African nationalism's origins are found in anti-colonial protest and the artificial boundaries of post-colonial states. But it has proven a resilient force in African politics, alongside the colonially engineered states, with few border changes in the post-independence period. Despite the artificiality of the new states and nations, only a few new states emerge, with most political conflict aimed at ensuring inclusion within the state's original boundaries. The experience of decolonization has led nationalist politics to be coalitional in form rather than ideological, bringing together diverse groups. Nation building strategies are deployed after independence to promote unity and development while depoliticizing, homogenizing, and gendering the nationalist legacy. Memorialization and iconography are deployed in this cause, but unevenly. The decades after independence are marked by single party or no-party rule in which the nationalist generations hold on to power. After the end of the cold war, when multiparty elections resumed in many states, and with the aging nationalists increasingly unable to maintain their hold on power, identity-based politics was transformed into an often violent politics of belonging, identifying some ethnic and racial groups as more fully national than others. In states that experienced liberation wars, the generation that led the struggle proved particularly resistant to handing over power, basing their claims on their nationalist credentials and seeking to discredit others. Yet generational and technological change ensured that subaltern groups, through creative and social media, as well as political movements, continued to claim, contest, and transform national imaginaries.
Interstate conflict has been rare in sub-Saharan Africa and militaries often do not fit the image of a force focused on external threats. Instead, they have often been heavily engaged in domestic politics, regularly serving as regime protection. For many militaries on the continent, the continued internal focus of the armed forces has been shaped by practices under colonialism.One defining feature of African militaries' involvement in politics is the coup d'état. From the 1960s to the 1980s coups were the primary method of regime change, making the military central to the political landscape of the continent. By the start of the 21st century there were far fewer direct attempts at military control of African states, yet militaries continue to influence politics even under civilian leadership. While there are differences in the role of militaries based on the unique circumstances of each state, there are also general patterns regarding new missions undertaken by armed forces following the end of the Cold War. These include peacekeeping, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance, all of which generally involve international partnerships and cooperation. Yet these missions have also had domestic political motivations and effects.
GENERALIZATION ABOUT AFRICAN POLITICS IS MADE DIFFICULT BY THE EXTENT TO WHICH AFRICAN STATES DIFFER FROM ONE ANOTHER. THIS ARTICLE DISCUSSES WHETHER IT IS NEVERTHELESS POSSIBLE TO UNDERSTAND AFRICAN STATES AS EXAMPLES OF THE SAME POLITICAL SYSTEM. IT ARGUES THAT BY COMPARING THE HISTORICAL PATTERNS OF POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICAN STATES, ONE CAN IDENTIFY A LIMITED NUMBER OF DISTINCT HISTORICAL PATHS. SUBSEQUENTLY DIVERGENT PATHS AROSE FROM DIFFERING RESPONSES TO EARLY POST-INDEPENDENCE POLITICAL CRISIS, PRODUCING CONTRASTING FORMS OF POLITICS AND CORRESPONDING POLITICAL SYSTEMS. FURTHER DIFFERENTIATION HAS ARISEN FROM POPULAR RESPONSES TO THE BREAKDOWN OF THESE FORMS. A MODEL OF THE PROCESS OF POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT IN POST-WAR AFRICA IS SET OUT AND USED TO CRITICIZE SEVERAL RECENT ATTEMPTS AT CHARACTERIZATION OF AFRICAN POLITICS IN WHICH EITHER STATES BELONGING TO ONE HISTORICAL PATH ARE TREATED AS REPRESENTATIVE OF ALL AFRICAN STATES, OR IN WHICH STATES FROM DIFFERENT PATHS ARE SEEN AS EXAMPLES OF THE SAME POLITICAL PROCESS.
Survey evidence indicates that political corruption is more prevalent in Africa than in any other global region, though there is also evidence of considerable variation between countries in degrees of corruption and where it is most likely to be located. Traditional explanations for the frequency of corrupt political behavior emphasized the effects of conflicting values that were a consequence of the imposition of modern forms of bureaucratic government upon societies in which authority rested upon personalized relationships. Contemporary African corruption's historic roots and its variation across the continent may be the effect of the disjuncture or "incongruency" between colonial and successor postcolonial states and the precolonial political settings upon which they were imposed. Modern neo-patrimonialism is a coping response by rulers and citizens to conditions fostered by economic scarcity and institutional incapacity. Since the 1990s, democratization and liberalization have supplied fresh incentives and opportunities for venal politicians and officials. And even among Africa's more capable and resourceful states, the institutional fluidity generated by democratic transition and economic reform has opened up possibilities of systematically organized state capture. Consequences of corruption certainly further impoverish poor people, and it is likely that corruption also limits economic growth and distorts government efforts to promote development. It is arguable that in the past, corruption may have helped to facilitate political stability but this is less likely in 2018, as evidence emerges of its corrosive effects on public trust in institutions. African anti-corruption efforts are constrained by the extent to which political power is exercised through patronage but there are instances of successful action, sometimes the byproduct of factional struggles within the political elite. As of 2018, there is no clear evidence of trends in success or failure in the work of African anti-corruption agencies.
An Introduction to African Politics provides an ideal gateway for individuals seeking to make sense of the dynamic and diverse political systems that are a feature of this fascinating part of the world.