nl en

History and Politics in Africa


Admission requirements

  • Students should be enrolled in the MA African Studies, MA History: Colonial & Global History or MA International Studies
    Students are expected to have a basic understanding of African History and Politics. To establish this, an entry exam will be taken during the first seminar. Students are required to pass an entry exam to further participate in the course. Students should study the following literature in preparation for the exam:

  • Richard Reid, A History of Modern Africa: 1800 to the present

  • Patrick Chabal, The Politics of Suffering and Smiling


African history and politics are intertwined. The course will provide an overview of the historical evolution of power on the continent as well as an introduction to political processes from the perspectives of the social sciences. This block is not limited to the political history of power narrowly defined; in the context of African societies the ‘political’, ‘religious’ and ‘social’ overlap. Problematising these categories is a fundamental part of this course. The study of the history of power in Africa is a history of people set in the context of their ideas. beliefs and material culture against a background of continuities informed by (reinvented) tradition and constant change induced by mobility and technological development. By the same token, the study of politics through the social sciences has moved well beyond ‘high politics’ and the formal to include the study of the informal, the ‘grass roots’, the religious and the ‘occult’.
While questioning the conventional classification of African history into pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial, this course provides an introduction into the historical development of power in Africa covering all these periods. The focus will be on the historical development of concepts and practices of political power; the different sources of ideology; legitimacy and processes of legitimation; social stratification and patterns of political mobilisation. Narrative themes in elaborating these conceptualisations include the rise of the one-party state; the Cold War; violent conflicts; and democratisation.

Course objectives

Knowledge and insights:
Upon successful completion of this course students will have:

  • A thorough overview of the historical development of conceptualisations and practices of power in Africa within the broader historical context of Africa’s pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial history.

  • A grasp of major (current) themes in history and politics of Africa. They will have developed an insight in the historical roots of contemporary political processes in Africa and will be able to grasp and work with relevant conceptualisations used in the analysis of African politics.

Upon successful completion of this course, students will have learned and improved the following skills:

  • The ability to independently identify and select primary sources and secondary literature;

  • The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question and execute the research;

  • The ability to analyse and evaluate literature and sources for the purpose of producing an original scholarly argument;

  • The ability to interpret a corpus of sources;

  • The ability to provide constructive academic feedback.



Mode of instruction

Weekly seminar, with brief introductory lectures followed by in-class discussion with intensive student input based on course literature and self-selected additional material by the students.

Course Load

5EC = 140 hours:

  • 7 X 2 hour seminars = 14 hours

  • Self-study and preparation for class: 7 × 6 hours = 42 hours

  • Research and essay writing: 84 hours

    10EC = 280 hours:

  • 7 X 2 hour seminars = 14 hours

  • Self-study and preparation for class: 7 × 6 hours = 42 hours

  • Research and essay writing: 224 hours

Assessment method

To complete this course successfully, students will be assessed on their performance on the following aspects:
Participation (20%):

  • Having studied the literature in preparation for class;

  • Active participation in the seminar, showing proof of a good understanding of the literature;

  • Constructive contributions to the discussion in class;

  • Providing constructive peer feedback.
    Identification of Source Material (10%):

  • Students should select a piece of primary source material relevant to the seminar topic concerned, and;

  • Briefly present the source to the group and elaborate on its relevance for the theme concerned.
    Written essay (50%):

  • Students will independently conduct a research and write a written essay of 5000 words;

  • The essay should be based on both primary and secondary sources.
    Oral presentation of written essay (20%):

  • In the final seminar session, students will each present their research paper and will receive (peer) feedback

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average. In case of an insufficient mark, students have the opportunity to submit a rewritten version of their essay.

Students who wish to obtain 10 ec for this course are required to write a longer paper (10.000 words):
  • deadline 15 December 2016


Students should self-enrol for the course on blackboard. Blackboard will be used as a means of exchange of course information and documents between students and lecturers

Reading list

An overview of selected literature will be provided in the syllabus.


This has to be filled out by the key-user of the department. ### Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs



Dr. K. Van Walraven
Prof. Dr. J.B. Gewald
Dr. M.J. de Goede


Students of MA International Studies have the possibility to extend the course to 10EC. Please consult the lecturers to discuss additional work required.