Northern Illinois University

Governmental Systems in Africa (POLS 368)

Fall 2009

Ryan J. Dowd, Atty, MPA



Purpose of the class


There are over fifty countries in Africa.  Any effort to teach you all the governmental systems in these disparate countries would be in vain.


My goals in this class are far more modest.  Anticipating that most students will have little knowledge of African politics before this class and limited contact with the specifics of the topic after this class, I hope that students will have a greater appreciation for the complexities that make governmental systems in Africa what they are.  Too many Americans do not even know that Africa is a continent, NOT a country.  American policy towards the continent is doomed in the face of such misunderstanding.


My specific goals for this class are that students will:

ü  Abandon stereotypes and caricatures of the continent in favor of ideas that are more grounded in history and reality.

ü  Better understand the forces—both internal and external—that have shaped Africa over the last 150 years.

ü  Better understand the complexities of the issues that Africa currently faces.

ü  Look at their own—and other—governmental systems differently after having looked through an ‘African’ lens.

ü  Spark (or nurture) a respect and admiration for the African continent and its people.

ü  Stretch their ability to think critically about complex issues and articulate their positions well.


My role as ‘teacher’


I do not believe that my primary role is to teach you anything.  My primary role is to create an environment that enables you to learn how to learn. 


In twenty years you will probably not remember how and why fear of Kikuyu hegemony has shaped political parties in Kenya, but you will hopefully still have retained the ability to analyze group power dynamics.


As such, I do not anticipate doing too much lecturing.  I do anticipate doing a lot of discussing.  Every student will be expected to engage in every discussion to the best of his or her abilities.


Required Books


Meredith, Martin.  2005.  The Fate of Africa:  A History of Fifty Years of Independence, (New York:  Public Affairs).


Thomson, Alex.  2004.  An Introduction to African Politics, 2nd edition (New York:  Routledge).




There will be reading assignments for every class session except the first day and the last day (final exam day).  Some of the days have quite a bit of reading.  Please leave yourself adequate time to read the assignments fully.  The Meredith book is long, but is a fairly quick read.  The Thomson book is much shorter but is very dense and full of information.  Please read it particularly carefully.  Most of the theoretical concepts come out of the Thomson book.


There will be a quiz at the beginning of every class period (mostly to ensure that students read the intended readings).  There are 13 quizzes.  I will take your top 10 grades.  If I feel that the class, generally, struggled with the material on a quiz after reading the material, I may allow students to retake the quiz at the end of the class period, after the discussion and lecture.


There will be a large final paper, due at the end of the class.  More information below.


There will be a midterm exam.  Its content will be very similar to the weekly quizzes, but will tie concepts together.




20%     Quizzes (best 10 out of 13)

20%     Participation

20%     Midterm Exam

40%     Final Paper and Presentation


How participation is graded:

            A = regular and thoughtful participation                   

            B = occasional and thoughtful participation              

            C = regular attendance, but little or no participation

            D = less than regular attendance

            F = little or no attendance


Final Paper & Presentation


A large section (40%) of your grade is based on a final paper and presentation.  It should be 12-20 pages, double spaced, single sided.


Each student will choose a different African country.  The earliest you may submit your country selection is September 3.  The latest you may do so is September 10.  Only one student may pick any particular country.  In the event that two or more students select the same country, we will flip a coin or use some other method to pick one student per country (unless there is some very compelling reason to pick one student over another).  If a student is African, he or she may not choose his/her home country.


Your paper will cover your selected country, applying themes from the semester to analyze your country.  Your paper should cover the themes that you feel are most important in shaping your particular country’s governmental systems and political climate.  Your analysis should include at least three themes, but can include more.  In fact, if more themes are particularly relevant, it should include more.  Themes can include (this is not meant to be an exhaustive list):

·         Colonial legacy

·         Effect of climate and geography

·         Political parties (one-party, no-party, multiple party)

·         Nationalist ideology

·         Ethnicity

·         Religion

·         Social classes

·         Personal rule

·         Centralization, decentralization

·         Military intervention and coups

·         External influences:  worldwide

·         External influences:  within Africa

·         Economics

·         Class differences

·         Communism, Socialism, Capitalism

·         HIV/AIDS

·         Democracy

·         Different elements of civil society

·         Effects of cold war geopolitics

·         Human rights

·         Big men

·         Personality cults

·         Irredentism

·         Agricultural vs. industrial development

·         International aid

·         Urban vs. rural interests


Your paper should give a basic introduction to the country and analyze three or more areas of particular importance to shaping its current status.  The goal is to leave the reader with a sense that he or she has a better grasp of the country and the forces that shape it.


