Tag Archives social cash transfers

Development Dialogue 2018 | Who decides who gets social protection? by Maria Klara Kuss

Social protection interventions have recently been scaled up in sub-Saharan Africa. While international aid donors have invested much money, time and effort into the policy design phase, the real politics start to unfold during its implementation phase. This is when people experience who will receive benefits and who is excluded. What can the case of Zambia tell us about the political debates  on who ‘deserves’ social protection and who does not?


In sub-Saharan Africa, the social protection agenda has been largely driven by international aid donors who have invested many resources into influencing the design and scale-up of these interventions. It is therefore not surprising that much evidence exists on the positive impacts of social protection interventions on a range of indicators (e.g. on poverty, health, and education). Moreover, recent research into the politics of social protection has shed light on the political drivers of the expansion of social protection in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, much attention has been given to the policy design rather than the implementation phase.

This can however be particular misleading in in the area of social protection. This is because the deep politics – and thus the negotiations for social justice – unfold after its implementation. This is when it becomes more visible for the public who will and who will not receive those benefits (see Grindle & Thomas, 1991). This can be illustrated by the findings from my PhD research that analyses the politics of implementing social cash transfers (SCTs) in Zambia.


In Zambia, around 54% of the population lives in poverty, and almost 41% in extreme poverty (CSO, 2015). Similar to other African countries, most of the country’s poor (77%) live in rural areas (CSO, 2015). To reduce poverty and eradicate the intergenerational transmission of poverty (see MCDMCH, 2012), international aid donors have supported the Government of Zambia in initiating different SCT schemes. Since 2003, in total four small-scale SCT schemes were piloted – each targeting different groups of poor people (e.g. children, female-headed households, old people, and people with disabilities or chronic diseases). These schemes were strongly driven by Zambia’s aid donors while the Government of Zambia has long remained reluctant in taking the schemes beyond its pilot phase.

Finally in 2014, the Government of Zambia took the vital decision to introduce a single nation-wide SCT scheme. The commitment to implement a single SCT scheme meant that the Zambian Government took a vital decision about whom they considered most deserving of receiving support in form of SCTs. The proposed targeting approach of the new scheme included a range of household compositions such as households with old people, people with disabilities, as well as households with young women caring for children. Given the variety of households included, the new SCT scheme was named ‘the Inclusive Scheme’.


The targeting approach together with the formal policy objective of the ‘Inclusive Scheme’ signalled a potentially transformative change of Zambia’s welfare regime with its underpinning values of social justice. This was because it included young women and their children who previously did not receive any benefits. My research findings however indicate that the Inclusive Scheme did not result in a transformation, but rather in the continuation of Zambia’s political settlement with its values of social justice.

Only shortly after the implementation of the scheme in local communities, strong local opposition emerged because as it became clearer who would and would not benefit from the Inclusive Scheme. A series of debates about the deservingness of young women and their children followed. But instead of transforming the perceptions of powerholders about their deservingness, the powerful local resistance resulted in a drastic change of the targeting approach of the Inclusive Scheme. This fundamentally changed the values of social justice that underpinned the scheme.


In order to understand the deep politics of social protection, it is therefore crucial to pay attention to the implementation phase. This is not a phase where decisions are carried out in a bureaucratic manner, but where political reactions are likely to occur since the implications of the policy design become apparent. People will understand who will be included and who will be excluded from receiving social protection benefits. If these policy ideas are competing with people’s perceptions of social justice, local opposition is likely to emerge. This can pose a threat to the sustainability of the initial policy design with its underpinning values of social justice and thus compromise the investments made during the design phase.


This blog article builds on the findings of PhD research by Maria Klara Kuss which analyses the negotiations of Zambia’s welfare regime and is based at the United Nations University MERIT’s Graduate School of Governance at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. For more information see: Kuss, M. K. (forthcoming). After the scale-up: the political drivers of sustaining social protection in Zambia. GIZ policy brief. Eschborn: GIZ.

CSO (2015). 2015 Living Conditions Monitoring Survey Report. Lusaka: Central Statistical Office.
Grindle, M., & Thomas, J. (1991). Public choices and policy change. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
MCDMCH (2012). Harmonised Manual of Operations. Social Cash Transfer Scheme. Lusaka: Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health.

This blog article is part of a series related to the Development Dialogue 2018 Conference that was recently held at the ISS. Other articles forming part of the series can be read here,  here , here, here and here.

About the author:

PhotoMKussMaria Klara Kuss is a PhD fellow in Public Policy and Policy Analysis at the United Nations University MERIT’s Graduate School of Governance – supervised by Allister J McGregor (Sheffield), Mark Bevir (UC Berkeley), and Franziska Gassmann (Maastricht). She is also affiliated to the African Studies Centre at Leiden University (ASCL). Her PhD research is interdisciplinary in nature and draws on anthropological and sociological approaches to public policy analysis. It analyses the de facto negotiations of Zambia’s welfare regime with a focus on the transformative impacts of social cash transfers.