06 June 2010

Has Social Protection in Africa Lost Its Way?

Social protection refers to a set of interventions that seek to help families protect themselves against shocks, protect the assets they have, and climb out of poverty.

A new report by the Centre for Social Protection argues that, in sub-Saharan Africa, social protection may have lost its way.

Despite lots of donor investment, many African governments remain reluctant to embark on the high recurrent costs of social welfare and the political irreversibility of its introduction.

The report suggests a change in emphasis. Instead of introducing a plethora of pilots that use imported recipes, focus on the objectives of social protection--vulnerability and poverty reduction--and build on existing government initiatives, innovating and experimenting with these as they are strengthened. Importantly, the report recommends that African citizens are more involved in the upstream design and the downstream evaluation of such programmes. It is noteworthy that the biggest global successes in social protection come from Mexico and Brazil and these were home grown ideas, financed by a mix of domestic and external finance.

But the picture is not that simple--it's not as if there are legions of African leaders straining to get their homegrown social protection policies financed. A report released last week from Kofi Annan's African Progress Panel highlights the disconnects between African countries' GDP/capita growth rates and the continent's lack of progress in poverty reduction. This, it is argued, is the result of weak leadership, capacity and governance. This puts a premium on the donors being politically nimble and switched on to the policy process.

Country-led opportunities for strengthening social protection in Africa will not be commonplace. When they arise, the donors must be ready--not to produce their own solutions but to support the reformers working in the countries they are trying to help.

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