Reflections on State-Society Relations

Social Contract as Foundation to State Society Relations

 

Defining a Social Contract

 (Drawn from the Strategy Session by a team of experts convened by the Africa Platform in New York in September 2014). 

A Social Contract is one that exists among members of society and the state (in its holistic nature) that outlines mutual roles and responsibilities and essentially brings people together for mutual preservation.

It can be broken down into three key categories:

  • Expectations as to how interactions between state and society should function both directly and indirectly. A plausible social contract is one that comprises and references such expectation sufficiently.
  • Capacity-entails not only the ability of the state to allocate the resources in line with expectations but also the desire to do so to better society. It therefore incorporates not only the availability of materials and technical resources but also the level of responsiveness to the needs of society.
  • Processes-that take place within a social contract would affirm inclusive and deliberate political, economic and social participation at every level of society.

Credibility of the social contracts lies with guaranteed service delivery, management of criticisms, promotion of relationships in society and the reduction of marginalization.

  1. Democracy and Social Contract

Democracy is by itself a contract, not a process. Democracy is based on one fundamental assumption: Society, through a process that is open and transparent, agrees to cede its individual power to some among its ranks, who exercise it with the aim of achieving a general will of the society rather than the private wills of all of society. In order to achieve this, the appointed individuals, under an institution known as government, develop norms and rules that are agreed on by the society, and which form the basis of the contract. It is the responsibility of the appointed individuals and the larger society to adhere to these rules and norms-often seen in constitutions, state structures, national visions and policies that direct development and governance of the society.

  1. State legitimacy and the Social Contract

UNDP came up with the Social Contract concept as the most effective way to rebuild societies in post conflict situations. According to this analysis, Social contract  implies the strengthening of inclusive politics, responsive institutions and resilient state society relations as well as coherent, coordinated and complementary partnership. In peace processes there are often critical junctures in which the conditions for recognizing the multiple identities, needs and interests within a society need to be addressed seriously. UNDP states that the Social Contract can be more effectively understood by breaking it down into three key categories: expectation, capacity and process (UNDP, 2012, p. 18).

Expectation’ in the framework of the Social Contract both the state and society have direct and indirect expectations of how their relationship should work.

Capacity’ as an element of the Social Contract suggests the states capacity to distribute state resources in line with expectations and its readiness to do so in order to advance society. It entails not only the accessibility of material and technical resources but also the extent to which societies needs are meet.

Processes’ that take place within a plausible Social Contract will reflect inclusive and intended political, social and economic engagement at all levels of society.

Underpinning these three things is the unique challenge that face many post conflict states-Legitimacy.

State Legitimacy is often the primary cause of society apprise. When the state is not seen or perceived to be legitimate, and the state makes little effort to build and earn this legitimacy, not even a democratic process such as elections can ensure legitimacy.

Legitimacy plays a role in forming expectations and enabling processes of politics. It’s created and recharged or conversely, disintegrated – by the influence among the other factors (Cove, 2014). Furthermore, state presence could be increased in rural areas. The understanding for the importance of peace, the challenges of the country and the potential of diversity needs to be promoted. However, institutional change at state-level is often difficult. The Social Contract model developed by UNDP’s then Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Recovery (BCPR now Bureaus for Policy and Development) for states in conflict is constructed encompassing four crucial ideals:

  1. To encourage receptive public institutionsat both local and national levels
  2. Encouraging politics that are inclusivefounded on transparency and mechanisms that are predictable and involve people or social groups that are frequently marginalized or entirely ostracized from the world of politics
  3. To promote irrepressible societies by mainly encouraging strong state-society relations
  4. To reinforce partnerships at multiple levels internationally, with other UN agencies, other multilateral and bilateral agencies and with non-governmental organizations: and the national level, with government institutions, civil society organizations and the private sector.
  5. Social Contract in Post Conflict society –Key Ingredients

In a society that has been through war, the state is a major player in the conflict.

It is therefore not possible to rebuild the legitimacy and the ensure inclusivity without looking at how different social groups will coexist, and the role of the actors, many of who may be in government.

In trying to rebuild the social contract we need to recognize the following:

  1. A dynamic interface between the state and its people/mediating expectation between state and society is central to rebuilding trust.
  2. Critical junctures/key momentsmatter-Rebuilding the Social contract relies heavily on critical moments in society as entry points-whether positive or not. Focusing when there are opportunities, when there is a change. The elections, constitutions are moments. But post-disasters are another potential, because people are ready to rethink.
  3. Context and history-It’s important to be familiar with persistent mechanisms that reproduce exclusive institutions and exclusive processes
  4. Recognize multiple identities with multiple interests
  5. Consider approach that recognizes diversity
  6. Securing the social contract must be locally led.

 

Fundamental Principles

 

  • Freedom– the social contract aims to create civil freedom, but which comes with expected responsibilities on the part of the society.
  • Societal Sovereignty – social contract calls for an inclusive society where all citizens work together to express the laws and will of the state. The sovereign is all the people speaking as one and cannot be divided or broken up.
  • Representation-–  Government represents the people but cannot speak for the general will. It holds its own corporate will that often clashes with the general will. Therefore, there is often conflict between the government and the sovereign that can cause the downfall of the state.
  • Agreeable law– an account of what citizens collectively desire and deals with the people as one and cannot tackle particulars. They ensure that people remain royal to the sovereign.
  • Civic organization-Society agrees to live in a community and collectively care for the common good of all
  • Common good– the social contract aims to achieve what interests are best for the society as a whole.
  1. Practical Implications

The Social contract will succeed when the following is in place

Inclusive Political Processes

  • Recognizes the importance of public politics and welcomes it
  • Leaders are under obligation to provide legitimate leadership to citizens and are held accountable for their actions.
  • Promotion of inclusive decision making where the state collaborates with citizens and builds trust.
    • Creates social order for the state and citizens to work together to achieve a harmonious state that’s beneficial to all.

Conflict Management and Dialogue 

 

  • Provides a framework on how to deal with stressors that promote conflict in society.
  • Provides a platform for which discussion on the nature of the state can take place continuously.
  • Allows conflict to become a healthy part of society interaction and development instead of it being a destabilizing factor. This is through making systems of mediation and negotiations accessible.

 

Practical Implications of the Social Contract

Public Participation in Governance and Development

  • It creates a scenario whereby discussions become society-driven rather than state-centered, and therefore fosters dialogue
  • Recognizes the importance of public politics and welcomes it as it is happening in this country.
  • Fosters peace and good governance including reducing violence
  • Creates social order for the state and citizens to work together to achieve a harmonious state that’s beneficial to all.

Accountability of the State to its citizens

Helps to rebuild the accountability role of society and civil society, which in turn offers security and peace and affords us our rationality and morality.

Leaders are under obligation to provide legitimate leadership to citizens and are held accountable for their actions.

Peacebuilding and Statebuilding

Provides a framework on how to deal with stressors that promote conflict in society. 

Promotion of inclusive decision making where the state collaborates with citizens and this builds trust.

Provides a platform for which discussion on the nature of the state can take place continuously.

Allows conflict to become a healthy part of society interaction and development instead of it being a destabilizing factor. This is through making systems of mediation and negotiations accessible.

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