Covid-19 shocks trigger demand for new global social contract

It offers an opportunity to reduce inequalities, strengthen resilience to shocks and protect fundamental rights and freedoms

In Summary

• The pandemic has laid bare the inequality and vulnerability in health and education systems, social protection and public services.

• It has brought to the fore the extra-ordinary precariousness and injustices of the world of work, highlighting the always essential role of the working heroes

Covid-19 teaching us our priorities
Covid-19 teaching us our priorities
Image: OZONE

While it is still early to say with finality the consequences and trajectory of global trends amidst Covid-19 pandemic impacts, it is palpable that the world will experience a major paradigm shift in nearly all aspects.

The pandemic has laid bare the inequality and vulnerability in health and education systems, social protection and public services.

It has brought to the fore the extra-ordinary precariousness and injustices of the world of work, highlighting the always essential role of the working heroes — people who are usually invisible, unconsidered, undervalued and even ignored. They include healthcare workers, cleaners, supermarket cashiers, unpaid carers in their homes and communities – a large majority of them women — many of them being the working poor.

The pandemic illustrates the interdependence and indivisibility of human rights, especially those related to health, education, housing, food and access to water. The majority living in low income tier cannot afford and/ or access goods and service as they still bear the disproportionate burden of the economic consequences of quarantines, lockdowns and the adverse economic situation.

It has further exacerbated the vulnerability of the least protected in society. This means there has to be a human-centered response and recovery plan that will build a better and equal life. 

To do this, there is need to address persistent structural problems facing the entire world because these-deep seated inequalities are global. 

The effects of the pandemic are intricately tied to the choices of political leaders. We have seen reckless leaders take advantage to engage undemocratic and illiberal behaviours. Also, the use and misuse of information has exposed a serious flaw in unequal yet interconnected world.

Consequently, Covid-19 has deepened people’s skepticism of the elite and their displeasure at behind closed doors decision making. This threatens to further erode trust in public institutions, particularly if citizens get the perception that authorities are mishandling and/or taking advantage of the pandemic in their response or are not transparent on its scope.

This calls for more citizen engagement and empowerment. It also means the people and their leaders must build back better.

The world also needs to re-double efforts to implement sustainable development goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. We have to immensely invest in building a more inclusive and sustainable future with stronger health systems, fewer people living in extreme poverty, more equal education systems, less gender inequality and more resilient societies.

The Covid-19 response objective is to provide policy framework for effective, integrated and targeted response to human security challenges.

As noted in the General Assembly resolution 66/290, "human security is a powerful approach to assist states in identifying and addressing widespread and cross-cutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of their people.”

It calls for “people-centered, comprehensive, context-specific and prevention-oriented responses that strengthen the protection and empowerment of all people".

Local governments across the world have shown commitment, zeal and capacity in provision of essential services. They are key to ensuring Covid-19 response protocols are implemented. Stronger local governments are thus uniquely positioned to shape, adapt and deliver a holistic response to this health crisis and its socioeconomic consequences.

Developing countries such as Kenya may get tempted to adopt policies of external liberalisation and fiscal “restraint” to boost competitiveness. Such policies will weaken domestic economy causing lower labour shares, slower jobs creation and diminished commitment to public investments.

This will leave open mainly two routes to growth — crude export promotion and massive debt accumulation.  This combination does not build resilience and sustainability. Countries must diversify their local economies and create economies of scale for fast productivity growth through fair trade.  Finance support plays an important role of enabling domestic economic forces.


The global pandemic will also be a game changer in international relations and speed up several pre-existing trends. The international development cooperation environment will be highly competitive as well as increase demand for greater and better cooperation.

International cooperation is weakening in many areas and the sharpening role of rising powers and their impact on development cooperation norms and standards through South-South cooperation might serve as being a super-accelerator for pre-existing trends.

Although the coronavirus has exposed the glaring inequalities, it has become the accelerator of the uptake of digital solutions, tools and services as people try to carry on with their daily lives and work online.

However, it is important to be cautious that the uneven access and opportunities afforded by digital technologies do not become a bigger problem as they grow in popularity. It will also be important to ensure that privacy concerns and data ownership concerns are not simply forgotten as consumers and producers do more business online.

This pandemic thus calls for a new global human security centred social contract that reduce inequalities, strengthens resilience to shocks, protects fundamental rights and freedoms and builds more inclusive and sustainable future.

Writer is Executive Director, International Center for Policy and Conflict @NdunguWainaina