Global Development Institute Blog

Social protection has risen to a prominent position on the global development agenda since the turn of the millennium. Considerable attention has been devoted to debating the merits of different policy designs and the political factors shaping the adoption of different models. Yet ultimately, the ability of any social transfer programme to deliver on its promises is dependent on the effective implementation and distribution of social transfers in line with its objectives.

Edited by Tom Lavers, The Politics of Distributing Social Transfers: State Capacity and Political Contestation in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia provides a systematic analysis of the political processes shaping the distribution of social transfers in six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In doing so, the book addresses a notable gap in recent research on social protection concerning the politics of implementation.

The Politics of Distributing Social Transfers: State Capacity and Political Contestation in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia is available as a free, open access e-book and in hardcopy, published by Oxford University Press. It extends the analysis of the 2019 open access publication, The Politics of Social Protection in Eastern and Southern Africa, which challenged the assumption that the popularity of social protection programmes is driven by international development agencies. The research for both books was undertaken as part of the Effective States and Inclusive Development (ESID) research centre.

Individual chapters examine international and sub-national variation in programme implementation in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nepal and Rwanda. Each study draws upon a common analytical framework that highlights the importance of state capacity and reach, rooted in histories of state formation, and contemporary political competition in shaping the distribution of social transfers.

Comparative analysis of the case studies supports the view that variation in the capacity and reach of the state within countries is a centrally important factor shaping the effectiveness and impartiality of distribution. Yet state capacity alone is insufficient. Political competition and power relations shape how this capacity is actually deployed in practice.

As such, this book underscores the inherently political nature of implementation and questions common technocratic efforts to improve implementation by de-politicizing the social protection policy process.

Tom Lavers said: “Even where the implementation of social protection is relatively impartial, politics plays an important role in shaping programme choices and outcomes. Ultimately, the interactions and power struggles of state officials, politicians and social actors determine the ability of social transfer programmes to deliver on their objectives.”

Top image of Bessengue, Douala, Cameroon. Photo by Edouard TAMBA on Unsplash

Note:  This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.