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African Politics

Module Code: PO4710

Module Name: African Politics

  • ECTS Weighting: 15
  • Semester/Term Taught: Michaelmas + Hilary Term
  • Contact Hours: 2 hour seminars weekly
  • Module Personnel: Lecturer - Dr. Shane Mac Giollabhui
  • Office hours: Tuesday, 10am-12noon
  • 2016-2017 Module Syllabus

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module, student should be able to:

  • understand the impact of colonial rule on the development of state and society in Africa (1880s–1950s);
  • describe accurately the organization and ideology of nationalist movements in Africa (1950–60s);
  • appreciate how, and under what circumstances, democracy collapsed in Africa’s ‘first wave’ of independence (early 1970s);
  • understand the durability of one-party states in Africa (1970–1990s);
  • diagnose the cause of economic failure in the Africa (1980s);
  • identify the conditions that led to the democratic transition in Africa (1990s);
  • explain why some democracies survived and flourished, while others became increasingly illiberal, or collapsed (2000s).

Module Learning Aims

This objective of this module is to develop students’ understanding of the theory and practice of democracy in Africa.


Module Content

This course is about democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the course of the year, we will examine two of the oldest questions in comparative politics: why do some countries become democratic, while others do not; and why do some democracies endure, while others fall apart? The course of divided into two discrete components. In Michaelmas term, we move chronologically from the colonial occupation of Africa (1880s –1950s) to the organization and ideology of nationalist movements who secure independence (largely in the 1960s), the economic crisis and closure of political space (1970s), the hollowing out of states in Africa’s ‘lost decade’ (1980s), the (re)opening of this political space in the transition to democracy (1990s), and finally the divergent trajectories – decay or consolidation – taken by different countries (2000s). In Hilary term, we follow precisely the same general lines of inquiry, but apply our comparative framework to understand a specific case, South Africa. We begin with the construction of the apartheid state (1940s–1950s) and move on to the history of the liberation struggle (1960s–1990s), the transition to an ‘ordinary democracy’ (1994), and the practice of democracy in the era of majority-rule (1994–present).

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Recommended Reading List

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. In my Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

Bratton, Michael, and Nicolas Van de Walle. Democratic Experiments in Africa: Regime Transitions in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge: University Press, 1997).

Lodge, Tom. Black Politics in South Africa (London: Longman, 1983).

Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom (London: Abacus, 1994).

Mamdani, Mahmood. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (London: James Currey Publishers, 1999).

Nicholas Cheeseman, David Anderson, and Andrea Schreiber (eds), Handbook of African Politics (London: Routledge, 2013).

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Assessment Details


This module is examined through a combination of a three-hour end-of-year exam (60%), two 2,000-word essays (30%), and a series of 1,000-word weekly assignments (10%).

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Last updated 19 September 2016 polsci@tcd.ie.