Political Science Politics of West Africa
David Ehrhardt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0043


Nigerian “419” scams, civil war violence in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the relatively recent traumas of colonial rule: all examples of the troubling features that people commonly associate with West African societies. At closer inspection, however, a more complex picture emerges. In this picture, West Africa boasts a historical legacy of one of the most developed precolonial forms of statehood on the continent, the Sokoto Caliphate, as well as contemporary examples of ambitious regional integration. Moreover, from the arid Sahel to the voluptuous greens of the Niger Delta, the region contains unparalleled riches in resources and biodiversity. Diversity also extends into the social realm, with the complex and myriad ethnic, linguistic, and religious communities that weave and maintain West Africa’s social, political, and economic fabrics. From grinding poverty to stupendous resource riches, and from civil wars to tourist beaches, West Africa is thus a region of contrasts and the politics of the region, understood to include all actions and institutions involved in the governance of West Africa, reflect these contrasts. This article presents a selection of excellent academic texts on this diverse and fascinating realm of African politics. It discusses the themes of electoral politics, the nature of the state, and democratization alongside the impact of ethnic, religious, class, and gender identities and the politics of collective violence, in an attempt to do justice to the disciplinary and thematic heterogeneity of the academic works it presents.

General Overviews

Starting with the major historical transformations that West Africa experienced in the 20th century, this section presents works that can help to make sense of some of the most important historical trends and developments. Lovejoy 2005 provides an example of politics and Islamic state-making before colonial rule, while Crowder 1984 details the ways in which the French and English governed West Africa. Subsequently, Kirk-Greene and Bach 1995, Zeleza and Eyoh 2003, and Cruise O’Brien, et al. 1989 bridge the tumultuous years since independence. Eyoh and Stren 2007 and Olukoshi 2001 both analyze pertinent aspects of contemporary politics, with the rapid urbanization and political-economic uncertainties that characterize most of the region. Finally, as a resource for general support on West African research, the reader is referred to the West African Research Association and its research center in Dakar, Senegal.

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