ACTIONS of African governments to expand social protection during COVID-19
This blog post summarises the reflections presented at the webinar ''ACTIONS of African governments to expand social protection during COVID-19'', held on 8 June 2021. The session was the second in a series of discussions jointly organised by the African Union, the Africa Social Protection Platform, HelpAge International, WIEGO, Save the Children, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) – Zambia, and the ILO Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa. Participants at the webinar heard from Dramane Batchabi (ILO), John Gachigi (Government of Kenya), Apera Iorwa (NASSCO Nigeria), Gift Dafuleya (SASPEN), and Carol Agengo (HelpAge International). The recording and presentation are available and can be accessed online.
What was the state of social protection in Africa before COVID-19? What has been the social protection response to the pandemic? What lessons have we learnt from this process, for the future of social protection in Africa? Part 2 of the African Dialogue on COVID-19 and the Future of Social Protection provided a space to reflect on these questions and infer some lessons through a discussion of the experience of Kenya and Nigeria governments' social protection response to the pandemic.
Dramane Batchabi of ILO described the state of social protection in Africa before the pandemic, which displays a focus on old age pensions and health insurance, with 30% and 28% coverage, respectively. Major gaps exist in coverage for children and families, and for maternity and unemployment benefits. The causes of the coverage deficits are several: The absence of a rights-based approach to social protection, with many of the schemes not being anchored in legislation. The financing gap, another major cause, with the current gap for social protection floors resting at 8.5 % of GDP on average. Weak governance and administrative systems for social protection, weak policy and institutional coordination, and existing inequities for informal workers, migrants and minority groups are among the other causes of the coverage deficits.
However, in this context of limited coverage, nearly all countries in Africa have implemented social protection measures in response to Covid-19. 230 measures, mostly non-contributory, were implemented across the continent. Almost 64% of the response was new programmes, which took different forms. Subsidies or cost reductions on utilities made a comeback. Most of the measures were one-off or short term. Also, important to note that of these mechanisms, only about 7,6% were focusing on issues affecting children and their families.
As in elsewhere, countries with strong health and social protection systems in place could quickly react and adapt their programmes to address the impact of COVID-19. Overall, it is clear that the pandemic accelerated efforts for strengthening social protection systems in Africa, and our hope is that governments will continue to build on this momentum to make further progress.
Kenya has made so much progress in social protection since 2011 when the first social protection policy was developed. Kenya now has four cash transfer programmes covering 1,3 million people, is piloting universal health coverage in 4 counties, and a shock responsive programme in arid and semi-arid areas.
John Gachigi, Kenya’s Director of Social Assistance, noted that "Cash alone cannot move people from poverty. We have a "cash plus" agenda. We complement and augment the impacts of cash, through economic inclusion programmes, financial literacy, income-generating activities, and nutrition programmes for under 2s."
"We want to introduce behavioural sciences in our cash transfer programmes. We want to change the mindsets - the entitlement to money comes with a responsibility to spend responsibly, to save, to start an income-generating activity."
Kenya's social protection response to COVID-19 included an emergency cash transfer programme for the new vulnerable families, people with disabilities, and top up allowances for the existing recipients. Using the structures at the village level, newly vulnerable families were identified and registered within one week. An open application system was used to harmonize targeting across all schemes owned by different Ministries. All payments have been digitized, complaints mechanisms strengthened, a single registry enhanced.
In Nigeria, where 4 in 10 live below the poverty line, a single registry has been developed, covering 35 million individuals that make up 40% of poor households served by a national social protection programme.
Mr. Iorwa Apera, National Coordinator of the National Social Safety Nets Coordination Office, spoke of the rapid response register, a tool devised for the expansion of the social protection platform. It is a technology-based targeting system that uses satellite-based poverty maps with high-resolution images, that help to produce estimates of wealth and poverty, which is then cross-checked with DHS data.
Dr. Gift Dafuleya (University of Venda/Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg) highlighted that “for the first time, the traction of social protection in Africa is comparable to the rest of the world. This traction we have never seen before is something we can build on moving forward.”
“Governments have done their best to work with available technology, to rapidly register recipients into either existing or new programmes. For the first time, registration via mobile, websites, email were utilized. Having the poor register for these programmes at the comfort of their homes without having to travel or queue, was very encouraging.”
“Governments were able to step up as per their role, proving “where there is a will, there is a way.” However, social assistance still needs to play a big role across the lifecycle. Children and adults, and people with disabilities need improved coverage. Short-term assistance is not the same as rights-based social protection. Expanding disability-specific/inclusive social protection as well as reaching those in the 'missing middle' are very important.”
"Social protection is very, very important", Mr Kachigi said, “When you are using money for the poor, it is not a cost, but an investment."
Kenya is now moving from poverty targeting to a lifecycle approach, establishing universal programmes for 70+, piloting a Universal Child Benefit for under 2s. Also important to note that all of Kenya's cash transfer programmes are 100% tax-financed. Donor funds are used for systems and capacity strengthening.
Let us hope that the momentum for investments in social protection systems in Africa will not vane, and more and more countries will continue to follow the example of Kenya and others to strengthen systems, move to life-cycle based, inclusive approaches, address coverage gaps, and continue to make progress towards social protection floors.
The African Union, the Africa Social Protection Platform, HelpAge International, WIEGO, Save the Children, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) – Zambia, and the ILO Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa would like to thank all speakers and participants for their valued contributions to the Dialogue and extend a special thank you to Simon Nhongo, Zimbabwe Social Protection Platform, Southern Africa Representative of the Africa Platform for Social Protection (APSP), for his expert moderation of the webinars. Organizers would further express their gratitude to socialprotection.org for supporting and hosting the dialogue.
 Source: ILO World Social Protection Report, 2017-19
 ILO Social Protection Monitor (26 January 2021)