Improvising an E-state: The Struggle for Cash Transfer Digitalization in Mozambique

Over the last decades, there has been a proliferation of cash transfer programmes across the global South. Digital technologies have given this seeming countermovement a boost by promising to instantaneously transfer cash from the coffers of development agencies and national governments to the pockets of the poor, sidestepping the neopatrimonial state. With the COVID-19 crisis, tech billionaires have teamed up with development institutions to fast-track ‘digital payment ecosystems’ under the guise of financial inclusion and fiscal savings. Much has been written about how such initiatives accelerate the financialization of social welfare and collateralization of the poor by trapping cash transfer recipients in relations of credit and debt. Less has been written about grassroots strategies to claw back power from digital control. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in Mozambique, this article explores three sites of contention at the interface of digital technologies and cash transfer administration: the development of an information management system, the application of a proxy means test and the outsourcing of cash transfer payments to private providers. While not always successful, the article concludes, counter-hegemonic repertoires of action are critical to shaping the terms of cash transfer administration amidst a global ‘war of position’ in policy making.