State Society Relations in Practice-The Social Contract

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An absence of State Legitimacy is often the primary cause of many upheavals and relapse into conflict. When the state is not seen or perceived to be legitimate, or when it makes little effort to build and earn legitimacy, not even a democratic process such as elections can ensure lead to sustained peace. Legitimacy plays a role in forming expectations and enabling processes of politics. It’s created and recharged or conversely, disintegrated.

Since early 2014 The Africa Platform has been working to strengthen both the relationship and the accountability of the state to the society. In Post conflict countries, this requires a greater focus on the relationship between the existing government (elected or emerging out of a political settlement or from a transition out of some major crises) and the various actors within the larger society.

This is the strategic focus to a Social Contract that The Africa Platform has adopted.

The Africa Platform defines a Social Contract as an agreement in any form that exists among members of society and the state (in its holistic nature) and has at its foundation the Society as the main source of legitimacy for the state and therefore the reason for being. While an ideal social contract outlines mutual roles and responsibilities and essentially brings society together for mutual preservation, The Africa Platform considers a social contract as emerging out of dialogue and engagement processes where society works with the state to achieve a collective agenda-from peace to development.

While quick electoral processes, peace keeping missions and quick democratic agendas are sometimes necessary to restore some measure of confidence after a conflict or crises, The Africa Platform does not believe that they are necessarily the first steps to a Social contract. In fact elections can under some circumstances  of weak cohesion lead to more conflict, and peace processes that target communities and the state as separate entities can give a superficial measure of peace while in fact the society remains questioning the legitimacy of the state, a factor that can quickly lead to emergence of break-away factions of  large scale conflict.

Why a Social Contract and not a Peace building or State Building Agenda?

There are many community and state peace building processes that are currently under implementation.

The Case of South Sudan and DRC

South Sudan and the DRC are a case study of how not to rebuild a country after or during a conflict. In both cases, there has been an overemphasis on buildings the institutions and instruments of the state. And in both cases there is a clear dichotomy-and in fact different actors- between state building and community peace building.

The truth is that both are strongly related and should be considered as one. It is not possible to rebuild the state without engaging the society in the agenda. It is also futile to attempt independent community peace building initiatives without a recognition that in both countries the conflict is linked to the actions of the state.

What these countries need is a reestablishment of  a Social contract, an agreement on what needs to be done, who needs to do it and over what period. It will also be an agreement on what the external actors should and should not do, what instruments they should push and how the society can tap into the economic and social power that resides within the country instead of an externally driven “medical prescription” based on some ideals of Governance and Democracy.

In its basic form a social contract is the first step after any political settlement to reaffirm the power and supremacy of society over any agreements. In its fullest, The Africa Platform envisages a joint partnership between the state and society, working together in a dual process of accountability and responsibility. It involves strengthening the voice of society, through Civic associations or at the individual level, for effective oversight, Joint planning and dialogue on Development between State and Society and a focus on national dialogue that addresses key economic policies and political issues that lead to collective responsibility for sustained peace and long term economic and social progress.

It has four Building Blocks- Expectation, Capacity, Processes and Legitimacy

‘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.

How it  works

The Africa Platform’s Social Contract engagement seeks to achieve four dual outcomes:

To encourage receptive public institutions at both local and national levels

  • Encouraging politics that are inclusive founded 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
  • To promote irrepressible societies by mainly encouraging strong state-society relations
  • 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.

 Program areas

There are four areas of entry points that The Africa Platform will consider:

Social Agenda as an entry point

In some countries, especially where there is active conflict or strong polarities exist between the state and society, working through social activities can be a good starting point to rebuilding the Social contract.

Supporting programs in Health or education can become a rallying point for engagement and allow for a national dialogue on the role of the state and the place of society in the country. It also allows for a focus on a larger vision agenda rooted in long term development effort.

 Key moments in society

These are moments  where all of society is bound by either a common challenge or common pursuit. It can include election periods, constitutional making times, national dialogue period following a conflict, referendums and national challenges that have impacted large portions of society and cannot be easily be blamed on the state or sections of society.To initiate dialogue between state and society. Negative key moments are especially effective in states experiencing conflict. Here the government can play several roles.

The state could focus on actions that engender legitimacy, signaling clearly the intent to do things differently by building inclusive platforms for dialogue and avoiding the abuse of state authority .

But there is need to appreciate that even in “revolutionary” contexts, institutions tend to return to previous behavioral patterns Both, changing peoples’ minds and transforming parties is a slow process, but needs consideration.

Certain attention also needs to be given to the involvement of radical groups, although care has to be exercised here to ensure individual rights does not compromise the collective rights of society. It is also necessary to focus on the collective needs of society instead of appealing to all factional demands.

 Creating Agents of Change from Within

 One major challenge for constructive state-society relations is the center – periphery/ rural – urban cleavage. This happens when the state is perceived to be absent and concentrated at the Center. Its more or less absent in rural areas, often where poverty rates are highest and where “the only authority known are weapons, and justice is only provided by illegal groups.” Additionally, elites in urban areas including politicians, representatives of government structures are not aware of the needs of the rural population. Civil Society Organisations (CSO) , in their broader context, not just elite-type organizations, can play a crucial role and bridge the gap between state and society. On the one hand, CSOs can advocate and claim the implementation of the peace agreements for all citizens. On the other hand, they can work with the society in order to strengthen the demand side of the citizens towards the state, asking for the fulfillment of the state’s roles and responsibilities (respect to rights, protection and delivery of services).

Mapping  Key Actors

Mapping out key actors in society and using them as entry points is one way to quickly rebuild trust, especially if these actors already have the support and legitimacy of the society

These could be religious leaders, negotiators  and other traditional leaders within the society.

 Proposed Target countries

Sierra Leone and Liberia (entry Point Key Moment-Health) , East Timor (Key moment Transition) , Rwanda (entry point community social accountability under the government), South Sudan (key moment-Negotiation and Transition),  Kenya (entry point social work and social accountability)

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