Here is one twist with the paper:  you have to write it with a specific audience in mind and write it as a memo to that particular audience.  Possible audiences:

·         You work for an international Non Governmental Organization (NGO) that is considering expanding operations into your specific country.  Your boss has requested a report on the country and key factors that s/he should be aware of.

·         You work for the U.S. Government and your boss has asked you to provide a report on the country and key factors that s/he should be aware of.

·         You work for the United Nations and your boss has asked you to provide a report on the country and key factors that s/he should be aware of.

·         You work for a large multi-national organization that is considering expanding its operations into your specific country and your boss has asked you to provide a report on the country and key factors that s/he should be aware of.

·         Another audience if you check with me first.  (e.g. you work for the U.S. Military, a U.S. Senator, the International Criminal Tribunal, etc.)


So, the factors that you choose as “most important” should relate to this audience and context.


Your paper should start with a cover page that gives me the context:  “In this paper, I work for the Carter Center in the conflict resolution program and the program director has asked me to provide a memo on the factors that we should be aware of in considering whether to expand our operations into Sierra Leone.”  It should give me a little background (1 paragraph) into who you are writing this memo for and what they do.  It should give me a little explanation of what the specific request is.  This cover sheet does not count towards the page minimum.


You will actually write the paper as a memo (except that it needs full academic citations) using the “voice” of the assignment.  In other words, when I’m reading it, I should feel like I am your boss reading the memo for the organization we both work for.


Please talk to me about the context you want to set.  You must have it approved by October 29.  I would recommend that you pick a context that relates to your current career ambitions.  For example, if you would like to be a college professor, consider writing your paper in the context of a University considering expanding its study abroad programming (or a joint research center) to include your specific country.  If you want to be a city manager, consider writing your paper as an analysis for the city council on whether to adopt a “sister city” resolution with an African city in your specific country.  The context is limited only to your imagination.


You will present your paper to the class during the final exam period.  You do not have to have any handouts or flashy power-point presentations, but your presentation must be more than simply reading your paper to the class.  If you read your paper to the class, I will stop your presentation and reduce your paper grade by one letter grade.  You only have 5-7 minutes to present your findings.  How much time you have will be determined by the number of students in the class.  I will give you a firmer number as we get closer to the final day of class. 


During your presentation, you should give it as if your boss asked you to make your presentation to a group of professionals at the organization.  For example, using my example above, I would present it as if I was actually presenting to a group of employees of the Carter Center conflict resolution program on the factors that we should be aware of in considering whether to expand operations into Sierra Leone.  At the beginning of your presentation, please give a 30 second explanation of this context.


Please keep handouts to a minimum and use Powerpoint only if it is absolutely essential.  I am looking for a clear and succinct verbal analysis that gives your audience enough information and opinion for them to make a decision.


You will not be graded on how nervous you get or how polished your presentation is.  You will be graded on whether you seem prepared and whether you can follow the directions of giving a succinct presentation that sums up the information in the allotted time.  Running significantly over the allotted time will damage your grade.


A basic explanation of how I grade:

A = Follows directions, provides a healthy analysis of the country and forces shaping it and handles

topics with nuance and insight.  Does more than simply regurgitate other writings.

            B = Follows directions and provides a healthy analysis of the country and forces shaping it.

            C = Merely follows basic directions.  Lacks deep analysis or any real insight.  Reads like a mere book


            D = Fails to follow basic directions, but some attempt is made.

            F = Little attempt is made to even follow basic directions.




I will not take attendance per se.  Poor attendance, though, will seriously affect your grade in two ways:

1)      It is hard to participate if you are not in class, and there is a participation grade.  So, attendance is reflected in your participation grade, which is 20% of your course grade.

2)      It is hard to take the reading quizzes if you are not in class.





Misc. Policies:


1.      Makeup Exams: Makeup exams will only be given in extraordinary circumstances.  If such circumstances arise, please contact the instructor as soon as possible and before the scheduled exam. To keep the process fair for everyone in the course, students may be asked to support requests for makeup exams with documentation. A missed examination without prior notification and a documented excuse will result in a zero and a course grade of “F” as opposed to an incomplete.


