Citizenship as a social contract

December 8, 2022

Summary of SEI and SweDev’s dialogue on development research held online on 29 November.

Photo: Henry Thong @henryzw for ConvertKit / Unsplash

Patience Mususa and Cristiano Lanzano, Senior Researchers at the Nordic Africa Institute gave a keynote speech on human rights, citizenship and good governance in Africa on 29 November 2022. The webinar was led by Eleanor Fisher, Head of Research at the Nordic Africa Institute. Elisabeth Olivius, SweDev Executive Committee member and Associate Professor at Umeå University gave the welcoming remarks. 

The dialogue series on development research is an initiative by SweDev and the Development and Aid Policy Team at SEI Headquarters.

“It’s a good opportunity to sit here with a broader community and present our collective work and thinking about the key challenges regarding state and citizenship relation in African countries (…)”  

Patience Mususa, Senior Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute

Development of citizenship notion in African countries 

In many African countries, many people – especially youth, migrants and other marginalised groups – are not included in the social contract between states and citizens. As a result, they do not always have the same access to justice, social protection and welfare services. 

The researchers at Nordic Africa Institute explain this by multiple historical and current factors, including historical colonial structures built on a citizen and subject divide of racial identities and citizenship along borders drawn by colonial powers, political abuse of citizenship, as well as systems and programmes reproducing inequalities, such as the structural adjustment programmes and state-led social protection systems requiring formal birth registrations.

Watch the keynote

Establishment of a social contract 

Considering rights, citizenship and good governance in African states, Mususa and Lanzano argue for establishing a social contract, which reconciles particularistic identities (such as ethnicity) with citizenship and governance under the rule of law as an investment into enhanced trust in a citizen-state interaction. 

Policies promoting and embracing positive notions of citizenship could be an opportunity for states and governments as well as citizens. This could be seen as an investment in social stability and a shared identification with the common good. 

“A state that is capable to regulate citizenship is not necessarily a certificate of good governance. Because you can abuse the way you handle citizenship. But if citizenship is understood as a social contract, how it was stressed by Patience and Cristiano, then it is a give and take. That relates to the rule of law and applying similar principles to everyone, with entitlements and obligations, and it might create a sense of belonging (…).”  

Henning Melber, Associate at the Nordic Africa Institute and SweDev Steering Committee member

Citizenship Matters: Explorations into the Citizen-State Relationship in Africa in Forum for Development Studies

Henning Melber, Jesper Bjarnesen, Cristiano Lanzano and Patience Mususa have recently published a journal article, “Citizenship Matters: Explorations into the Citizen-State Relationship in Africa”, in Forum for Development Studies.

Written by Roksana Rotter, intern at SweDev. Edited by Alice Tunfjord.