Researching the politics of development



The political economy of social protection

Phase 1 – the political economy of social protection expansion in Africa


This research analyses the political economy of social protection policy formulation and implementation in sub-Saharan Africa, with a view to explaining variation in national experiences.


Eight countries were selected for in-depth analysis: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. These countries also experience a diversity of political settlements, including broad and narrow dominant party, and competitive clientelist systems. Comparative analysis of these countries enables the project to examine the links between variation in the type of political settlement, the orientation of the ruling coalition towards the expansion of social protection, and the ruling coalition’s openness to ideational influence.

Research question

Under what political conditions do elites adopt and promote social protection policies in sub-Saharan Africa and, in particular, how is this shaped by political settlements and transnational ideas?

Methods and research design

The research has three main components:

  1. An historical analysis of each country’s political settlements.
  2. An analysis of social policy and its linkages to national development strategies, the political and economic objectives of these policies, and the dominant social policy ideas that they represent. This analysis will cover both contemporary policy and past approaches.
  3. Process tracing of the policy process, involving key informant interviews with representatives of key government and donor agencies involved in the design of social protection policies.

The first two research activities draw on secondary literature, including a growing body of work on political settlements in several of the case study countries, as well as government and donor policy documents and laws. Where gaps in the existing literature and documentary evidence are identified, these are addressed through key informant interviews with relevant respondents.
The third research activity involves process tracing of debates on the expansion of social protection in the country; this constitutes the main empirical contribution of the project. For this process, tracing, documentary and archival evidence can provide useful inputs. However, key informant interviews are vital to the research objectives.

Phase 2 – the politics of implementing social protection


The project examines multiple local level case studies within six countries Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya, Nepal and Rwanda. Case selection was made to compare dominant party political systems (Ethiopia, Rwanda and, increasingly, Bangladesh) with competitive political systems (Ghana, Kenya and Nepal), as well as comparing different types of programme: social cash transfers (Ghana and Kenya), food and cash-for-work (Ethiopia and Rwanda), school bursaries (Bangladesh and Nepal) and health insurance (Ethiopia, Ghana and Rwanda). Within each country, case selection reflects variation in the history of state formation associated with variation in state capacity, and variation in local politics, including degree of political competition, ruling party legitimacy and popular mobilisation.

Research question

How do variation in state capacity and local political dynamics—including party and popular politics—shape the implementation of social protection?

Methods and research design

The research employed in-depth case studies that traced the formal and informal process of distributing social transfers and enrolment in health insurance through key informant interviews, in-depth interviews, focus groups and a survey.

How does this project fit within ESID’s research agenda?

This research contributes to ESID’s broader objective of identifying the political drivers of inclusive development, with a particular focus on how different political settlements shape developmental forms of elite commitment and state capacity.


Lead ResearcherTom LaversUniversity of Manchester, UK
ResearcherAbdul-Gafaru AbdulaiUniversity of Ghana Business School
ResearcherEdward AmpratwumGhana Centre for Democratic Development, Ghana
ResearcherBadru BukenyaMakerere University, Uganda
ResearcherLars BuurRoskilde University, Denmark
ResearcherBenjamin ChemouniLondon School of Economics, UK
ResearcherSam HickeyUniversity of Manchester, UK
ResearcherNaomi HossainUniversity of Sussex, UK
ResearcherMohammed IbrahimPhD student, The University of Manchester
ResearcherThabit JacobRoskilde University, Denmark
ResearcherAnna McCordConsultant, UK
ResearcherSylvestre NzahabwanayoUniversity of Rwanda
ResearcherRasmus Hundsbæk PedersenDanish Institute for International Studies, Denmark
ResearcherUma PradhanUniversity of Oxford, UK
ResearcherKate PruceUniversity of Manchester, UK
ResearcherIndrajit RoyUniversity of Oxford, UK
ResearcherHinda RutonUniversity of Rwanda
ResearcherPadil SalimoRoskilde University, Denmark
ResearcherProfessor Frederick WanyamaMaseno University, Kenya
ResearcherTimothy WilliamsBoston College, USA


Hickey, S., Lavers, T., Niño-Zarazúa, M., and Seekings, J., eds., (2019) The Politics of Social Protection in Eastern and Southern Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Open access)

Journal articles

Sam Hickey and Badru Bukenya (2019) The politics of promoting social cash transfers in Uganda: The potential and pitfalls of ‘thinking and working politically’. Development Policy Review
Tom Lavers (2019) Social protection in an aspiring ‘developmental state’: The political drivers of Ethiopia’s PSNP  African Affairs. (Open access)
Tom Lavers (2019). ‘Towards Universal Health Coverage in Ethiopia’s ‘developmental state’? The political drivers of health insurance‘. Social Science & Medicine 228: 60-67.
Benjamin Chemouni (2018). ‘The political path to universal health coverage: Power, ideas and community-based health insurance in Rwanda‘. World Development 106: 87-98.
Tom Lavers and Sam Hickey (2016). Conceptualising the politics of social protection expansion in low income countries: the intersection of transnational ideas and domestic politics. International Journal of Social Welfare 25(4): 388-98.

ESID publications

Abdulai, Abdul Gafaru (2019) ‘Rethinking elite commitment to social protection in Ghana: Insights from an adapted political settlements approach’ ESID Working Paper 112
Rasmus Hundsbæk Pedersen and Thabit Jacob (2018). ‘Social protection in an electorally competitive environment (2): The politics of health insurance in Tanzania‘. ESID Working Paper 110.
Thabit Jacob and Rasmus Hundsbæk Pedersen (2018). ‘Social protection in an electorally competitive environment (1): The politics of Productive Social Safety Nets (PSSN) in Tanzania‘. ESID Working Paper 109.
Frederick Golooba-Mutebi with Yvonne Habiyonizeye (2018). ‘Delivering maternal health services in Rwanda: The role of politics‘. ESID Working Paper 106.
Lars Buur and Padil Salimo (2018). ‘The political economy of social protection in Mozambique‘. ESID Working Paper 103.
Fredrick O. Wanyama and Anna McCord (2017). ‘The politics of scaling up social protection in Kenya‘. ESID Working Paper 87.
The politics of promoting social cash transfers in Uganda. ESID Briefing 22 (2017).
Kate Pruce and Sam Hickey (2017). ‘The politics of promoting social protection in Zambia‘. ESID Working Paper 75.
Tom Lavers (2016). ‘Social protection in an aspiring ‘developmental state’: The political drivers of Ethiopia’s PSNP‘, ESID Working Paper 73.
Benjamin Chemouni (2016). ‘The political path to universal health coverage: Elite commitment to community-based health insurance in Rwanda‘, ESID Working Paper 72.
Tom Lavers (2016). ‘Social protection in an aspiring ‘developmental state’: The political drivers of community-based health insurance in Ethiopia‘, ESID Working Paper 71.
Sam Hickey and Badru Bukenya (2016). ‘The politics of promoting social cash transfers in Uganda‘, ESID Working Paper 69.
Tom Lavers (2016). ‘Understanding elite commitment to social protection: Rwanda’s Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme‘, ESID Working Paper 68.
Tom Lavers and Sam Hickey (2015). ‘Investigating the political economy of social protection expansion in Africa: At the intersection of transnational ideas and domestic policies‘, ESID Working Paper 47.