Social cohesion in Africa

The research project identifies different types of social cohesion in Africa and analyses which domestic and international factors and policies can contribute to strengthening social cohesion and preventing social disintegration or even polarization. The project also aims at bringing together different actors involved in development cooperation to put social cohesion more at the center of policy efforts.

Project Lead:
Francesco Burchi
Julia Leininger
Armin von Schiller

Project description

Social cohesion within societies is a key factor for sustainable development. That is why promoting social cohesion should be a priority in development policy, especially in Africa, where societies are particularly under pressure. Demographic and climate change, and the socio-economic consequences of the recent Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine with the sharp increases in energy and food prices have deleterious effects on poverty and inequality. They are also likely to cause social fragmentation. In Africa, inequality is generally very high in comparison with other world regions. At the same time, several conflicts 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.

Overall, current academic debates are not able to paint a holistic picture of social cohesion in Africa, from which deriving overarching recommendations for the design and implementation of development policies in the continent. Against this background, the project aims to gain 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:

  • 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?
  • Which domestic factors influence the degree of social cohesion? How can policies contribute to the creation and consolidation of social cohesion?
  • How and under which conditions can international and transnational cooperation influence the domestic factors that determine social cohesion?

Four main thematic areas structure the project. We investigate them in four work packages (WPs):

  1. Inclusive economic development: WP1 focuses on issues connected to structural economic transformation, urbanisation and foreign direct investment with an emphasis on how to maximize opportunities for sustainable economic development, which in turn can improve social cohesion;
  2. Social policy, poverty and health: WP2 analyses poverty and health in African societies, and the specific role that different social and health policies can have in tackling poverty and improving health conditions. This, in turn, can promote both the horizontal and vertical dimensions of social cohesion.
  3. Values, political institutions and resources mobilisation: WP3 focuses on how cultural factors, such as norms and value-orientation, affect the creation and functioning of political institutions in African societies as well as how political institution affect the interaction among citizens and their perception of the state.
  4. Conflict and societal peace: WP4 analyses which policies and institutions can help to restore social cohesion in post-conflict societies and how international support can contribute. This WP concentrates primarily on the role of transitional justice and local elections.



Project Coordination

Carolin Becher


Video: What is Social Cohesion

Flyer Social Cohesion in Africa

Videos on Social Cohesion

Social Cohesion Hub

In order to strengthen networks between academics, practitioners and policy makers working on social cohesion we the project conceived and launched the Social Cohesion Hub (Flyer), a knowledge-sharing platform. In particular, the Hub encourages dialogue between academics and practitioners working on the topic. In this vein, the Hub aims to promote exchange as well as foster cooperation and discussion between different stakeholder groups.

Our Concept and Measurement