Burbidge, D., ‘The Social Contract in Africa: A Review’. Working paper (2017), Oxford University

Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Dominic Burbidge
Burbidge, D., ‘The Social Contract in Africa: A Review’. Working paper (2017), Oxford University


The review provides an introduction to the forms and operations of social contracts in Africa. The starting point of any such discussion acknowledges that many of the ideal types of social contracts are products of European political history, and so make implicit assumptions that may not be the case in other parts of the world. In Africa, there is therefore an initial question of whether social contracts can exist and, if so, what form they should take. Generally, social contracts can be defined as an offer and acceptance between state and society whereby the state offers protection and promotion of the common good and society accepts state authority and duties of citizenship. This type of relationship is contrasted against other possible ideals, such as promises, oaths or patronage.

Part two provides an overview of the specific challenge to notions of social contract provided by Africa’s colonial experience. Colonialism did not comply with a social contract by instead deploying a two-step form of government for which the ‘offer’ from the state was not established or articulated.

Although this presented and still presents an enormous challenge to the formation of democratic states in Africa, part three explains that social contracts have nevertheless been emerging in independent Africa. Specifically, the push-and-pull of electoral politics is increasingly acting as epicentre for holding government to account and encouraging clarity in what the state offers. However, we would be wrong to audit this solely in terms of the offer and acceptance notion of Western social contracts, for new performances in democratic accountability are emerging.


Part four concludes with special reference to experimental attempts to localise social contracts on the continent through decentralisation.



  • Author
    Dominic Burbidge
  • Version
  • Created
    Sunday, 15 January 2017
  • Themes
    • Urban-Government
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