IRD M076: Politics of Sub-Saharan Africa




Spring 2019






Wednesday 1 - 3pm, LH115




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 below 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-based forms of political science analysis informed by empirical case studies that can be open to critical reflection on 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, 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.


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 live on in the form of an expectation that African nations will adopt a broadly democratic form and in the post-war period 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 forms of socialism that were 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, 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.


We will focus on new forms of (if you like) imperialism - or might it be neo-colonialism?) that come with the scramble for oil and mining rights accompanied of course by investment as the price to be paid for what many see as forms of exploitation. And herein perhaps lies the tension between say, neo-liberal and marxist critiques of the fortunes of some African states. Can africa be part of the global economy without returning to some form of subordinate client state? 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, Soviet Union/Russia and China.


All of these post-colonial struggles for a reconciled nation-hood have in recent years been mediated by various interventions and modes of development and other supports from the International political and economic system. This has brought with it tensions between development under external sponsorship e.g. China et al. and the hope for national self-determination and self-reliance which itself is caught in a dialectic of often rich resources squandered or under-exploited, and the failure of effective economic policy-making due to internal political antagonism, corruption or democratic deficit.










6th Feb

Introduction to Module


13th Feb

British and French Colonialism and strategies of de-colonisation


20th Feb

Leaders, Parties, ideals and Ideology.


27th Feb

The Military in Africa


6th March

The Fragility of  States and the International system.


13th March

Corruption, Democracy and Development in African States: Ghanaian Exceptionalism.


20th March

Essay preparation session.




For each week's session I  will send out several readings which will form the basis for discussion.


These readings will be aimed at opening up various types of methodologically and conceptually driven explanation and the development of a politico-economic analysis of post-colonial Africa.



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





2500 words

15th April


Essay Questions:


1) Evaluate the politics of borders as a factor key in the emergent colonial and/or post-colonial politics of  Africa'.


2) To what extent have African societies been seen as political societies?


3) How significant was the idea of the 'dual mandate' in shaping British colonial policy and practice?


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


5) 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.


6) Was British indirect rule better than French assimilationism?


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


8) Evaluate the different strategies and systems of shared and/or devolved power that the colonial powers devised to enable transition to post-independence politics.


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


10) What was 'African Socialism'?


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


12) Could we at any point in the 1960s describe Nigeria as stable?


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


14) 'Coups begat stable government'. Discuss in the context of Africa.


15) With reference to Africa, how do coups happen?


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


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


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


19) Why are fragile states in Africa, fragile?


20) Is democracy in Africa possible?


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


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


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


24) 'Modernization, development strategies, structural adjustment policies...all foreign; all failures'. Discuss.


25) Are armies today from African states more a help than a hindrance to political stability on the continent?







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









Graham McBeath








This module has no supplementary regulations                


This module introduces students to issues in contemporary sub-Saharan African politics, incorporating insights from political science, history and anthropology, in addition to international relations. The module will address critical theoretical and thematic debates, including the nature of the African state, processes of political liberalisation, political violence, and 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)      Identify and analyse major trends in African politics in the post-colonial period.

c)      Demonstrate an informed understanding of the politics of individual African countries and their positioning within a comparative context.



Subject - specific Skills


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

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

f)       Assess the impact of Africa’s positioning within the global order on regional, national and sub-national events.



Key Skills


g)      Demonstrate the ablity to construct and sustain a sophisticated and theoretically informed written argument.

h)      Exercise initiative in independently identifying useful and appropriate   literature and primary data.

i)       Marshal a wide range of sources, referenced in accordance with academic conventions.



·         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 two 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 may 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        Processes of political liberalisation across the continent

o        Dynamics of political competition, including the salience of ethnicity and religion and the sometimes violent nature of political competition.

o        The role of sub- and supra-national actors in African governance, including multilateral and bilateral donors, ‘traditional’ authorities, organised criminal networks and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and the implications of this complexity for understandings of international relations addressed elsewhere in the course.

·         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.


Teaching, learning + assessment activities

Study hours

All contact hours


6 x 1 hour lectures


6 X 1 hour seminars


Scheduled tutorials


Independent study hours


6 x 3 hours reading and seminar preparation


Independent study


Assessment Hours


2,500 word essay








Lectures will provide an overview of key theoretical concepts and themes. 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, and for students to discuss information derived from independent study.

The 2,500 word essay provides an opportunity for students to engage with an aspect of the course content in some depth, and to demonstrate their ability to identify and employ relevant material and to articulate sophisticated arguments in a clear and concise manner.






Assessment Items                                       Weighting          Learning Outcomes


1 x 2500 word essay                                      100%                                      all    


·         Breadth and depth of understanding

·         Identification of relevant material through independent research

·         Level of critical and theoretically informed analysis

·         Clarity and coherence of written communication

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



Version: 1

Date of approval: