South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for “a new social compact among all role players – business, labour, community and government – to restructure the economy and achieve inclusive growth”. In South Africa, ‘social compact’ has often been used narrowly to describe pacts between stakeholders on specific sectoral issues. A resilient social compact, as we use the concept, requires a dynamic agreement between the state and society on how to live together, and how to address issues of power and resources.
For such an agreement to contribute to peace and societal well-being, it must be reflected in the mechanisms, policies and responses that uphold the agreement. This needs to be done in a way that’s flexible and responsive, especially in times of crisis. This approach recasts the concept of social compact (or social contract) as a tool for addressing issues of conflict, crisis and transition.
The striking increase in violent conflict over the last 15 years has been marked by the number of violent conflicts tripling since 2010 and the rise of non-state actor conflict in many regions. Amid the untold suffering there has been an important positive impact: policy consensus at the highest levels that sustaining peace and preventing violent conflict must be priorities. This is good news, as prevention will not only save lives, but also resources. A new World Bank and United Nations report, Pathways to Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict, concludes that up to tens of billions in losses in countries and billions for the international community in interventions can be saved per year through prevention. This report, and the Security Council mandated agenda that preceded it, increase the United Nations’ commitment to more strategic analysis and action on these issues. While these are exciting developments, perhaps most importantly
As the United Nations reflects upon how it will meet its revamped and revitalized mandate to prevent conflict and sustain peace, catalyzed by twin Security Council/General Assembly Resolutions, some academics and policy-makers are reflecting on the relevance of the social contract as an actionable idea, a means to revitalize these agendas – particularly in contexts affected by violent conflict and fragility. While this is by no means a straightforward pursuit, it arguably is a vital one given the current state of crisis of many state-society social contracts, globally.
The social contract is a term no doubt familiar to all. It has roots in antiquity and is often dismissed for being too steeply rooted in traditional liberal thought. Yet as the world grapples with extreme challenges, and evermore resilient competing ideologies and traditions evolve, it is hard