GV4F9      Half Unit
The Challenges of Governance and Conflict in sub-Saharan Africa

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Omar Shahabudin McDoom


This course is available on the MSc in Comparative Politics, MSc in Conflict Studies, MSc in Gender, Peace and Security and MSc in Global Politics. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is capped at two groups.

The deadline for applications is 17:00 on Tuesday 29 September 2020. You will be informed of the outcome by 17:00 on Wednesday 30 September 2020.

Course content

Where does the colonial legacy end and the responsibility of Africa's own leaders for the continent's current predicaments begin? Why have the modern state, democracy, and the rule of law proved so difficult to build in Africa and are there any indigenous institutions to promote instead? Is it simply trite to say overseas development assistance has hurt Africa more that it has helped? How do we choose between the myriad explanations - natural resource abundance, high ethnic diversity, poor geography, weak state capacity, arbitrary borders, inter-group inequalities, and general poverty - in accounting for Africa's high incidence of civil wars? This course is a survey of the major issues in sub-Saharan African politics which have confronted its leaders and peoples and engaged scholars and policy-makers since the end of colonial rule. As it is a graduate-level course in comparative politics, its content is guided by the aim of encouraging students to reflect critically on these big questions and to challenge widely-held assumptions about the continent. Students will be encouraged to place the issues studied into comparative historical and regional perspective. The application of important theoretical constructs in political science to real-world issues is central to the course's ethos. The ultimate goal of the course is to equip students who seek to enter the policy-making arena with a strong theoretical foundation for looking critically at Africa's ongoing challenges and the current strategies to meet them. With these questions in mind then, the course lectures then will address the following themes: (i) The colonial legacy; (ii) The modern African state; (iii) Africa's political institutions: regime type and political culture; (iv) The causes of civil wars and communal violence; (v) The termination of civil wars and communal violence; (vi) Aid and the challenge of underdevelopment; (vii) Political liberalization, elections, and democracy; (viii) The effect of natural resources; (ix) Africa in the international system: China and the West; (x) Emerging challenges on the continent - for example environmental change and demographic transition. The course will illustrate each of these themes through country case studies. The case studies will vary from year-to-year, but the goal is to select from all the major country groupings to minimize the risk of students forming a regionally-skewed perspective on a diverse continent: west, east, central, and southern Africa will be represented. The course will also draw on a range of methodological approaches - quantitative, historical, and qualitative - though students will not need any prior specialized training in these research methods.


For 2020-21, some or all of this course will be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus lectures and seminars. Students should expect a minimum of 35 hours teaching (lecture and seminars) in the Lent Term. Students will also be encouraged to participate in smaller, peer group-only meetings in advance of the seminars to discuss and prepare the week’s topic. There will be a reading week in week 6 of the LT for private study and assessment preparation.

Formative coursework

Students will be required to complete one formative essay (1,500 words).

Indicative reading

Rodney, W. (1981). How Europe underdeveloped Africa. Washington, D.C., Howard University Press, Hyden, Goran. African Politics in Comparative Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006; Bratton, M. & Van de Walle N., Democratic Experiments in Africa, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1997; Jackson, R. and Rosberg C., Personal Rule: Theory and Practice in Africa, Comparative Politics 16:4, 1984. Posner D., Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Africa, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005; Clapham C., Africa and the International System, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1996; Englebert P., State Legitimacy and Development in Africa Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2000; Rotberg R, and Gisselquist R., The Index of African Governance, Cambridge, World Peace Foundation, 2009; Herbst J., States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000; Bates R., Markets and States in Tropical Africa, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.


Essay (80%, 4000 words) in May and classroom participation (20%).

Student performance results

(2016/17 - 2018/19 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 11.1
Merit 84
Pass 4.9
Fail 0

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2019/20: 16

Average class size 2019/20: 16

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Team working