nl en

History and Politics in Africa


Admission requirements

This course is a compulsory element of the MA and ResMA African Studies and only open to students that have been admitted in this programme.


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

At the end of the course, the students will

  1. Have obtained general knowledge of, and insight into major (current) themes in history and politics of Africa. Students 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Be able to independently write a research essay, based on primary and/or secondary sources, written in grammatically correct language, and correctly referenced.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Weekly lectures followed by group discussion

Assessment method

To complete this course successfully, students will be assessed on the basis of their essay

Participation compulsory (pass or fail)

In this lectures series, students are expected to come prepared and participate actively in class. This includes:

  • Having studied the literature in preparation for class;

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

  • Constructive contributions to the discussion in class.

In case of a ‘fail’ for participation students cannot complete this course!

Written Essay (100%)

The final product of this course is a research essay of 5,000 words (+/- 10%) on a topic of choice, relevant for the subject matter of African history and politics. The essay may be written in English, French or Dutch. The students are expected to work independently on this research essay alongside the course work. The essay should be based on primary and/or secondary sources, written in grammatically correct English, and correctly referenced in Journal of African History (JAH) reference style (see JAH Reference style). Students must write in their own words: as per University policy, essays will be automatically checked on plagiarism.
The mark for the course is based on the essay. In case of an insufficient mark, students have the opporunity to submit a rewritten version of their essay.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

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


Enrolment through uSis for the course and the examination or paper is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website


For questions related to the content of the course, please contact the lecturer, you can find their contact information by clicking on their name in the sidebar.

For questions regarding enrollment please contact the Education Administration Office Reuvensplaats

For questions regarding your studyprogress please contact the Coordinator of Studies