Addressing the pertinent question of the future of social protection in East Africa, on 22nd June, socialprotection.org hosted a webinar organized by the EU Social Protection Systems Programme. The webinar presented the recently published report “Social Protection in East Africa: Harnessing the Future”, and was led by Alexander Pick (OECD Development Centre) and Flora Myamba (PhD), with moderation by Fábio Veras (International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth). The recording is available here, and the presentation here.
Following an introduction by Fábio Veras, Alexander Pick opened the feature presentation of the webinar, which began with an introduction to the report, and the key questions which guided the research. The report is a strategic foresight which assesses the relationship between social protection and demographic and other relevant trends in six East African countries between now and 2065: Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The report responds to questions of what demographic, environmental, social and economic trends lie ahead for East Africa, how these will affect social protection, and indeed how social protection can impact these trends.
Speaking first on methodology, Alexander went on to present the demographic trends identified by the report. These include significant demographic changes, such as rapid population growth, decline in fertility, urbanization, and changing age structure of the population. From these population trends, the report builds a long-term projection of economic and social trends. It is important to note, Alexander emphasized, that this project is not a forecast, but rather a means of seeing how key variables interact. The slides demonstrated that while larger working age populations drive robust growth, population growth has a significant impact on hampering GDP growth. The report found too that there will continue to be slow structural change with regards to outputs in terms of agriculture, industry and services in the six countries. Closely linked to this, employment projections by the research show that informality will remain the norm. Alexander gave the example of Ethiopia to show that agriculture will continue to dominate the employment sector, still representing a 59% share of all employment in 2065. Given these variables, and considering also the increasing threat of climate change, poverty eradication remains a huge challenge in the region.
Having presented the projected trends, Alexander then introduced the ‘Seven grand challenges’ identified by the report. These seven challenges structured the second half of Alexander’s presentation. The first grand challenge, solving the last mile problem of extreme poverty, is vital. However will take substantial time, technology, and capacity. The second substantial challenge is promoting social insurance in a context of high informality, which Alexander noted will require greater flexibility in social protection programmes. Closely linked to this is the third grand challenge; confronting the employment challenge. Speaking of public employment programmes (PEPs) Alexander emphasized the importance of useful work, and local ownership. These two factors make a substantial difference to addressing this grand challenge. As urbanization increases, as does the fourth grand challenge; urban social protection. There is a lack of coverage of social protection programmes among the urban poor, and the solution requires more than a simple transferal of rural schemes. There is also the challenge of a significant information deficit regarding the urban poor.
The fifth grand challenge Alexander presented is climate change adaptation. As the report shows, social protection is integral to adaptation strategy. Social protection helps improve resilience before shocks occur, rather than afterwards like traditional emergency assistance. Support agricultural diversification and infrastructure, social protection has a unique role in adapting to climate change. The penultimate grand challenge of the report is harnessing a demographic dividend, the key ingredients of which Alexander identified to be lower dependency ratio, and more productive physical and human capital. Alexander concluded his presentation with the final grand challenge, which is extremely important with regards to policy; a step-change in financing. The emphasis should be on better revenue-generation and better spending to ensure that funding social protection does not further hurt the poor.
Responding to the report, and Alexander’s presentation, Flora followed with a detailed and critical discussion. She began by reflecting on the importance of recognizing differences in definition of social protection within the region, and how this effects political will, and more importantly, financial resource allocation. In addition to this, Flora emphasized the importance of coordination, and access to knowledge and advanced technologies. However there continue to be capacity issues regarding social protection research and implementation. Reiterating Alexander’s presentation, Flora recognized the difficulty of addressing informality, but gave examples across the region that are opening up. Flora paid attention to the gender aspect of social protection, noting that gender-sensitive and inclusive social protection policies are important for sustainable development outcomes. Reflecting on fertility trends, Flora also emphasized the importance of religion and culture, and their continued impact on social protection programmes.
After Flora’s discussion, Fábio led a question and answer round, directing questions and comments from the audience to the speakers. This included questions regarding governance, and the impact of corruption and other forms of weak government on social protection, in addition to questions on distribution of resources, and finally, regarding social protection and migration. Following the questions, Fábio concluded the webinar thanking both the speakers and the attendees, and invited all to continue the discussion on socialprotection.org.
Wacth the video here!
This blog post is published as part of the Webinar Series, which brings together the summaries of webinars organized by socialprotection.org and partners on a variety of themes related to social protection. If you have any thoughts on the topic discussed, we would love to hear them. Please add your comments below and we will get back to you.