Conflict and change in sub-Saharan Africa

Class overview

This class explores the issues, ideas, and trends that shape the politics of sub-Saharan Africa, across almost 50 countries and a billion people. Unlike what often appears in the press, Africa is not all conflict, famine, and state collapse. This class offers an overview of both successful and unsuccessful cases of political and economic development in this region and seeks to answer a number of questions including: What are the legacies of colonial rule? Why do some African countries suffer political violence more frequently than other countries within Africa or without? Why has democracy been consolidated in certain African countries but regressed or collapsed in others? What accounts for the failures and successes of African countries’ economic development? How have international actors and events affected African politics and society?

Class structure

The class organized into three main sections. We start by considering the political legacies of pre-colonial societies, colonial rule, independence, and the recent decades of economic and political change. The second section introduces theoretical causes for some of Africa’s political conflicts including institutional, political, economic, and structural factors. In the third section we consider issues related to political and economic change including democratic transitions and electoral politics, economic growth and foreign assistance, and regional efforts towards political and economic cooperation.

Section 1Background: understanding African political economy
Week 1Intro. & overview: Pre-colonial & colonial history & institutions
Week 2Nationalism, independence, & decolonization
Week 3State building, state formation, & personal rule
Week 4State failure & political violence
Section 2Theories of political conflict
Week 5Political factors
Week 6Economic factors
Week 7Structural factors
Week 8Natural resource extraction
Section 3Political and economic change
Week 9Democratic transitions & elections
Week 10Economic development & aid
Week 11Int’l organizations, regional treaties, & human rights
Week 12Looking forward
Class activities

Assessment

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