Social Contract
Maize harvest being carried to a storehouse in Kenya/Children celebrate in a local village/Togo International Dialogue Focal Point speaks during the Monrovia Meeting/Local adaptation of the now famous Ocampo name in Kenya/Photos The Africa Platform
The Africa Platform Social Contract Initiative in Post Conflict Countries
 Context, analysis and Practical Proposals for the Africa Platform

The analysis below is based on discussions and analysis with various experts and practitioners.

The team was involved through online discussions as well as in face to face meetings. They include, in their own personal capacity Robert Rotberg (Harvard University), Nikunj Soni (Pacific Policy Institute), Brenda Killen (OECD), Sunda Perera (Burmigham University), Jean Pierre Heiniger (IMD, Geneva), Erin McCandles (New School),Clare Locker (Effective States),Joshua Weiss (Global Negotiations Project/Third Side), Charmaine Rodrigue (UNDP), Eugenia Piza-Lopez(UNDP), Beniam Gebrezghi (UNDP), Andrew Tomlison (Quaker UN), Katherine Marshall (Georgetown University) and Amjaad Salem (International Alert). For a more detailed theoretical framework, see the UNDP work-Governance for Peace, Securing the Social Contract and The Third side, the Global Negotiations Project at Harvard University.


  1. Introduction and Summary


For over three years now the Africa Platform (formerly Africa CSO Platform on Principled Partnership) has been working on state-society relations in post conflict countries

The Africa Platform works through strategic CSOs, known as focal points in 23 countries across Africa to promote state-society relations through principled partnership and respectful dialogue among CSOs and with governments, with a primary focus on emerging democracies and Conflict Affected States. While our work has recently extended to include countries outside of Africa but who are members of seven group of states such as Timor Leste and Haiti, our work is primarily across Africa-Benin. Burundi. Cameroon. DR Congo. Egypt. Equatorial Gambia.Guinea. Ethiopia.Ghana. Kenya, Liberia. Malawi.Mali. Nigeria. Rwanda. Senegal. Sierra Leone. Somalia Republic. South Sudan. Togo. Uganda. Tanzania. Zambia .Zimbabwe.

This initiative has involved three levels of engagement

  1. Strengthening Relations between Civil Society and Governmentsthrough informal an formal dialogue spaces, collective and joint policy development and negotiations with governments on policies and development agenda that are not in conformity with greater societal aspirations. The Africa Platform has supported this work in Liberia, Rwanda and South Sudan.
  2. Active support to Civil Society on engagementwith international and other external actors, including options for engaging with Development partners and Private Sector.  In this regard The Africa Platforms has supported engagement of Civil Society in the World Economic Forum’s Program on Mining and Metals in Mozambique and Uganda.
  3. Creation of and supporting engagement in Global Policy Spacesthat have long term impact on the national development strategies. In this regard the Africa Platform is part of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and StateBuilding (IDPS) For details read here or, a global forum for donors and conflict affected countries to build long term peace and strengthen societal relations with governments. The IDPS also serves as a Platform where three core actors-society (through CSOs), Governments and Development Partners, work to address root causes of conflict and develop programs that ensure there is no relapse to conflict. The Africa Platform has also been a leader in engagements under the Sustainable Development Goals and the Post 2015 Agenda, with an active global program of engagement in several networks while also supporting and strengthening an Africa Coalition under the Africa Working Group on Post 2015. The Africa Platform  also sits on the
  4. Direct support to Governments to engage and negotiate with External actorswhile ensuring that International actors adhere to the Principle of Do No Harm in their work-either Economic or Social.

These programs have evolved over the three years to a more contextual program that now falls under the Africa Platform’s Social Contract Initiative.

Over the next five years The Africa Platform will work on three areas under the Social contract, most of them targeted at post conflict countries.

  1. CivilSociety Support for Society Mobilization and Government Engagement-Building Movements from within

The Africa Platform will support skills’ building and strategic capacity support to a core group of Civil Society in each of the target countries who will be able to mobilize society in a wide range of accountability areas while also working with governments in joint policy and national visioning processes. The skills will range from  Mobilization, Grassroots engagement to negotiation, lobby and diplomacy as well as Policy  Development.

  1. National (Civil) Society Support on Renewing State Legitimacy and Rebuilding the Social Contract-Building Collaboration across sectors

This will be a context specific support that will combine national level training and resource support to ensure the building of strong relations between the state and their citizens. It will include  a combination of programs, from those that involve direct citizen access to  government data to direct communication channels between Citizens and their Governments. Where needed the support will be offered through Civil Society Organizations with strong grass roots mobilization power.

Global Policy Influence and Government Support to External Engagement-Building Partnerships for joint national vision

The Africa Platform will work with selected governments to support their global engagement capacity and ensure that all contractual obligations are done in the primary interest of the citizens and are not skewed to either political or external interests.

  1. Context 

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. Background to the Social Contract

The Social Contract concept was first developed in 1762 by Jean-Jacques Rousseau of Switzerland (see details here). In his attempt to awaken society into acknowledging the larger relations that exist between the governing and the government he argued that life in society was essentially corrupting, but that men could achieve true morality by joining the together into a form of contract that would allow them to live under laws that they themselves made.”  His notion of the “general will” has been the cornerstone of democracy and totalitarianism.

However the concept of the Social contract has been criticized by some actors as socialist and seeking to strengthen societal will in an increasingly private society where individual will is seen as stronger than the collective.

However, this interpretation fails to recognize that in fact 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. Studies in Social Contract

UNDP-Securing the Social Contract

In 2012, the United Nations Development Program’s then Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR now merged with others to form Bureau for Policy and Program Support) sought to redefine its Governance work in Post conflict areas. In a series of discussions and research, UNDP came up with the Social Contract concept as the most effective way to rebuild societies in post conflict situations.

In their 2012 publication- Governance for Peace: Securing the Social Contract, UNDP defined the social contract as a ‘dynamic agreement between states and societies on their mutual roles and responsibilities’.

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).

A closer look at the 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.

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).

Therefore the plausibility of the Social Contract not only consists of service delivery guarantee, but also the manner in which criticisms are managed, relations in society are promoted and the reduction of marginalization. The interaction of the four components-Expectations, Capacity, Process and Legitimacy-together creates a Social Contract (OECD, 2008: p.17).

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 levelse. 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.

The Third Side: A communal approach to dealing with conflict

Instead of looking at the interface between Civil Society and the state, it is possible to consider the engagement of the entire society in a concept known as The Third Side (See details and discussions here).

The third side is sponsored by the Global Negotiation Project (formerly the Project on Preventing War) at Harvard University.

It is based on an African Proverb

“When spider webs unite, they can halt even a lion.” African proverb

During the Africa Strategy Session on the Social Contract, Joshua Weiss, one of the founders, discussed a bottom up approach that takes a slightly different view to that of UNDP.

The third side is a larger perspective to look at conflict. Taking third side means: Seeking to understand both sides.

Typically, in most conflict intervention programs we talk about state and civil society, and ignore the populace, or see them as beneficiaries of an intervention delivered by Civil Society The third side is about the entire population.

The third side is all of society playing different roles, but acting together. There are  ten roles:

The Provider – Enabling People to Meet Their Needs

Conflict usually arises in the first place from frustrated needs, like love and respect. Frustration leads people to use violence. Providers can help people address one or more of the basic human needs

The Teacher – Giving People Skills to Handle Conflict -Sometimes people fight simply because they know no other way to react when a need is frustrated and a serious difference arises.

The Bridge-Builder – Forging Relationships Across Lines of Conflict . Often not a discrete activity, bridge-building takes place all around us, sometimes without us even perceiving it

The Mediator – Reconciling Conflicting Interests-At the core of conflict are often conflicting interests. The Mediator does not seek to determine who is right and who is wrong, but rather tries to get to the core of the dispute and help the parties resolve it.

The Arbiter – Determining Disputed Rights-Sometimes mediation is not enough to resolve a dispute or is not appropriate because basic rights are being violated The Arbiter role is embodied in the judge in the courtroom or the arbitrator in a work setting.

The Equalizer – Democratizing Power -Every conflict takes place within the larger context of power. The strong refuse to negotiate with the weak or to submit their dispute to mediation or arbitration. The Equalizer helps each party recognize that they hold a packet of power, a measure of influence over the parties.

The Healer – Repairing Injured Relationships-A conflict cannot be considered fully resolved until the injured relationships have begun to heal. The role of the Healer is to assist in this process.

The Witness – Paying Attention to Escalation -Destructive conflict does not just break out but escalates through different stages, from tension to overt conflict to violence. By watching carefully, the Witness can detect warning signals, which, if acted on, can prevent escalation of conflict and even save lives.

The Referee – Setting Limits to Fighting

If and when people do fight, it is important to reduce the harm. That is the role of the Referee, who sets limits on fighting.

The Peacekeeper – Providing Protection -When the rules are broken and the limits on fighting exceeded, the community needs to employ the minimally forceful measures necessary to stop harmful conflict in its tracks. The role of Peacekeeping need not be limited to specialists, it is a community.

But all these needs one additional party- The Orchestrator.

Usually the orchestrator is an individual

His role is to ensure coordinated engagement, identify leaders of the process,

  1. 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 interfacebetween 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 identitieswith multiple interests
  5. Consider approach that recognizes diversity
  6. Securing the social contract must be locally led.
  7. 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.
  1. 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. 
  1. 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.

State-Society Relations

If conflict is dealt with in line with the social contract, confidence and trust is built between state and citizens which further encourages peace and stability

  1. The Africa Platform and Social Contract

The essential role of Peace building initiatives focus on facilitation of the social contract that supports an open dialogue (formal and informal) about culture, norms and relations between the state and the society. In post-conflict societies where social cohesion decreased, identities were broken and/or values and norms were misused, dialogue processes need to address these critical issues.

The Social Contract has been discussed  extensively within the Africa Platform.

Between April and June 2014 The Platform engaged a team of experts from Academia, Government and think tanks to consider the various options available for implementing a practical Social contract initiative.

Following discussions and considerations of the  context of conflict affected countries where The Africa Platform seeks to engage, the Program under the Africa Platform seeks to address to underlying areas of renewing the Social contract- Trust Building (within and with Society) and collective national visioning.

When Society lose trust in their state or instruments of the state, it is difficult to rebuild without a deliberate show by the state that it is actively working to reform itself or these instruments.

When trust is lost at the national level, it gets lost gradually down the scale, with society turning to smaller units for voice, often ethnic, community or in some cases family and individuals.

State Building is therefore not just about strengthening the capacity to deliver. It is about renewing trust and hence providing a basis for a renewal of the social contract.

But this is not enough to renew the social contract at the national level.

Conflicts can sometimes be exacerbated by an absence of a collective vision for the nation.

Under these circumstances broken Social contracts cannot be regained unless there is a collective attempt to chart out a new vision, a new path, for the society.

Working through processes of developing a vision for the society allows for a new sense of nationhood and patriotism, the two things that are the first to go in a broken contract.

The Africa Platform will therefore target initiatives that seek to deliberately address the challenges of trust  and renew visions for the society. We will target work that strengthens the institutional and societal mechanisms needed to rebuild the Social contract through these two pathways.

  1. Program areas

There are Four areas of entry points for the Africa Platform

Social Agenda as an entry point

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, signalling 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.


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 e.g. some people do not believe, that there are citizens in Colombia who do not have an identity card. This is also true for Nepal where feudal structures have governed the country since ages and devolution to the district and village level has not taken place yet.

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 fulfilment of the state’s roles and responsibilities (respect to rights, protection and delivery of services).

Mutual respect and collaborative action across various actors for the needs of all groups of the country is essential as the foundation for a (re)building of trust. In order to confront the challenge to foster civil society while not creating parallel powers and releasing the state of its accountability, civil society organisations should be backed in programs that work with the government or are at best be involved e.g. in a national planning commission. In any case CSOs shall never substitute a functioning government. Even in contexts where collaboration with central state institutions is rather difficult, constructive state-society relations are sometimes possible on a regional or a local level.

By training Civil Society on various skills to bring about change and become agents of change. This would require identifying community representatives who would be trained and sent out to divulge the knowledge learnt to the wider society.

Lastly, by mapping out key actors in society and using them as entry points. This however, poses some challenges as its difficult to categorize society and also tedious (see The Third Side below).

  1. Strategic Approach

Strengthening relations between state and society.

It will be informed by the following contextual issues

Collective focus on service deliver

Effective and accountable governance-Defining Government

Addressing the dichotomy of Actors-rebuilding the state and rebuilding society

The main reasons why state building agendas have collapsed or failed is the  separation between the three peacebuilding support areas-strengthening the institutions of the state, building peace among and between communities and the political engagement at national and international level.

existence of a Resolving these issues have failed in the past due to firstly, an There is a false assumption that by strengthening government, society in turn is strengthened. Secondly, humanitarian and other social  actors focus on strengthening communities’ ability to co-exist while also working on service delivery

  1. Principles of The Africa Platform Engagement

 Local First

Political neutrality but political engagement

Identify possible entry points that are not conceived as ideally political but will be acceptable to state and society, which we will use as the basis.

Local change agents

Looking into the possibility of building a pool of change agents to be used as catalysts of change and to have them work hand in hand with society. As working from within society ensures sustainability and ensures less resistance as we intend to build change from within

Our aim is to work in countries that have some existing stability in order to create mechanisms for example policy, to enable continuous dialogue between state and society. This would build the confidence of society to relate with state using mechanisms such as technology, traditional communications systems, depending on the country.

Refocusing the Role of (Civil) Society-Building Movements from within

Social movements and civic organizations are central to rebuilding social contracts.

As opposed to traditional organized Civil Society that are often sometimes perceived as elitist, intellectually focused or lacking contextual experience and appreciation, Social movements provide space for society to rebuild from within, using their own tools.

But there is a need to recognize the limitations of Social movements, as seen in South Sudan and Liberia where social movements either go into limbo when peace is restored, or become part of the oppressor when they join government.

Social movements often face profound strategy dilemmas that can hamper their effectiveness and prevent them from contributing to transformative change and peace. In the case of Zimbabwe the first is whether to prioritize political or economic rights in efforts to bring about transformative change (rights / redistribution). The second is whether and how to work with government and/or donors given their political, economic, and social agendas (participation / resistance) Read Summary from Erin MCcandles Book here.

  1. 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)

Additional Links

McCandles, Erin,Polarization and Transformation in Zimbabwe: Social Movements, Strategy Dilemmas and Change Plymouth, UK, Lexington Books 2011. Available here.


United Nations Development Program. Governance for Peace: Securing the Social Contract.

Shaping the State: The Social Contract in Situations of Conflict and Fragility. New York, 2004


Organisation for Economic Co- Operation and Development. Concepts and Dilemmas of State Building in Fragile Situations: From Fragility to Resilience. Paris, 2008: 17. Click here to read more.

Merrick Whitcomb, ed., Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, vol. 6 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania History Department, 1899), 14–16.

Peace Direct, Local’ First’Models’&’Draft’Recommendations’ discussed here.



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