In this IDS Bulletin we present fieldwork from articles covering the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Somalia to show that assumptions derived from the classical social contract theorists frequently lead the international community astray as it attempts to rebuild these African states. The historical social contract for most Africans is not between the state and individuals but with communities. When it comes to security, there are two contracts and two bargains to consider instead of the single one of classical presumptions. The contracts are (i) community governance structures with local families; and (ii) the state with community governance systems, with supplemental ties to individuals.
The bargains are (iii) the regime with the military; and (iv) the state with the international community. The military is frequently a source of predation on communities rather than of protection. The dynamics of these contracts and bargains can be in conflict with one another, leading to a situation where governance is multilevel and networked. The presence and importance of international actors in the networks changes policies and indirectly affects politics, but it does not threaten the integrity of the state as an institution itself, which instead is rooted in the processes of the other three compacts.
Article first published January 2013, IDSB44.1.