2.      Students with Disabilities: Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have an impact on their coursework must register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building (753-1303). CAAR will assist students in making appropriate instructional and/or examination accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


3.      Late Assignments: An assignment submitted after the due date will be penalized by a deduction of ten points or one letter grade per day. Since students will have had several weeks to complete their work, this standard will be waived only in extraordinary circumstances. 


4.      Submitting Written Work: Assignments should be submitted through Blackboard SafeAssign.


5. Extra Credit: Extra credit assignments will not be given on an individual basis to raise final course grades.  Like makeup exams, such projects raise serious questions of equity.  In the event such a project is made available every member of the class will be given the opportunity to complete it.


6.      Incomplete Requests: Such petitions will be granted only in extraordinary circumstances. The instructor reserves the right to ask for documentation to verify the problem preventing completion of the course by the normal deadlines. If the student does not present documentation from a university office or official, the matter will be left to the instructor’s discretion.        


7.      Academic Dishonesty: Regarding plagiarism, the NIU Undergraduate Catalog states: “students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging them. Students guilty of or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university.” The above statement encompasses a paper written in whole or in part by another; a paper copied word-for-word or with only minor changes from another source; a paper copied in part from one or more sources without proper identification and acknowledgement of the sources; a paper that is merely a paraphrase of one or more sources, using ideas and/or logic without credit even though the actual words may be changed; and a paper that quotes, summarizes or paraphrases, or cuts and pastes words, phrases, or images from an Internet source without identification and the address of the web site. Please note that copies of papers written in previous years are retained by the instructor. Also, all papers will be checked within the SafeAssign system. In short, students are advised to do their own work and learn the rules for proper quoting, paraphrasing, and footnoting.


8.      Religious Observances: The University asks instructors to make students aware of the following policy. “Northern Illinois University as a public institution of higher education in the State of Illinois does not observe religious holidays.  It is the university’s policy, however, to reasonably accommodate the religious observances of individual students in regards to admissions, class attendance, scheduling examinations and work requirements.  Such policies shall be made known to faculty and students.  Religious observance includes all aspects of religious observance and practice as well as belief.  Absence from classes or examinations for religious observance does not relieve students from responsibility for any part of the course work required during the period of absence.  To request accommodation, students who expect to miss classes, examinations or other assignments as a consequence of their religious observance shall provide instructors with reasonable notice of the date or dates they will be absent.” The instructor is respectful and fully supportive of students who wish to participate in religious observances. Excused absences will be provided, but students must understand and follow the above policy with respect to reasonable notice and making up work.


About Me


I am the Executive Director of Hesed House, Inc. in Aurora. I have been Executive Director for 5 years, worked there for 10 years and volunteered there since Junior High.  I also have a (very) small legal practice working exclusively with nonprofits.


I went to NIU for my MPA and JD.  I went to North Central College, the University of Tennessee and the University of Ghana for my BA in Religious Studies.


I have been to Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya (plus a few minutes each in Senegal, Tanzania and Rwanda, though a few minutes doesn’t really count).  I was an international election observer in Ghana for their 2008 national elections.  I hope to serve as an election observer in Africa in Spring 2010 (perhaps Cote d’Ivoire or Sudan, if they stop postponing elections).


I am married (Krissie) and have two children, Cameron (10) and Hailey (6).


My work phone at Hesed House is 630-897-2165.  My cell phone is __________________.  (I will tell you the first day of class.  I don’t want it on the internet). Please do not call my cell phone before 8am or after 9pm.


The best way to reach me is by my work email:  _______________________.  I check it very often and try to respond quickly.




Thomson Reading

Meredith Reading


Aug 27



Introduction to class

Sep 3

Chapters 1,2



Chapter 1

Country selections accepted today.

Sep 10

Chapter 3

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Country selections due by today.

Sep 17

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Chapter 5


Sep 24

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7


Oct 1

Chapter 6

Chapter 8

Chapter 9


Oct 8

Chapter 7

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Midterm Exam

Oct 15

Chapter 8

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Last day to drop a class at NIU is October 16.

Oct 22

Chapter 9

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18


Oct 29

Chapter 10


Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Get approval from instructor on “context” of paper by this date.

Nov 5

Chapter 11

Chapter 23

Chapter 24


Nov 12

Chapter 12

Chapter 26

Chapter 27


Nov 19


Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31


Nov 26

No class

Dec 3


Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35


Dec 10?

Paper due and presentations given