Alex Thomson is a Principal Lecturer of Politics at Coventry University in the United Kingdom. His books include Constructive Engagement: US Foreign Policy Towards South Africa, 1981– 1988 (1996), Get Set for Politics (with Keith Faulks and Ken Phillips, 2003), and U.S. Foreign Policy Towards Apartheid South Africa, 1948-1994: Conflict of Interests (2008). With the new edition of his textbook publishing in April, Alex Thomson provides some insight into his continuing fascination with African politics:
"I have been fascinated by African politics, dare I say, for more than a fourth of a century. As an impressionable undergraduate, spurred on by an interest in the anti-apartheid movement, I took an optional African politics course as part of my degree studies. From that point onwards, I haven’t looked back.
To my mind, Africa provides a stimulating case study for political study. It has it all. In the last fifty years we have witnessed how oppressed people are able to mobilise against authoritarian rule, in this case the colonial powers, to win the right to rule themselves. We have also learned how winning power and successful governance do not necessarily follow each other. Africans have experimented with a myriad of different ideologies and styles of leadership to build a post-colonial future. These, in themselves, could involve a lifetime of study. Some of the ideas advocated by these nationalist leaders rival the ‘Great Thinkers’ studied in the history of European political thought. Then there are the notions of representation and legitimacy advanced by African politicians. Is the individual to be represented, or the clan or the ethnic group? Is the job of the government to balance existing interests within society, or provide a new direction for the nation, building a different social order? Africa also permits a stark study of the value of political institutions. The centralization of the African state, in some ways a logical response to the colonial inheritance, simply excluded many from power, and, oftentimes, the most powerful state institution, the military, was the beneficiary. And just when African politics becomes the study of inefficient, greed, corruption, state collapse and suffering, along comes the new wave of ‘democracy’ in the later 1980s and 1990s, partially re-legitimising the state. Civil society, several decades on, once again mobilised to defeat an oppressive state.
The reward of charting this ebb and flow in the relationship between state and civil society in Africa at the macro level is only surpassed by seeking an understanding of the intricate details that this power struggle reveals at the micro level. What’s not to be fascinated about? Africa, in all its vivid, sometimes depressing, sometimes heartening, reality brings so much to the study of politics. With any luck, I will have the privilege of continuing to learn from this continent for another twenty-five years."
An Introduction to African Politics is published in April, and more details can be found below.