Legislating and implementing welfare policy reforms: what works politically in Africa and why?

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“Just giving money to the poor” through social assistance programmes (including ‘social pensions’, other unconditional grants, conditional cash transfers, and emergency employment programmes) has both passionate advocates and strong opponents. Africa - which is the region of the world where poverty is most resilient - includes some of the countries with the longest histories of social assistance in the global South (South Africa and Mauritius) and is the only region in the world where more is now spent on social assistance programmes than on social insurance programmes.

This research programme examines the politics of welfare programmes in Africa, i.e. what ‘works’ politically and why. The research will analyse the political conditions and factors that either favour or impede the enactment or implementation of social assistance programmes.

The research will cover:

  • agenda-setting
  • elite and public opinion
  • electoral, inter- and intra-party competition
  • the roles of civil society, international organisations, and donors
  • state institutions, technocrats and bureaucrats.

A crucially important question in the African context is how socio-economic inequalities and racial or ethnic diversity affect policy-making. Research will be conducted in mostly East and Southern African countries.

Policy-makers and practitioners must be integral to the research project. Probing the 'black box' of policy-making and implementation requires access to the inside knowledge of legislators, ministers, civil servants, civil society activists and donor organizations. As importantly, the project aims to provide a roadmap to past experiences in a range of African countries that can guide reformers in their future reform efforts.

This research project will entail the following modes of engagement with practitioners and policy-makers, to ensure that the research is thorough and makes the desired impact.


  1. A two-day colloquium in Cape Town will be held in the first six months of the project, to bring together a mix of researchers, policy-makers, donors and civil society activists from nine Southern African countries, to discuss and revise plans for the research programme.
  2. A two-day colloquium in Nairobi will be held at the beginning of the second year of the project, to bring together researchers, policy-makers, donors and civil society activists from across East Africa to discuss the research that has already been conducted, and to discuss and revise plans for research in the East African countries.
  3. A small advisory group of policy-makers, donors and civil society activists will be formed to guide the research project.
  4. Five practitioners and policy-makers will be included among the visiting research fellows who will spend short periods of time at UCT, reflecting on their experiences, and advising and working with the UCT-based research team.
  5. A three-day conference will be held in the final year of the project, bringing together researchers, policy-makers, donors and civil society activists to discuss research findings, locate these in global experiences of policy-making, and consider the implications. This conference will include dedicated sessions on the use of the research results in the policy-making process.
  6. Policy briefs will be written and disseminated, to practitioners, policy-makers and news media in the selected countries, on both the national case-studies and cross-cutting themes.
  7. The database of summary research findings will be available in a practitioner-friendly form.
  8. Practitioners and policy-makers will be encouraged to participate in a short course on the politics of policy making in Africa to be included in the CSSR/Afrobarometer Summer Schools, held in Cape Town from 2013 for junior researchers and professionals from across Africa.
  9. Dedicated pages will be established on the CSSR website, with links to the websites of the ALP and Afrobarometer.


Working with practitioners and policy-makers will be the responsibility of the PI together with Dr Haarmann. Dr Haarmann has considerable experience in working in and with civil society organizations, as well as with policy-makers, in both South Africa and Namibia. It is anticipated that the "impact" dimension to the project will account for about £50,000 of expenditure (i.e. 13% of the total budget). This will comprise 10% of the PI's time on the project, 10% of the researcher's time, 20% of the project manager's time, 30% of Dr Haarmann's time, 50% of the workshop and dissemination expenses, and the expense of bringing five practitioners or policy-makers to Cape Town as visiting research fellows.

Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
Project Status: 
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
Faculty of Humanities
Fund Start Date: 
November 1st, 2012
Fund End Date: 
October 31st, 2015
Fund Currency Code: 
Fund Value: