Renegotiating the Senegalese Social Contract

  • Donal B. Cruise O’Brien


Elements of what might be designated as a social contract, linking society to the central political authority of the state, are present in the wellestablished relations between Senegal’s Muslim brotherhoods and the Governors or Presidents of Dakar. The problematic nature of relations between the state and Africa’splural societies has of course long been recognised; the difficulty of establishing institutional linkages between state and society; the absence of sociological legitimacy at the base of state authority1 The brotherhoods in Senegal have provided an usually effective linkage between state and society, seen against this African background, giving coherence to the Senegalese state. The terms of this contact began with the trust placed by the Sufi disciple in his (or her)2 spiritual guide. The talibé has trusted the marabout a great deal more than he trusted the government, and was willing to leave relations with government in the hands of the holy men. The marabouts in turn delivered the loyalty of their followers to the government, a minimum of compliance, some taxes and labour, and (increasingly important since independence) votes at national elections. The government then rewarded the marabouts with various forms of official patronage, including material resources—a proportion of which has been redistributed to disciples. If one is to take Marc Bloch’spolar distinction in the relation of unequals (with reference to European feudal society) between oppression and protection, the holy men of Senegal have provided their disciples above all with protection (against the state).3


Social Contract Presidential Election National Election Electoral Rule Opposition Party 
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© Donal B. Cruise O’Brien 2003

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  • Donal B. Cruise O’Brien

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