Rethinking the Social Protection Paradigm: Social Policy in Africa’s Development

Background paper to the ERD 2010


Jimi O. Adesina,Professor of Sociology, Director, Transformative Social Policy Programme, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa & Professorial Research Associate, Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden


Paper prepared for the Conference “Promoting Resilience through Social Protection in Sub-Saharan Africa”, organised by the European Report of Development in Dakar, Senegal, 28-30 June, 2010.


The experience of sub-Saharan Africa with social development in the period between 1981 and 2005 has been grim, with an additional 176,1 million falling into severe poverty. Over the period, policy attention turned from a wider vision of social policy to narrow social protection concerns, with cash transfer (conditional and non-conditional) as the policy instrument of choice. This is what we refer to as the Social Protection Paradigm (SPP). The paper offers an assessment of the discourse, advocacy, and implementation modalities associated with the paradigm.
The paradigm is the “social” side of the neo-liberal framework, rather than a departure from it. In the African context, it has been driven by aggressive “policy-merchandising” by donors whose funding strategies cover the full range of policymaking: project initiation, implementation, and evaluation. The result is a series of highly compromised claims as to the efficacy of the paradigm’s policy instruments. Nothing in European social policy experiences or their normative underpinnings suggests that the policy instruments should be aggressively merchandised to African countries. The instruments represent a diminution of the development vision that underpinned a variety of successful social policy regimes that combined economic growth and
poverty reduction.
We offer an alternative vision of social policy encapsulated in the idea of Transformative Social Policy. Rather than the narrow vision of SPPs, we argue that social policy has multiple roles, including production, re-distribution, protection, reproduction, social cohesion or nation-building. Social policy, in the context of meeting Africa’s development challenges, must embrace these multiple roles. Economic development, underpinned by transformative social policy, must combine growth with the structural transformation of the economy and social relations, underpinned by the norms of equality and social solidarity.

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