Not available in 2022/23
GV4F9      Half Unit
The Challenges of Governance in sub-Saharan Africa

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr George Ofosu


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 one group.

Course content

This course introduces students to some of the major arguments, hypotheses and debates in the literature on politics in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The material will cover the period between the end of the colonial period to the contemporary era. The course will help students develop the skills to be more intelligent consumers of the extant literature on politics in SSA. The primary questions that motivate the course are: (a) to what extent are political outcomes in contemporary Africa a consequence of its history, society, and geography? (b) Why are state structures and institutions weak in Africa compared to most other regions? (c) Why did (do?) African leaders choose growth-killing policies, (d) What is the role of ethnicity in Africa’s economic and political development? (e) (Under what conditions) Are multiparty elections better for good governance in sub-Saharan Africa?

To this end, the course is structured into four parts. In the first part, we take a tour of Africa’s recent political history, examining pre-colonial structures, the impact of the slave trade and colonialism on the polities, societies, and economies of post-colonial states. We then consider the social and political forces that shape African countries’ forms of government and the structure and capacity of their states. In the third part, we briefly survey the determinants of Africa’s economic development, focusing specifically on policy choices, legal systems, natural resources and the ambivalent role of foreign aid. The fourth part is devoted to Africa’s democratic experiment focusing on the issues of political parties, election fraud and violence, transparency initiatives, and political representation in Africa.

Political scientists have sought to address these and other research questions using varied methodological approaches. Accordingly, the scholarly literature we will review draws on quantitative, historical, and qualitative methods—though students will not need any prior specialized training to understand the debates and questions raised in them. Also, because many developments in African politics cannot be understood in isolation from African societies or their historical context, this course augments political science research with work by journalists, historians, economists, and anthropologists.


For 2021-22, 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 20 hours teaching 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.
Class participation (20%).

Student performance results

(2018/19 - 2020/21 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 15.1
Merit 82.8
Pass 2.2
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Controlled access 2021/22: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Team working