Module Ten

Introduction to Module Ten: African Politics

This module is comprised of seven learning activities. The completion of all activities in this module may take three to four 50 minute class periods or longer. Teachers may choose to teach the entire module or to select among the learning activities.

Overview: The purpose of Module Ten: African Politics is to introduce students to the diversity and complexity of politics and governance in Africa, historically and contemporaneously. The knowledge provided and issues highlighted in the module are presented in a manner that addresses and corresponds to national and state level guidelines for social studies. Through engagement with the seven learning activities designed for this module, students will gain a basic understanding of the politics and governments of Africa, while concurrently sharpening their ability to critically analyze political practices and relationships within and between countries.

The learning activities are designed to be taught sequentially. However, each unit can be taught on its own if a teacher is not inclined to teach the entire module. Completion of the entire module will take three or more 50 minute class periods.

PURPOSE: This module will introduce students to political systems, systems of government, and politics in Africa beginning with pre-colonial times and ending with the post-colonial period. In accomplishing this goal, the learning activities will illustrate and increase students' understanding of concepts used in studying civics, government, and politics that have been introduced in prior social studies classes.

In American schools, politics and government are most often taught within the context of Civics Education. Civics education has a normative orientation. That is, the over-arching goal of civics education is the socialization of students into active, participating citizens. To accomplish this goal, students need to have a thorough grounding in the U.S. system of government. The general purpose of studying the politics and governmental systems of Africa, past and present, is not normative, but analytical. Through the study of systems of politics and governance in Africa, students will develop critical analytic skills that will enable a clearer and more comprehensive understanding of political issues and problems confronting this important region of the world.

In addressing political and governmental processes in contemporary Africa, three themes will be featured. First, political systems, structures, and practices are historically situated. To understand politics and governance in Africa today, students have to have an understanding of the pre-colonial, and more importantly, colonial contexts in which contemporary political structures and practices were formed. Secondly, there is great political diversity in Africa. Consequently, it is incorrect to generalize about politics in Africa from either experiences of crisis or examples of political stability. Thirdly, African politics are closely connected to the global political economy.

A Note on Photographs.

Throughout this module, numerous photographs will be used. It is important to remember that photographs do not represent the "ways things are." A photograph of a political meeting in Tanzania is not representative of how all political meetings take place in Tanzania, still less in other African countries. Such a photograph is just one among many possible representations of political organization in Africa, just as a photograph of you playing your favorite game gives only one snapshot of American adolescents at play.

Photos are used in this module to help illustrate political activities and practices in Africa, and they do not represent a uniform way in which people engage in the political process.


In this module, students will be introduced to a number of unfamiliar political terms and concepts. A glossary of political terms used in the module has been included. When unfamiliar words and concepts are used for the first time, they will be italicized and in bold. By clicking on the underlined word students will be linked to the glossary.


  1. Why do human societies need governments?
  2. What types of governments were developed in pre-colonial Africa?
  3. What is the relationship between economic systems and political practice in Africa?
  4. Did all European colonial powers develop similar political systems in their African colonies?
  5. What was the political legacy of the colonial political system for independent African governments?
  6. What were the three main systems of governments that developed in Africa in the first 30 years after independence?
  7. What was Africa's Second Independence/Liberation?
  8. What are the function and goals of the Organization of African Unity? How do these goals relate to the idea of Pan Africanism?
  9. What has been the impact of the Cold War on Africa?


After completing this module the students will have:

  1. A clearer understanding of the rich diversity of political systems and practice in Africa.
  2. An appreciation for the importance of historical legacy in framing contemporary political practice in Africa.
  3. A better understanding of the complexity of political issues confronting contemporary African nation-states.
  4. A keener awareness of the role of the global political economy in shaping contemporary African politics.
  5. The ability to think more critically about political problems, practices and relationships in Africa.

Begin this module with Activity One or go to one of the other activities in this module.

Suggested Readings


Teachers Notes