English 3140, Spring 2023

African Literature

This course seeks to use African literature, autobiography, memoir, film, library and on-line sources to begin to understand the complexity of contemporary Africa, the challenges facing the continent, and the many common issues Africans and Americans confront. Those common issues include the climate crisis, health care and the global pandemic, economic inequality, racism/Black Lives Matter, government corruption and challenges to democracy, educational opportunity, religious extremism, women's rights, refugees, and more. A cornerstone of this course is the idea that we can make a difference through collaboration and mutual respect.

Africa is young and growing quickly; half of the population of Africa is under 20 years old. More than 70% of the world's population growth in this century will take place in Africa. Much of our reading will be about young people, many college age, their life experiences and how they are addressing issues and creating new possibilities.

Learning about Africa often reflects back to a learning about the United States and the rest of the world. We need to challenge the stereotypes that media and popular culture present to us about Africa - for example:


And we need to learn that there is more than a single story:


As the students in this class immerse themselves in learning about Africa, they will participate in developing collaboration and making a difference in Africa and America through a Collaboration Project that will culminate during the WMU Climate Emergency Month in March.

Our class will also undertake collaborative online discussion with college students engaged in similar reading in Wales, and perhaps in Senegal.      

Investigations of African literature, film, music, daily life, history, religion, news, politics, etc. will help students learn more about the the rich and diverse cultures of contemporary Africa.

Clearly, in this class students need to be informed about the world, especially Africa. Students are expected to read regularly the New York Times and other news sources, including African news sources. WMU provides a free NYT subscription. The Guardian Africa and the BBC. Africa are free. African news sources such as All Africa.com, Africa News, African News Links, African News Websites.

This course will follow WMU procedures regarding the COVID pandemic and academic honesty. Controversy and difference of opinion are vital to our understanding and welcomed.

Since the class is discussion-based, attendance and preparation are essential. Every student is expected to come to class every day having finished the reading and ready to discuss it. Missing any classes will affect your learning! Missing three classes will lower your final grade and missing five or more classes may lead to failing the course. Carefully study the discussion, preparation, participation, attendance, grading, and learning expectations for this class.

Dr. Webb's office is 723 Sprau Tower, 387-2605, and his office hours are Mon/Wed after class, and by appointment and email at allen.webb@wmich.edu.


Wangari Maathai, Unbowed
Sembene Ousmane, Xala
Trevor Noah, Born A Crime
Helon Habila, Oil on Water
Nnedi Okorafor, Lagoon
Laila Lalami, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
(Though the links above go to Amazon, these book have also been ordered for the WMU Student bookstore, and can be found at independent bookstores.)

Major Assignments

Class Participation 17%
Investigations 17%
Activism Analysis Paper 17%
I-Search Paper 17%
Final Exam 17%
Collaboration Project 17%

Electronic Syllabus

Jan 9: Monday Introductions

1. Join our class phone message system, Remind. From your phone text "@7ec3ddh" to 81010.

Jan 11: Wednesday Google Earth, Africa Background

1. Study the syllabus and bring questions to class.

2. Spend (at least) an hour on Google Earth learning everything you can about Africa.

3. Bring a list of at least 20 things you learn about Africa from Google Earth.

4. Find 2 news articles about Africa you find interesting from the news sources listed above, and write a paragraph about what you learned from each one.

5. Study the map of Africa and try to learn the location of African countries.

Jan 16: Monday Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Attend MLK Day Teach-In!

Jan 18: Wednesday Postcolonial Transition

1. Read: Unbowed Chapters 1-6

2. Due: 1st Investigation DUE

Jan 23: Monday Postcolonial Transition Con't

1. Read: Unbowed Chap 7-10

Jan 25: Wednesday Postcolonial Transition Con't

1. Read: Finish Unbowed

2. Write: 3 pages of Activist Analysis Paper

Jan 30: Monday Climate Crisis in Africa

1. Watch: Dr. Karowe's lecture on Climate Change in Africa. Part I & Part II. (If you have an issue viewing, try a different browser.)  

