000-word essay



8th March

27th May



2000 words - a case study and analysis of the political situation of a sub-Saharan african state of your own choosing



18th April

6th June



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) Was British indirect rule better than French assimilationism?


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


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 powers 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' and was it successful?


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) To what extent has the road to autocratic and corrupt leadership in Africa paved with the promise of democracy and freedom?


20) Is democracy in Africa possible?


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


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


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



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









This document forms the definitive overview as to the nature and scope of this module and is used in the University’s quality assurance processes.




Business & Law


Economics, International Relations & Development


Economics, International Relations & Development


The Politics of sub-Saharan Africa









Graham McBeath

RESTRICTIONS*:        None



The module will provide a state-based analysis of sub-Saharan African politics, drawing from political science, history and anthropology. It  will address critically theoretical and thematic debates, including the nature of African leaderships and government, their political liberalisation or fall into violence or military control, and the possibility of democratisation



Primary 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.

o        The uneven process of democratisation across the continent

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

     religion, political violence and coup-making

o        The role of international agencies in African politics






Module Learning Outcomes

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

Subject-Specific Knowledge, Understanding & Application

a)    use analytically key concepts such as ethnicity, fragmentation, cleavages, party, leadership, ideology as related to the study of African politics

b)    discuss by using case studies, political and cultural history and/or  contemporary situation of African states

     c) explain issues of African politics within theoretical frameworks such as marxism, neo-liberalism and modernization theory

 d) compare and contrast the political histories, structures and processes of African states

Employability & Changemaker Skills

 e) use a range of quantitative and qualitative primary and secondary data to     construct and support an argument in witten and oral forms

 f) show a developed awareness of cultural and ethnic differences in social, political and value based identities and judgments




Learning, Teaching and Assessment activities

Study hours

Contact hours: (total)

Comprising face-to-face and online contact hours as follows:


·         Face-to-face (total) - this may include the following:

-         Face to face interactive small group session (generic space in groups of approx. 30 e.g. seminars/workshops/tutorials)



           Topic research based workshops














·         Online contact hours (total)
(comprising online activities with mediated tutor input)


Guided independent study hours
(including hours for assessment preparation)


Module Total






University of Northampton:


Assessment Activity

Learning Outcomes

Weighting (%)


Assessment Type

Assessment Deliverables





2000-word essay





2000 words - a case study and analysis of the political situation of a sub-saharan african state of your own choosing