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African Politics in Comparative Perspective (PO239)

Many popular images of Africa portray it as the world’s ‘Dark Continent’, as a monolithic place bedevilled by corruption, poverty, underdevelopment, famine, ‘tribal’ hatred and civil war. However, these images propagate a misleading picture of the continent, and they obscure far more than they reveal. While deprivation and conflict are undoubtedly prevalent, there are also signs of dynamic political, social and economic change across sub-Saharan Africa. This module considers the ‘big questions’ regarding the post-colonial state in Africa. Focusing upon state-society relations, the impact of Western interventions, the causes of civil war, and the prospects for development, the module challenges popular images of ‘Africa’ and provides students with the theoretical and conceptual tools for developing a more nuanced perspective of contemporary African politics.

Programme Content

This module challenges popular representations of the African continent through theoretical, historical and comparative perspectives. The module begins by historicising the African state, analysing both the continent-wide trends, and the disparate experiences of colonial rule and early independence politics. Following this, the module explores the legacies and continuities of colonial practice in the post-colonial state, and critically engages with the political and economic impact of international aid conditionalities. The second half of the lecture series moves on to discuss contemporary challenges and developments in comparative perspective, focusing in particular upon democratisation processes in theory and in practice.

graffiti The module concludes by analysing the causes of conflict across the continent and by reflecting upon Africa’s ‘success’ stories. The lectures will draw upon a range of different cases, and students are encouraged to develop their own knowledge of specific countries and regions. By the end of the module, students will have developed an understanding of key challenges and issues in contemporary African politics, and will have an awareness of the complex historical, domestic and international dynamics that shape political, social and economic development across the continent.