Political Science | African Politics and Policy Making
Y657 | 23461 | Morris MacLean

Why should we study African politics and policymaking?

When we hear about Africa, it is often the dramatic news coverage of
the continent’s crises: the devastation of the embassy bombings in
East Africa, genocide in Rwanda and now Sudan, famine in Ethiopia,
the atrocities committed by child soldiers in Liberia, or the
pandemic of HIV/AIDS.  Then, Africa indeed seems like the “Dark

But Africa and African politics is not simply tragedy.  While not
glossing over the depth and recurrence of crises in Africa, this
course seeks to uncover our commonly-held assumptions and go beyond
simple stereotypes.  During the course, we will try to understand the
complexity, variety and fluidity of African politics.  Perhaps more
than any other continent, politics are not always what they seem on
the surface; they vary tremendously from place to place; and they
change quickly and radically.  Seemingly overnight, a leader can be
ousted, the regime changed, and even the country renamed.

So how do we keep up with all of this change?  We’ll do this by
investigating two “big” questions throughout the course:
1) What are the prospects for social, economic and
political “success” in Africa?  Is there only cause for doom and
gloom, or any source of hope and optimism?  And,
2)  How are African politics and policymaking similar or different
from politics and policymaking in other developing and industrialized
countries today and in the past?

In order to answer these “big” questions, the course is organized
around four main sets of issues:
1)  the legacies of the past for African politics today;
2)  the economic challenges continuing to face Africa;
3)  the prospects for democracy in Africa; and,
4)  Africa’s relationship with other countries, donors, and NGOs.

This course is intended as a graduate-level introduction to the
politics of Sub-Saharan Africa and does not require that students
have prior experience or background in the area.  The course will be
enriched by the participation of Africanist political scientists,
Africanists outside of political science, as well as those non-
Africanist students with relevant theoretical interests in
comparative politics, public policy, IR, and political theory.  Not
only will we learn more about Africa, but Africa can test our
theories and teach us about other parts of the world and ourselves.
By the end of the course, we will see how the challenges and problems
confronting African societies concern us all.

The course requirements will include: a diversity of required
readings and films; short weekly reading response papers; weekly
participation and occasional roles as discussion facilitators; and,
one seminar paper (the nature of the paper is flexible in order to be
of the most value to students who are at various stages of their
graduate programs).