Social security has been part of our national conversation for a long a time. Covid-19 reignited the debate over the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and to what extent it is relevant for the management of risks that savers may face from time to time. An amendment was secured early this year after a prolonged debate, despite questions that have been raised.
That debate, recognises that it is a small group of people, who can make noise over NSSF, because the majority of Ugandans do not save with the national fund.
Attempts to widen it to enable savers outside formal employment have been made. As such, social protection is a topic of critical importance for most Ugandans.
How do we make social protection inclusive and a reality in Africa?
On May 7, the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) based in Nairobi and Uganda Christian University (UCU) convened an East African regional meeting to discuss social protection in Africa. The discussion was based on a research paper by Prof Erick Nyambedha of Maseno University in Kenya.
For PASGR and their partner, the Open Society of Eastern Africa (OSEA), social protection in Africa deserves a deeper discussion and understanding of the problem.
The main problem with social protection appears to be the absence of inclusivity and lack of social justice. It also remains a very small part of social policy, almost negligible in most countries. In many ways, old social protection systems have nearly broken down.
More so, the capacity of the State in most countries to afford social protection programmes is limited, leaving it largely donor driven. As is the case with most donor driven initiatives, national governments often loose sense of what they know can work and should pursue, and jump on the band wagon of what donors are offering.
What came out as critical for participants is that social protection must go hand in hand with social accountability that allows for mechanisms to emerge that empower citizens and civil society to hold the government accountable.
Like most issues, even social protection can be political. According to Nyambetha, ‘social provision, of which social protection is a component, is an economic issue and has political implications in terms of resource allocation, design, and implementation. As such, social protection towards addressing poverty and development concerns in Africa varies in scope depending on the actors who are driving the development agenda.
The biggest takeaway from the main paper was that a transformative social protection agenda requires policymakers to revisit and revise current philosophy, design and implementation of social protection in Africa. It suggests that a meaningful social protection agenda requires the linkage of social protection with social policy and linking social policy with economic policy.
In this way, social policy activities should be seen as long term investments linked with economic productivity. And these would therefore include interventions around social policy instruments such as publicly financed education, universal health care, land reform, labour market relations, affirmative action interventions and social cohesion initiatives.
As participants in the convening rightly noted, the narrowing of social policy agenda as a result of neoliberal policies in Africa partly explains the dire situation we find ourselves in. Covid-19 will no doubt change the way we look at social protection on the continent. And this should perhaps call for a new thinking around the design of social policy in Africa.
Part of the solution lies in broadening and strengthening social policy. For instance, working towards an education system that does not exclude majority of the poor, pursuing healthcare policies that provide minimum basic services to all citizens, expanding the provision of water and energy infrastructure to rural areas where they are really needed, and having special programmes for the vulnerable in society. The elderly is part of the vulnerable in society.
The other part of the solution needs to closely tie economic policies to social transformation. To some extent, the current programmatic approach offers interesting ways to make these improvements. A well-thought-out socio-economic agenda is needed.
Social protection programme sustainability can only be meaningful if social service sector administration is effective. Social protection matters must be part of the development priorities of African governments.