International and Development Economics Online Graduate Program
December 9, 2016
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Democracy and Development: Perspectives from Africa

Learn about the drivers of democratic development in contemporary Africa.

About this course

On a continent once dominated by closed political systems, democratic political institutions have taken root in more than a dozen African countries over the past 20 years. In this course, you’ll learn about this remarkable experiment, and try to better understand both the opportunities and the challenges of democratic governance.

We have interviewed more than 50 African academics, politicians, leaders, and students about how democracy works, and in this course, we provide opportunities to learn from these various African experts.

Each week, MIT Professor Evan Lieberman will introduce key topics in the study of democratic development in Africa, and highlight key ideas and insights from various African colleagues. Students will gain a solid introduction to African political development using analytical tools from the social sciences.

The course is for anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of African politics; learning about relationship between democratic politics and the attainment of improved human development; and/or obtaining an introduction to political science approaches to these topics.

What you’ll learn

  • Impact of slavery, colonial rule, and geography on contemporary political and economic development.
  • How various democratic institutional designs are being used in African democracies, and the ways they shape society.
  • How to understand the identities and interests of African citizens, and how those get articulated in democratic polities.
  • The workings of the judiciary, and the innovative ways the justice system expands human rights in African democracies
  • Develop an overall picture of the major challenges and opportunities in African states, and the strategic ways citizens, governments, and civil society are working towards developing better functioning states and communities.

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Course Format

  • Week 1: Introduction
  • Week 2: From Difficult Legacies to Democratization:  Discussion of how historical legacies of slavery and colonial rule affected trajectories of African development, and the critical regime transitions to democracy in the late 20th century. You will hear from leading scholars of African political development.
  • Week 3: The African Citizenry: Diversity, Public Opinion, and Civil Society:  This module will focus on understanding the characteristics, wants, and needs of citizens living in contemporary African democracies. You will  learn about the role of different cleavages such as ethnicity and gender. Researchers from the Afrobarometer project discuss a key tool for measuring public opinion.
  • Week 4: Understanding the Rules of the Game: Institutions in African Democracies: This module will discuss some of the key challenges of democratic rule and explores a range of institutional solutions. You will look at the tradeoffs associated with these options and how they play themselves out in various African settings. Political insiders describe how these systems work.
  • Week 5: Accountability and Service Delivery:  In this module, you discuss the various channels through which citizens hold politicians accountable and investigate the relationship between democratic politics and the actual attainment of government-provided goods and services. You will highlight some frequent bottlenecks as well as examples in which democratic pressures have advanced key development policies. You will speak with leading NGO representatives and leading scholars of African accountability.
  • Week 6: The Expanding Role of Human Rights and the Judiciary: This module explores the expanding role of courts and the increasing use of human rights appeals in various African countries. You will focus on reflections from a High Court Judge in Kenya, and attorneys from a leading human rights law firm in South Africa.
  • Week 7: Digital Democracy:  This module explores the ways in which new technologies, especially new media, are transforming the ways in which citizens obtain access to information, mobilize, and apply pressure to governments. While new technologies offer exciting opportunities, we also highlight substantial challenges. You will gain firsthand insights from leading scholars and actors in the African digital space.

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