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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.

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 class. 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 understanding

  1. Multidisciplinary knowledge of and insight into societies and cultures of Africa at an advanced level.
  2. A thorough understanding of the societal relevance of the study subject.
  3. General knowledge of and insight into current issues and debates within the overall field and main disciplines of African Studies (History, Politics, Economics, Geography, Culture Studies, Linguistics and Anthropology, insofar as relevant to African Studies); in particular a grasp of 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.
  4. Advanced knowledge and understanding of the main theories, key concepts and methodological approaches and techniques of at least two of the following disciplines in relation to African Studies : Linguistics, Culture Studies, Anthropology, Geography, Political Science, History or Economics; in particular 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.

Applying knowledge and understanding

  1. The ability to coherently understand relevant issues in African Studies, key concepts, and research methods of the mentioned disciplines in African Studies and to apply this in independent research, as well as in other professional settings to complex problems.
  2. The technical and cognitive skills to collect, select, analyse and critically evaluate data and academic literature, in order to formulate and test working hypotheses and to formulate an answer to research questions.
  3. The ability to work with a complex body of sources of diverse nature and to report on this analysis either orally and/or in written form.
  4. The ability to apply academic knowledge and insights to other professional domains, such as policy, development, business or journalism.

Ability to formulate judgements

  1. Formulate judgements, based on a question or problem in the field of African Studies, even when the student has limited information due to lacunae in the data available
  2. Take into account social and cultural, academic and ethical aspects relevant to the analysis of complex questions and the formulation of judgements.
  3. Reflect on methodological, historical and ethical-social aspects of African Studies.


  1. Oral and written skills to clearly communicate the outcomes based on the student’s own academic research, knowledge, motifs, and considerations to professionals as well as the broader public.

Learning Skills

  1. Has the learning skills to continue further study at a professional level or to start a PhD program more or less independently, and of an autonomous character.
  2. Is able and aware of the necessity to keep abreast of relevant developments in the academic and practitioners field.
  3. Is able to assess where his/her own research/work can contribute to academic or practioners’ fields;


African Studies

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

140 hours (5 ECTs):

  • 6 X 3 hour seminars = 18 hours

  • Self-study and preparation for class: 6 x 6 hours = 36 hours

  • Research and essay writing: 86 hours

  • For those pursuing the 10 ECT option research & essay writing will amount to 226 hours

Assessment method

To complete this course successfully, students will be assessed on their performance on the following aspects:

Participation (pass or fail):

  • 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.

Written essay (100%) (assessment of course objectives 1-7, 9-15):

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

  • The essay should be based on primary and/or secondary sources.
    In case of an insufficient mark, students have the opportunity to submit a rewritten version of their essay.

In order to pass this course, students need a pass for their participation and a passing grade for 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.


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.


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


Dr. K. Van Walraven

Education Administration Office van Wijkplaats:

Coordinator of Studies: P.C. Lai LL.M. MSc