Social contract no magic wand

Source: Social contract no magic wand – The Zimbabwe Independent May 3, 2019


AS Zimbabwe’s economic turmoil — itself the result of unresolved issues centred on political legitimacy — spawns a deep-seated social crisis, the government has increasingly come under pressure to show leadership in tackling the challenges rocking the country. This comes amid a heightened risk of humanitarian disaster and the attendant looming civil unrest.


This week, the Presidential Advisory Council met President Emmerson Mnangagwa to discuss the worsening economic hardships with a view to figuring out on how best to tackle the spiralling crisis.

One of the central messages emerging from the advisory panel’s meeting dwelt on the importance of crafting a social contract, a matter which has eluded the country for many years.

Simply defined, a social contract or tripartite agreement is an arrangement bringing together the government, labour and business enunciating a common vision for the socio-economic development of the country.

In history, social contract theorists have warned of the dangers posed by the failure to secure the natural rights of the average citizen. Classical scholars have also described in detail what happens when the government fails to satisfy the best interests of society.

The bottom line is that a government derives its authority from the consent of the governed. In terms of this philosophical approach, a government can only deploy state power legitimately and morally with the consent of the governed.

In today’s Zimbabwe, while there is nothing wrong with clamouring for a social contract, it is vital for everyone to view this matter from an objective, dispassionate and empirical perspective.

A social contract can only work if the underlying political and economic fundamentals are first fixed. This will restore stability and confidence through a genuine and all-inclusive national dialogue on the problems that have caused Zimbabweans sleepless nights.

To be sure, there are no miracle cures to the Zimbabwean malady — it is a multi-faceted crisis that demands a holistic solution rather than piecemeal interventions. A lot of the brief-by-brief challenges the authorities are frantically grappling with — such as the rising cost of food and currency volatility — are mere symptoms of an underlying disease. That disease is essentially political; it speaks to legitimacy, confidence and trust.

Of late, we have seen senior government officials loudly accusing what they describe as greedy and evil business operators for the shambolic state of the economy. Incredibly, the top mandarins do not see their own culpability in the entire fiasco.

There is really no point in leaders complaining about the sorry state of the economy if they are not going to take decisive measures to steer the country out of this quagmire.

If the leaders had the interest of this nation at heart, we would have long settled the matter of national dialogue and a social contract. By now, the government would be clinching an economic rescue package, attracting serious investors, reporting genuine fiscal surpluses, stimulating job creation, ramping up productivity, demonstrating solid leadership and moving ahead guided by a coherent vision.