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Regional Trends: Political Transitions in Africa


Admission requirements

Required courses:

  • One of the following courses: Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies or Introduction to Globalisation and Transnational Politics


The continent of Africa has seen significant political changes over the last few decades. This course introduces key types of political change in Africa and evaluates their significance. First, we will study the main forms of politics that Africans on the continent have lived over the last half a century or so, as well as collective actions African people have taken in order to change those politics. This part will draw on a variety of sources, mainly from the social sciences. Focus will be on two waves of tentative political change, namely:

  • Decolonisation, associated with the fall of colonial empires; and

  • Democratisation, associated with the end of the Cold War and with social movements in the region promoting more inclusive and accountable governance.

Both processes have been conceptualised as transitions: from colonial rule, and from authoritarian rule. But what forms of politics, more precisely, did the African societies move away from – and move on to? What about politics actually changed?

To explore this further, in the second part of the course we will examine the thinking of leading African intellectuals and writers on political change. How do they make sense of dominant forms of politics on the continent, and how do they evaluate the political changes in Africa in recent decades? Throughout the course 3-4 African countries will be in focus, including some of those that these leading African thinkers discuss in their works.

Course Objectives

By successfully completing this course, students should be able

to gain knowledge, as manifested in the ability:

  • to analyse political change,

  • to explain how African thinkers make sense of political change on the continent,

  • to account for how categories of race, ethnicity and gender have been constructed and deployed in politics in and of Africa,

  • to examine ways in which transregional processes shape opportunities and constraints faced by actors within a particular region,

to gain certain skills, as manifested in the ability:

  • to articulate positions on African politics and defend them in the face of counter-arguments,

  • to see the world from several perspectives, especially by examining how historical experiences that are different from one’s own can lead to different interpretations,

  • to reflect critically on how politics is shaped in the nexus between structure and agency.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This is an interactive course. Students will be expected to participate by coming to class having read the core texts and raising questions and sharing remarks in response to our evolving discussion. The classroom is envisaged as a space for jointly looking into the nature of politics in and of Africa and discussing the ways in which politics in this region has changed over time. Students will also be expected to participate by writing an individual online journal.

Once in the course each student will be a part of a group which will introduce a roundtable debate to the rest of the class, on a question that is central to the course. In a mid-term exam, students will be given the opportunity to take stock of what you will have learned up until that point. You will also have the chance to study more closely a question about transitions and associated forms of political change in Africa by writing a final essay.

Assessment Method

  • Weekly reflections and synopsis: 35%,

  • Roundtable debate: 15%;

  • Essay: 50%.

Reading list

The list of readings and other course materials will be made available upon commencement of the course.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr Ingrid Samset,