A Concept Note: Propping-up the Social Contract by Abdirizak A. Hassan


A Concept Note:

Propping-up the Social Contract: The Case for the Restoration of Social Accountability in Somalia.

Nairobi, January, 2024.

Introduction: Social accountability is about involving citizens in the decision-making processes of government and making those who hold power over the people answerable. It is a fundamental principle of democracy and a powerful ally of the social contract between citizens and the state. Moreover, it improves governance, service delivery and social empowerment. A government’s observance to the social contract is a tester and an enabler of the social accountability activism of its citizens. Through the redresses of social accountability, it is the duty of the government to account for its actions and accept responsibility for them. The purpose of this concept note is to put forward the aptness of initiating social accountability mechanisms and tools in Somalia now; and how that would empower the civic space and render the government accountable. It also entreats that setting off a reinforced social accountability in Somalia is indispensable, as most of government policies and priorities are seen by the public to be irresponsible, and as the country teeters towards political impasses and possible turmoil. 

Context: A formal survey to assess the local context would require structured discussions with the citizens, civil society organizations and with government authorities. Nonetheless, drawing from a long experience of working in Somalia and from other relevant data available in the public domain, this is an attempt to highlight some basic workable realities on the ground for social accountability interventions to be conceived. In Somalia, there is a thinly articulated policy objectives and impulsive administrative rules and regulations. There is also a virtual absence of meaningful public debates and public consultations on any of the policy initiations of the government or the legislations of the parliament. Efforts of finalizing the constitution and restructuring the country into a federal system of governance, for the last two decades, advance at a snail’s pace. The awareness level of the public is radically localized in several self-ruling member states, whose relationships with the central government and with each other, are yet to be formally established. Social capital remains incapacitated because there are no interconnected social networks that transcend state affairs. Social accountability can entail serious costs for citizens, in terms of time and resources; and it also, crucially, poses risks. Civil society members often face reprisals by the state in voicing out their legitimate concerns. Government authorities use such cagey tactics like cooption and elite capture to silence the emergence of critical or equitable voices. As it stands, Somalis can hardly marshal a common action or reaction regarding the performances of their governments both at the federal and state levels. In Somalia, all politics seem to be concerned with ‘the here and now’; as if the future cannot be influenced by planning for it today. This casual attitude of ‘living for today’ to the detriment of tomorrow, is equally common in government circles and in civil society organization (CSOs). Corruption is rife, partly due to the absence of formal enforcements, reprimands or reputational costs that could have lessened the piling effects of corrupt practices. Excesses, indiscretions and impunities of various kinds by public officers continue to swell the negative ratings of the government in the hearts and minds of the Somali public. In Somalia, citizens are not that mindful of their rights or entitlements and that is partly why corrupt practices continue to grow and became the norm. The absent voices of the public have been inadvertently furnishing successive Somali governments a carte-blanche; absolving them from all responsibility and wrongdoing. Of late, there even have been growing concerns among the elite that the social contract may succumb to these negative practices and relationships and give way to lawlessness and renewed civil strife. Arguably, these are fitting conditions for the outbreak of public dissensions and upheavals; the likes of the Arab Spring: undirected and dangerous. Somalia has had its share of political violence in which desperate citizens resort to unruly actions with woeful consequences. Despite these grim realities, social accountability has been absent in Somalia’s political and legal due processes. Introducing social accountability mechanisms into Somalia would, in the first instance, have the effect of progressively easing up these ticking tensions described above. 

Theory of Change: The bleak contextual assessment described above cannot be left unchecked and the entry point should ideally be, the creation of an enabling environment for social accountability in which citizens can realize their entitlements by exercising their voices and government authorities are answerable to them. Change specifically comes as a considered remedy to the state of power relations, the cultural setting and other relevant realities on the ground. This has been distinctively, the role of the media in providing adequate information to the civil society organizations (CSOs) and the public; thereby improving government accountability and policymaking. Independent media, as one of the most important factors of accountability, can bridge the gap between the people and the state. The provision of a relevant and understandable information can raise public awareness and help promote civic education and mobilization at all levels. In Addition, effective social accountability requires the engagement of everyone, including the less powerful such as women, youth and minority groups. This can improve equity and strengthen social accountability. Media platforms can facilitate opportunities for communities to meet, discuss and present their views to the decision-makers and power holders. A good communication between civil society organizations (CSOs), that are privy to their prerogatives and the state, can bring about government authorities to plan better for the local context and therefore enhance the performance of their public service. It is also empowering for the citizens as they would gain the invaluable experience of affecting change in policy and in decision-making. It would also lead to government authorities becoming resigned to the maneuvers of the civil society in a democratic society thereby picking up the culture and routines of social accountability. The Rationale here is: undertaking purposeful and efficient media projects would inform and favorably rekindle civic mobilization that would, in turn, instigate civic action and that would hopefully lead to state action.