2. Pick at least 3 slides from each part of the lecture (Part I & Part II), and write one question or comment about each slide.

3. Activist Analysis Paper DUE

Feb 1: Wednesday Climate Change and Collaboration Project

1. Read: McKibben review of Our Final Warning

2. Watch: Greta Thunberg Ted Talk

3. Read: An Exam Question   

4. Make a list of ideas for ways you might do the Collaboration Project and do some online research you can share with the class.

Feb 3: Friday: Second Investigation Due

Feb 6: Monday Oil and the Niger Delta

1) Read: Niger Delta Background

2) View Sweet Crude promotion reel:


Also: this video about the Coltan trade in Congo Coltan trade, scramble for African oil, scramble for African iron ore, this student presentation on Oil Companies in the Niger Delta, and other sites, films or resources you can find via Google looking under "new scramble for Africa.

Feb 8: Wednesday 1. Read: Oil on Water

1. Read: Chapters 1-8

2. Write: 4 Discussion Questions.

3. Join a group of 5-6 other students, and identify several 1 hour time blocks when your group could Zoom with students from the University of Cardiff - to discuss the novel; they are 5 hours ahead of us.

Feb 13: Monday Oil on Water Con't

1. Read: Chapters 9-15

2. This week hold discussions about the novel with University of Cardiff students, take notes, and report to the class.

Feb 15: Wednesday Oil on Water Con't
1. Read: Finish Oil on Water

2. Participate in online conversation about the novel with students at the University of Cardiff.

Feb 20: Monday Collaboration Project Planning Day

1. Investigation DUE

Feb 22: Wednesday Collaboration Project Planning Day

Feb 27: Monday Xala and Neocolonialism

1. Read Xala

Mar 1: Wednesday Neocolonialism

View: Stealing Africa - Why Poverty? (58min English Subtitles) from Why Poverty? on Vimeo. This Community Atlas is also an interesting resource.

Mar 6-10 Spring Break

Mar 13: Monday

Collaboration Project Planning Day

1. Investigation DUE

Mar 15: Wednesday

South African Apartheid

1. Read: Born a Crime Part I (Chapters 1-8)

Mar 20: Monday Apartheid Transition

Read: Born a Crime Parts II & III (Chapters 9-18)

2. Investigation DUE

Mar 22: Wednesday Afrofuturism

1. Read: Lagoon Act I, Chapters 1-25

Mar 27: Monday Lagoon Con't

1. Read: Lagoon Act II, Chapters Prologue to 43

Mar 29: Wednesday Lagoon Con't

1. Read: Lagoon Act III, Finish the novel

Apr 3: Monday Work Session on I-Search Paper

1. Do online research on 3 possible topics for your I-Search Paper.

2. Investigation DUE>

Apr 5: Wednesday Global Refugee Crisis

1. Watch Human Flow Alert: the documentary is 2 hours 20 minutes. If you have Amazon Prime you can watch for free, or you can watch on YouTube and other sources for $3.

2. Come to class with a list of 8 or more scenes from different parts of Human Flow that you found interesting and 1-2 sentences about each scene and why it interested you.

Apr 10: Monday African Refugees

1. Read: Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits "The Trip" & Part I: Before

Apr 12: Wednesday African Refugees Con't

1. Read: Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits Part II: After

2. Write: 2 questions for the Final Exam

Apr 17: Monday Preparation for Final Exam and Presentation of I-Search Papers

I-Search Paper and short Google Slide Summary DUE, include 4 slides: 1. Source of idea/references to reading; 2. How you researched; 3. What you learned; and, 4. What else you would like to learn on this topic.

Apr 19: Wednesday Exam and I-Search Papers Con't

Apr 24-27: Finals Week

Apr 24: Monday 10:15-12:15 Final Exam

Bring 2-3 page summary of your contribution to Collaboration Project and propose a grade.