Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Vouching for Social Protection in East Africa: 
Mainstream development bypassing the extreme and chronically poor
Economic growth and policy response has been largely unsuccessful in adequately addressing issues that affect the poorest, most marginalised and vulnerable groups in East Africa, despite it being one of the world’s fastest growing regions today. Between 2000 and 2010 the size of East Africa’s economy more than doubled in real terms, from US$32 billion to US$79 billion. If Rwanda (currently growing at an average of 7.7%), Tanzania (6.8%) and Uganda (7.2%) maintain their growth momentum and Kenya (3.7%) accelerates, it is expected that they will reach middle-income status around 2022. Over the past decade average regional growth was estimated to be as high as 6.3%. Per capita incomes were US$1,061 which means that, in theory and on average, every East African was entitled to approximately US$88 a month or US$2.97 a day (more than double the  US$1.25  a day poverty line).
Yet despite its impressive economic growth trajectory, East Africa has remained one of the world’s poorest regions. According to the World Development Indicators and the Human Development Index 73% of the region’s population was living in multidimensional poverty in 2011; 52% of people were living below US$1.25 a day; and about 44% were living below nationally-defined poverty lines. In 2011, 135 of every 1,000 East African children died before their fifth birthday; 608 of every 100,000 women died in the process of giving birth; and nearly 58.4% of all East African children suffered from stunted growth.
Despite large investments in the areas of health, education and other public goods, barriers remain that preclude the poor from effectively and adequately accessing and utilising these resources. The chronically poor are often bypassed for a number of reasons. Firstly, mainstream development programmes operate on a large scale, meaning that nuances in the depth and diversity of poverty can be overlooked. Secondly, many state-led programmes assume that income alone can lift households out of poverty. Finally, the most deprived and vulnerable groups are often either unaware of government services, programmes and resources or lack the empowerment to demand for them.
Social protection presents a strategic opportunity to ensure that economic growth policies co-opt redistribution and respond to the problems and needs of the poorest. It aims to reduce social and economic risks and vulnerabilities, empower people in extreme poverty and guarantee a minimum standard of dignity for every individual throughout their life.
There is increasing awareness of the need to include social protection as a critical part of the mix of mainstream public goods that the state is obliged to provide and maintain. The Ouagadougou Summit (2004) vouched for enhanced coverage of effective and adequate social protection programmes across the continent. Through the Livingstone Call for Action (2006) fourteen participant countries committed to recognise social protection as a basic human right and integrate it into their developmental plans. The Social Protection Floor (2009) aims to support countries to plan and implement sustainable elements of social protection systems. In East Africa, constituent states are increasing efforts to institute coherent and coordinated social protection responses. Existing social protection programmes revolve around social security, hospital insurance, pension schemes, cash transfers and social assistance programmes.
However, the depth of social protection is still limited and fragmented in East Africa, which results in duplication and inefficiencies. Current social protection instruments do not reach a large section of the population (only about 10%). At the East African Community (EAC) level, little attention has been granted to establishing an East Africa-wide policy. Neither the EAC treaty (1999) nor the Common Market Protocol (2010) recognises social protection as a right, but merely as an aspect of social welfare. None of the countries in East Africa have ratified the ILO communication No 102 on social security (minimum standards) of 1952. Even the EAC strategic plan for Gender, youth, children, social protection and community development (2011-2015) portrays social protection in a narrow sense, focused on reducing vulnerability. With the exceptions of Kenya and Rwanda, most EAC states lack formal social protection policies and legislative provisions around recognising social protection as a right are vague.
There are marked variations amongst member states around the conceptualisation of social protection and levels of commitment, which highlights the need for minimum standards and comparability across the region. Stakeholder must now converge and explore avenues through which donors, governments and non-state actors can work actively towards embedding social protection as a critical part of the mix of mainstream services that every state in East Africa is obliged to provide and maintain.

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