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The building blocks of a sound contract between citizens and the state – Spotlight 1

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

African demographic prospects, the 21st century’s new and existing challenges and growing expectations from citizens call for a social contract to be drawn between citizens and the state. Built on trust, this contract will also be key to guaranteeing ownership of public policies.

Through the social contract, citizens consent to state authority, limiting some of their freedoms in exchange for protection of universal human rights and security. Citizens also consent to pay taxes as a contribution to cover the cost of delivering public goods and services. The public authorities, on the other hand, commit to provide public services that meet the needs and demands of their citizens, and to be accountable for these.

But what should the foundations of this new social contract be? We have asked two longstanding friends of the Foundation and eminent Africans to share their perspectives, considering the discussion at the 2018 Ibrahim Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, dedicated to Public Service in Africa.

1. The voice of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Chair, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. Former Finance Minister of Nigeria, Former Managing Director of the World Bank.

The social contract is about trust and a two-way commitment between citizens and government. It is about government delivering services and getting the right quality and outcome to meet citizens' demand, and citizens doing their share to support the government and their country including through paying their fair share of taxes and holding governments accountable. However, at the present time, even the starting point of the social contract is non-existent, as trust is low between governments and their constituencies. The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust in governments is low globally, from the US to Africa. Trust needs to be rebuilt, and a leadership with integrity should oversee the delivery and execution of policies.

[su_highlight]Trust is a very important factor in any social contract, even more important than money.[/su_highlight]

Access to information and technology is crucial to the social contract. In Nigeria, the constitution makes clear the basic approach for allocation and sharing of fiscal revenues leading to a deep fiscal decentralisation. To enhance transparency of budgetary resources, President Obasanjo supported me and the finance team to publish monthly, in the papers, revenues of the three tiers of government at the federal, state and local level. To facilitate information-sharing and access on the African continent, with 70% of citizens still offline, it is essential to fix the infrastructural and technological gap.

[su_highlight]Citizens can’t act unless they have information. Once they have it, it empowers them.[/su_highlight]

Technology can also play a fundamental role in building stronger institutions, for instance through biometric systems for voter registration and payroll where salaries are sent directly to employees' accounts, thus avoiding ghost workers and pensioners. This can yield savings. My book, Fighting Corruption is Dangerous, gives hope on the issue of corruption.

Another crucial point is that Africa should stop depending on personalities and build institutions. In Switzerland no one knows who the president is, yet everyone wants to put their money in Swiss banks, educate their children and go on holidays in Switzerland.

[su_highlight]There are few people who know who the president of Switzerland is but everyone is ready to invest their money in Switzerland because they have the rule of law. We need to get to that.[/su_highlight]

Lastly, I would like to underline that the role of citizens is fundamental, and change should come by believing in one's own strengths – as ultimately Africa must depend on itself and not on any external actor. To civil society, I would say they should keep pushing for better and for more, and to the people, to go to the ballot box.

[su_highlight]Keep making your point, refuse to give up. If you have a chance to go to the ballot box, go to the ballot box. It's not always about elections, it's about changing the system, but civil society can do a lot.[/su_highlight]