First-Year Studies: Africa in the International System


Investigations of the politics, economics, and societies of sub-Saharan Africa often, unfortunately, present African states and their populations in isolation from the international system. This course investigates the politics of African states and their populations as part of world politics from colonialism to formal democracy in order to explore the myriad connections between advanced industrial states such as the United States and geographically distant and economically less-developed African states. We will engage in a rigorous examination of the politics and economics of colonial and postcolonial rule and then move to a focus on the genesis and impact of recent economic and political transitions. Key questions include: How are postcolonial African states distinctive from other postcolonial states? In what ways are postcolonial states linked to their former colonizers? How do ethnicity, class, and gender identities play into contemporary politics? What role have Western states played in the presence or absence of democracy in African states? How do the politics of patronage affect processes of political and economic change? What impact have international financial institutions played in aggravating or alleviating conditions of poverty? What choices and trade-offs do Africa’s postcolonial leaders and citizens face, and what role do African states and their citizens play in the international community? This course will not investigate the experiences of all African countries but will address these questions by drawing upon the experiences of a number of states, including: Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Zaire/Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa. We will draw upon a variety of methodological and disciplinary approaches to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of contemporary African politics as they are embedded in and affect international politics.