Political Science | African Politics
Y338 | 23410 | Morris MacLean


Why should we study African politics?

Most of us did not learn much about Africa in high school.  If we do
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 Continent.”

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 similar or different from politics 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.

In sum, this course is intended as an introduction to the politics of
Sub-Saharan Africa.  The course has no prerequisites so I welcome
students with any or no previous knowledge of both political science
and Africa.  Not only will we learn more about Africa, but Africa can
teach us about other parts of the developing world and ourselves.  By
the end of the course, we will see how the challenges and problems
confronting African societies concern us all.

The requirements for the course are to attend all classes, do all
assigned reading, participate in class discussion and small group
activities, write two short papers (3-5 pages each), and take one mid-
term exam, one final exam and one map quiz.