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Regional Course Eastern Africa (MA/RMA)


Admission requirements


East Africa is here defined as the region stretching from Eritrea to Tanzania, and from the coast to the Western Rift and the borders of Sudan. In many ways a contrast has to be made between “East Africa proper”, (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania) and the Horn, including Ethiopia and Sudan. Geographically, it is characterised by the juxtaposition of areas of high agricultural fertility, often but not always in the mountains, with areas which can only be exploited through extensive pastoralism. The deep history of the region was notable for the co-existence, not necessarily easy, of Kingdoms (Buganda, Ethiopia) with extensive statelessness, among both agricultural and pastoralist groups. In addition, questions of slavery, both in terms of the external slave trade and of the establishment of a slave society in East Africa itself, shaped much of the region’s history and its relationship with the extra-African world. The great diversity of religious experience within the region has also proved a source of conflict. The level of colonial exploitation also varied sharply, with the Ethiopian kingdom largely escaping formal colonial domination. Nevertheless, the “Nile Question” dominated, and still dominates, much of the region’s political economy. In terms of modern politics, the prime focus of analysis has been with regard to the accommodation of ethnic diversity, which has frequently led to warfare.

Course objectives

The course provides basic knowledge about the region in terms topics, historical processes, current events, canonical studies and recent trends in research agenda’s.



Mode of instruction

The course consists of six lectures. The lectures deal with central themes in the study of this region. The lectures provide students with basic knowledge and give an overview of canonical studies and topics. Students will read 100 pp. per week

Assessment method



Reading list

will be given during the course


h3. Contact information



  • The Nile and Geopolitics in eastern Africa
    The East Africa geopolitical landscape – how the region was tied into the world system – was strongly shaped by the Nile, as an economic asset, a symbol as well as a strategic resource, especially in the nineteenth century. The Nile was thought to be the key asset if the Egyptian economy (and thus, of the control of the Middle East); as a symbol, it signified the Egyptian cradle of civilization, while its sources were the primary prize for Victorian explorers; as a strategic resource, it was long thought that control of the Nile’s sources would give control of East and Northeast Africa as a whole. This lecture explores some of the legacies of the “Nile Question”.

  • Pastoralism, violent competition, drought; making the most of the margins
    Pastoralists are people who make a living by keeping livestock that act as a direct intermediate between man and his natural environment, the pastures. To varying degrees pastoralists also engage in other activities, notably crop farming. The majority of the world’s pastoralists are to be found in Africa which accounts for some 50-60 per cent. The continent inhabits some 120 different pastoralist ethnic groups. In absolute numbers of pastoralists Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Kenya are among the most important single countries. Nowadays, it appears that most of these pastoral societies are threatened in their existence. Once called “the lords of the plains” roaming around with their large herds on extensive pastures the nomadic pastoral future now seems to have turned bleak. Especially issues such as land tenure and drought coping strategies will be addressed.

  • Circumcision, gender and religion
    This lecture deals with approaches to gender and the body as these have been articulated in societies in the Horn of Africa. Discourses on gender – labelled as Islamic and ‘African’ – are characterized by processes of the bordering, marking and coding of identities. We will analyse how gender, class, and religion intersect in the construction of – both group and individual - identities.

  • Wildlife Tourism, gameparks
    International wildlife and nature conservation organisations have repeatedly requested that African governments set aside large tracts of land for wild animals. In the past this was often answered in the positive. East Africa – notably Tanzania, and Kenya – has witnessed a boom in community-based tourism enterprises since the early 1990s in the wake of the realisation that the future of national parks depends upon continued access of game to neighbouring dispersal areas. As a result, the role of local communities has obtained a more pronounced position. A number of ecotourism initiatives in the wildlife-inhabited semi-arid lands of southern Kenya and host to some of the most famous wildlife areas in the world, Amboseli National Park and the Maasai Mara Game Reserve will be discussed

  • Trade, Donors and Development Policies
    The political dynamic of East Africa today is notably different that of the 1970s and 1980s, when Socialist-Marxist ideologies and political model were seen as the ways to national salvation and development. In a surprising move of collective self-denial of cultural and historical factors, both insurgent movements and incumbent (often military) regimes adopted authoritarian policies and planned economy models inspired by the developmental messianism that would do away with backwardness and political marginality, and forge a common nation based on unity from diversity. Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and to some extent Sudan, were prime examples. The lecture discusses this historic change in public ideologies, political strategies and commitments of people in Eastern Africa, looks at new elite formations, and tries to chart some likely future developments.