Social cohesion in Africa

The research project identifies different types of social cohesion in Africa and analyses which national and international factors and policies can contribute to strengthening social cohesion and preventing social disintegration. The project examines the interdependencies between social cohesion and development policy and aims to better understand the importance of social cohesion for development in Africa.

Project Lead:
Julia Leininger
Armin von Schiller
Francesco Burchi

Project description

Social cohesion – or social solidarity – within societies is a key success factor for sustainable development in Africa. However, social cohesion is also particularly under pressure in African societies. The expected demographic change – more than 2 billion people in 2050 and over 50 percent under the age of 18 – could exacerbate poverty and social inequality, and thereby social fragmentation. Social inequality varies according to African sub regions, but is overall high in international comparison. At the same time, several conflicts – 15 of them with violence of high intensity – threaten to further divide societies. If functioning institutions are missing, the interests of the population cannot be aggregated and low-intensity conflicts further contribute to societies drifting apart. A lack of identification with the community and the nation state reduces the willingness to engage for the society, for example through paying taxes. At the same time, very high social solidarity exists in many countries within specific groups, such as families or ethnic groups.
Overall, current academic debates are not able to paint a holistic picture, from which generalizable findings on social cohesion in Africa or overarching recommendations for the design and implementation of development policies in Africa could be deduced. Against this background, the project aims to generate a better understanding of different types of social cohesion, as well as their causes. The project provides research and policy advice and aims to answer three central questions:

  1. Which forms and types of social cohesion can be identified in Africa? Is it possible to depict these different types of social cohesion in country clusters?
  2. Which domestic factors influence the degree of social cohesion? How can policies contribute to the creation and consolidation of social cohesion?
  3. How and under which conditions can international and transnational cooperation influence the domestic factors that determine social cohesion?

The question regarding the types and causes of social cohesion as well as the implications for development policy are analysed in more detail in five thematic areas:

  • Thematic area 1 “Taxes and social security systems” analyses in how far tax and social policy can contribute to strengthening social cohesion in Africa. It takes a closer look at the question, which reforms of social security and tax systems are necessary, in order to improve the acceptance and legitimacy of the fiscal contract between the state and society in Africa, thereby strengthening social cohesion.
  • Thematic area 2 “Values, inclusive governance and democracy” analyses the influence cultural factors, such as norms and value-orientation, have on the creation and functioning of political institutions in African societies. It also addresses the question of observable interrelations between political institutions and social cohesion.
  • Thematic area 3 “Conflict and societal peace” addresses the question which influence a) external peacebuilding, b) political institutions and c) individual attitudes (regarding these institutions) can have on societal peace and social cohesion.
  • Thematic area 4 “Promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises and financial market development” focuses on the question how a financial system must be designed in order to mobilise domestic resources and transform them into domestic investment, particularly in the field of small and medium-sized enterprises,  and which interdependencies with social cohesion arise.



Project Coordination

Andrea Cordes