The notion that social protection should be a key strategy for reducing poverty in developing countries has now been mainstreamed within international development policy and practice. Promoted as an integral dimension of the post-Washington Consensus all major international development agencies and bilateral donors now include a strong focus on social protection in their advocacy and programmatic interventions and a commitment to providing social protection was recently enshrined within the Sustainable Development Goals. The rhetoric around social protection, particularly when delivered in the form of cash transfers, has sometimes reached hyperbolic proportions with advocates seeing it as a magic bullet that can tackle multi-dimensional problems of poverty, vulnerability, and inequality and a southern-led success story that challenges the unequal power relations inherent within international aid.
The Politics of Social Protection in Eastern and Southern Africa challenges the common conception that this phenomenon has been entirely driven by international development agencies, instead focusing on the critical role of political dynamics within specific African countries. It details how the power and politics at multiple levels of governance shapes the extent to which political elites are committed to social protection, the form that this commitment takes, and the implications that this has for future welfare regimes and state-citizen relations in Africa. It reveals how international pressures only take hold when they become aligned with the incentives and ideas of ruling elites in particular contexts. It shows how elections, the politics of clientelism, political ideologies, and elite perceptions all play powerful roles in shaping when countries adopt social protection and at what levels, which groups receive benefits, and how programmes are delivered.