Tracking progress in social protection financing in Africa

Our Uganda partners, Development Research and Training together with the Economic Policy Research Centre recently organised a regional conference on social protection financing in Africa in Kampala, Uganda. The conference brought together participants from across East, Central and Southern Africa. It was aimed at creating a platform for policy makers and other development practitioners, to share experiences on how different countries in the continent have worked towards mobilising resources for social protection.

The 2 day conference contained some valuable discussions, and I was inspired to share 3 of my key take-aways in this blog.

1. Implementation and progress on social protection differs across African states

Whilst countries across the continent have made significant progress in building institutions, and establishing policy and legislative frameworks for facilitating programming and financing of social protection, there are marked disparities and differences in how this is progressing, and how policies are being implemented. Countries represented in this conference were at different levels of legislation in social protection policy, planning and programming.  For example, in Rwanda, the state budget law already stipulates that 5% of all domestic revenues be allocated to social protection programmes. Kenya recently passed social protection policy aimed at centralising all social protection initiatives (be it humanitarian interventions, asset building and productivity enhancing interventions in agriculture, or education). Some representatives of certain countries (like Uganda or Ethiopia) mentioned the need for strengthening coordination between departments in charge of different social protection programmes. (This issue was highlighted in the recent Uganda Chronic Poverty report, which calls for more coherent cross-government working on SP.)

2. Effective SP policies could  leverage economic growth

The idea that social protection discourse in Africa could be usefully viewed through a human rights perspective was also explored during the conference. It was argued by some attendees that the perception of social protection may need to change, in recognition of the capacity of social protection policies to drive economic growth- for example, successful SP interventions can increase consumption and production. Prof. Jimi Adesina’s presentation demonstrated that social protection should perhaps move away from just “ex-post” responses to vulnerability, and concentrate on “ex-ante”, fundamental human rights-focused policies, which could prevent and mitigate shocks.

It was also argued that the way forward for SP policies might be to focus on simple, tested interventions, and progressively build on them, rather than launching ambitious programmes with large resource outlays. The latter require substantial political will behind them to sustain their place on the policy agenda, and risk being abandoned; whereas the former can help build an evidence base for scaling up.  Marianne Uriksen’s presentation at the conference was a look at South Africa and Mauritius’ long history of tax financed social protection programmes. Her presentation demonstrated examples of tax-financed social protection programmes, schemes in countries such as Mauritius, South Africa and Rwanda, which have made commendable progress, and may now be up-scaled.

3. Natural resource revenues could be invested in social protection

There was a good discussion about how domestic resources can contribute to financing for SP.  Many felt that natural resource rents currently emerging in the region, and domestic resources that have been exploited before, could be effectively leveraged to fund social protection, and wean the sector off over-reliance on external resources. (ODA is a key external resource which often funds social protection programmes). It was, however, noted that Africa countries must draw a balance – to ensure that natural resource revenues are invested both in infrastructure and in social development initiatives. While countries often place upfront importance on investing in infrastructure assets (such as roads), the future usability of these assets will also depend on investments in sustainable social development. EG: Building livelihoods through SP policies could promote use of transport links- through giving people more disposable income, and encouraging local trade and commerce.

What’s next for social protection in East Africa?

Although social protection has gained significance in national development policy, and is increasingly on the agenda in debates on resource allocation across the African continent, the conference concluded that further pressure on national governments is still needed: to call for more resources to be allocated to social protection. There are still high numbers of poor people in sub-Saharan Africa (and globally) who are bypassed both by the benefits of economic growth and traditional development interventions. Failure to address this, will entrench another generation in extreme poverty – who are unable to move out of the poverty trap, and whose children will likely enter the same state.

The Kampala conference will inform future research work; DI and DRT, together with partners like EPRC, are working to generate new knowledge which can inform social protection policies and programmes. We also continue to engage policymakers in East Africa on minimum social protection provisions such as the national social protection floor, and a key  upcoming focus for DI/DRT research is ‘safety nets’, (comprehensive social protection systems). Our upcoming East Africa Chronic Poverty report, will also explore these issues further.