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RT16 - Politics of social protection in Sub-Saharan Africa

Convened by Petronilla Wandeto, Guido Maschhaupt, Ahmed El Assal (International Institute of Social Studies Erasmus University Rotterdam), Natalia  Zakharchenko and Irene Among-Lutz (Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany

Social protection, and specifically cash transfers, have increasingly become part of mainstream development assistance initiatives in Africa over the past two decades. A large amount of evidence has identified its potential to concurrently contribute to multiple poverty reduction objectives in the broader SDGs framework around livelihoods, (re)distribution of power and resources across social groups, and institutional reforms (World Bank, 2018; Hickey et al., 2019). However, social protection policies and programs are also intimately intertwined with patronage politics and complex state-society relations, raising urgent questions on their broader implications for poverty-reduction and the exacerbation of existing inequalities (Lavers & Hickey, 2015). Some scholars have argued for the potential of legal frameworks to improve the effectiveness of social protection programs (Sepúlveda & Nyst, 2012). This roundtable, therefore, seeks to explore new rhythms of development in the recent wave of diffusion of social assistance initiatives in Africa, particularly around the tensions and synergies emerging from the politics of patronage and dynamics of ‘rightful claims’. It builds on existing scholarship regarding the politics and jurisprudence of social protection, bringing together diverse research projects to facilitate critical discussions around the question: how do different political, legal, and institutional conditions explain the divergence in regime commitments to social protection programs as well as their complex socio-political outcomes?
Specifically:
-How do legal mechanisms contribute to the coherence of social protection systems?
-Which institutions, political dynamics, and actors are determinants for the outcomes of policy conflicts?
-How do other actors, such as courts, interfere in adopted policy choices and engage with socio-economic rights?
-How do social and political contextual factors and power configuration affect citizens’ claims-making in cash transfer programs?
-How do donors and activists navigate the trade-offs and dilemmas inherent in the introduction of social assistance programs in semi-authoritarian political systems?