African Political Thought

An Intellectual History of the Quest for Freedom

September 2021 9781787385504 240pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


African liberation is often seen in terms of heroism, but seldom in terms of thought. Even Sartre, in his preface to Frantz Fanon’s seminal The Wretched of the Earth, wrote of the ‘native’ with his coiled muscles about to explode into rebellion. The African and the black person are denied the condition of philosophy, apparently driven only by frustration and anger.

Stephen Chan’s new book charts the long history of African political thought, from the years of North American slavery, through the development of modern African nationalism and the difficulties of governing new states, to Africa’s political philosophy today, taking on the world as an equal. He dwells at length on major figures from Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah’s postcolonial generation to Biko, Mandela and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. He shows their leadership to be inseparable from their ideas, and from those of literary giants including Fanon, W.E.B. Du Bois and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.

This is no hagiography: Chan critically examines his thinkers, who also include Mugabe and Mobutu, and expresses concern for the future of Pan-Africanism. But his fascinating account reveals a thoughtful continent that has made complex, significant contributions to the world’s intellectual commons–yet continues to seek freedom.


‘For readers interested in an accessible overview of a selected cast of characters who played a significant role in Africa’s independence struggles and post-independence development, this is a worthwhile read.’ — Survival

‘This is no ordinary political history. Told through Africans’ words and deeds, and a veteran’s lens from the field, it is an intellectual genealogy of independence in its many meanings. It urges us to read Black thinkers if we are to grasp humanity’s future.’ — Shobana Shankar, Associate Professor of History, Stony Brook University, and author of An Uneasy Embrace: Africa, India and the Spectre of Race

‘An authoritative and seminal treatise on African political thought, concentrating on selected leaders. Chan contextualises and critiques ideas about African liberation, and its hopes and contradictions in practice, often resulting in mismanagement, corruption and authoritarianism.’ — Hasu Patel, Professor Emeritus, University of Zimbabwe, and former Zimbabwean ambassador

‘This truly brilliant book is an authoritative text on the history of African political thought. Historically grounded, distinctively interdisciplinary, insightfully diasporic, and lucidly analytical, this erudite and engaging work will certainly emerge as a major text in African political studies.’ — Olufemi Vaughan, Alfred Sargent Lee & Mary Ames Lee Professor of African Studies, Amherst College


Stephen Chan OBE is Professor of World Politics at SOAS University of London. He has advised governments, opposition leaders and liberation movements in many parts of Africa, and negotiated on the African side of delegations to Beijing. His many books include Spear to the West, also published by Hurst. Image © Adine Sagalyn

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