The building blocks of a sound contract between citizens and the state – Spotlight 2
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.
2. The voice of Jay Naidoo
Founding General Secretary of COSATU, Minister in Nelson Mandela’s Cabinet and Foundation Board member.
Throughout the continent there is a deep level of alienation, that at times leads to even question whether the system is working and serving the people. A participatory process is necessary to shape the future of the continent, and the first lesson for this is to listen to what people have to say.
Even though the system changed in South Africa, this did not prevent the state from being captured a decade and half later. This lesson should teach us that it is not enough to change the system, but change should rather happen within the people. The idea of being an active citizen is key, with the beneficiary being society and not the individual. The power of the people will make sure there is accountability – and this is not only top-down, but a two-way process where bottom-up is key.
The key question is where to find people who are willing to take risks to change the system. In the logic of Steve Biko’s “we have nothing to lose but our chains”, and public service should be a way of life, reflecting the mission assigned to it through the social contract.
The assumption that there was no pre-colonialist system in Africa is incorrect, because there had been kingdoms and great civilisations. A return to indigenous movements and systems could create pride for Africans in their own history. Identity and the link between people, their states and their continent is fundamental for the social contract – and at present it seems to be broken, and needs to be rebuilt.
To conclude, Africa needs to stop looking for another messiah, or another Nelson Mandela. Citizens should acknowledge their power and not just delegate everything to leaders. As ultimately, in democracy it is the people who bear the responsibility of holding institutions accountable and making sure processes are inclusive and transparent.