Approaches and Mechanisms: In addition to the well-established conventional roles, media initiatives for social accountability must be democracy oriented, have a normative agenda and with a watchdog streak. It is the challenge of the responsible media to make the most of the nexus between political elites and academics and to set priorities and provide relevant information. Such a dedicated media must possess the right expertise on the issues and must aim at (1) holding government authorities accountable while qualitatively (2) adding to the analytical debates of the various political, legal and security issues at hand. It is critical that citizens have the nitty-gritty grasping of the mandate of the respective institutions being assessed, to be able to usefully participate in activities to gauge them. The focus of the media initiatives for social accountability are thus, determined by correctly understanding, analyzing and picking on the discrepancies between how things ought to be (normative, educative) and how things already are on the ground (critical, realistic) on each of the above two domains of intervention. To be credible and effective, the voices of the civil society must be informed by and equipped with that seeded understanding of the issues. Much of the focus of the social accountability interventions for Somalia should be favorably directed at resolving the dogged stalemates that are peculiar to Somalia, demanding results on the political process (governance, democracy) and at doing away with inaction and corruption (service delivery, empowerment). Somalis must (1) settle their contentions at the general scheme of things - at the levels of the Social Contract, constitution-making, political settlement - and then (2) come to the time-consuming needlework of accountable governance. Without pulling off the former, the latter cannot be fruitfully undertaken. With that in mind, a two-pronged approach of developing media initiatives for the restoration of Social Accountability in Somalia emerges here:

·       Intensive Approach (constructive) 60%: Independent media is an essential facilitator of the democratic process and forms an integral part of the civic space within which democratic debate is possible. Furthermore, independent media can form platforms on which various alternative ideas can be developed. In Somalia such a platform would give input and coverage to the political cleavages of the regions and the elite, for purposes of bringing about a lasting political settlement between them and for furthering the social contract and democratization. Another focus would be targeting bottlenecks everywhere that might be in the way of undertaking the mandatory transitional tasks, such as finalization of the constitution, federalization, legislations, commissions etc. For these to be settled equitably, there must be a well-informed public that is incessantly pushing these agendas forward. The intensive nature of this approach stems from the fact that these outstanding tasks are mandated by the constitution as prerequisites for the finalization of the political process of Somalia.  At the end of the marathon, the litmus test for the completion of the mandatory transitional tasks would be the realization of one-person-one-vote in Somalia. Let’s then call this approach, the making of the country approach of the social accountability intervention. 

·       Extensive Approach (adversarial) 40%: Independent media serve as the watchdogs of powerholders in all forms. They can do so in an adversarial (exposing wrongdoings) manner, depending on the context and situation. Media should promote transparency in public life and public scrutiny on those with power through exposing corruption, maladministration and other wrongdoings. The end goal is to make local public officials and service providers directly accountable to the communities they serve. The sweep of social accountability exercise is extensive in terms of sectors and governance outcomes upon which citizen action or participations are expected to generate a positive change. As such, social accountability is a long-term exercise that requires progressive change and learning, especially in lower capacity environments like Somalia When done correctly, this leads to a culture of accountability, that is associated with improved service delivery outcomesincreased adherence to human rights and the promotion of good governance. These roles are the essence of the media everywhere and they typically feed parliament committees, anti-corruption agencies, law enforcement, prosecutors, the public, etc. Let’s call this, the running of the country approach of the social accountability intervention. 

Proposals Roadmap: The purpose of this concept note has been showing the way forward for social accountability to be instituted in Somalia. Since social accountability is a political process that is essentially emancipatory and reformative, stimulating change in power relations are a measure to the success of social accountability initiatives. The note identifies the role of the media as being vital in torching civic mobilization for social accountability interventions in Somalia. It also provided the state of the power relations in Somalia as well as the outstanding political issues that are peculiar to Somalia and are worthy of scrutiny and debate by the media and the public. Two possible approaches of intervention are deduced and suggested here: the making of the country focus and the running of the country focus. In accordance with the consolidated contextual assessment, theory of change and the two broad areas of focus, relevant media initiatives for social accountability interventions can be now proposed for Somalia. Intimate consultations with communication and media professionals are needed here. Given the situation analysis above, what would be the media initiatives that would bring about the desired changes and outcomes at each area of intervention. Proposals with detailed activities, methodologies and timelines would be required. These may include but not limited to:

  • Expanded space with ratings: number of media outlets, varied ownership, varied regions, varied audiences

·       Outlets with programs that provide a truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of the day's events in a context which gives them meaning

·       Features and expert analyses on accountability issues

·       Live coverage of public meetings on accountability 

·       Talk shows, Discussion or Interview programs 

·       Opinion surveys

·       Letters to the editor, commentaries freedom of expression 

·       Phone-in programs, ‘tell us your worries’ 



 By: Abdirizak A. Hassan


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