Researching the politics of development



The politics of productivist social policies in Africa’s new ‘developmental states’

Tom_Lavers_150x150By Dr Tom Lavers
27 December 2016
Much recent research has highlighted the similarities between current administrations in Ethiopia and Rwanda, and the East Asian developmental states that secured such rapid socioeconomic progress over the past 50 years. For the most part, this research has focused on state-business relationships and the authoritarian patterns of governance. New ESID research by Benjamin Chemouni and myself, however, examines the politics of social protection in these countries and finds that social protection policy in Ethiopia and Rwanda is driven by the developmental vision of these governments. Like the original East Asian developmental states, social protection is distinctly ‘productivist’ in seeking to combine protection for vulnerable groups with productive investments in the economy.

Ethiopia and Rwanda are among the frontrunners in social protection in Africa. For the past 11 years, Ethiopia has been implementing one of the largest social assistance schemes on the continent — the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) — that now provides food and cash-for-work for up to 10 million of the poorest people in the country each year. The Rwandan government drew heavily on the PSNP model in formulating their own Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP). Moreover, Rwanda’s Mutuelles de Santé — health insurance for the informal sector — has achieved unprecedented coverage rates of more than 70 percent of the population. This achievement inspired the Ethiopian government to pursue its own Community-Based Health Insurance Scheme (CBHI), now being rapidly rolled out across the country and based to a large extent on Rwanda’s Mutuelles.

Social protection is distinctly ‘productivist’ in seeking to combine protection for vulnerable groups with productive investments in the economy.

In Ethiopia and Rwanda, the developmental ambitions of the ruling parties can be traced to their ascent to power. In both cases, a rebel military group secured complete victory over the previous regime. However, while these victories left little in the way of organised political opposition within the country, the new governments faced a considerable challenge of building legitimate authority. Both the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and the Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) were widely associated with minority ethnic groups and faced considerable scepticism, even outright hostility, from considerable sections of the populations that they sought to govern. These new governments came to somewhat similar conclusions, namely that this crisis of legitimacy represented an existential threat to the regime, and that rapid and inclusive development was essential to secure the support, or at least acquiescence, of a broad section of their respective populations.
This developmental orientation has distinct implications for social protection. First, in both countries, one of the motivations to expand social protection has been as a means of delivering tangible progress to the population and, in particular, responding to perceived crises of legitimacy. Second, in Ethiopia and Rwanda, there is widespread fear within government about providing ‘handouts’ and thereby fostering dependency on the state amongst the population. As such, there is a strong emphasis in these programmes on promoting individual self-reliance. While this is certainly not uncommon in Africa, in Ethiopia and Rwanda this combines with a strong commitment to a particular developmental vision and the necessity of making the most of scarce resources in order to promote development.
As such, any policies that provide protection to the vulnerable must also make productive economic impacts. In this way, the PSNP and VUP require the majority of participants to work for the support that they receive, building community infrastructure, as well as linking the provision of transfers to livelihoods programmes that build self-reliance. In the case of health financing, this means pooling resources to promote access to healthcare, while ensuring that everyone with the ability to pay something should do so. In the East Asian developmental states, ‘productivist’ social policy is the term academics came up with to describe the strong focus on education and health as investments in ‘human capital’ alongside pension schemes as a means of enforcing savings and mobilising resources for state investment. Though the policy instruments may vary slightly in Ethiopia and Rwanda, the productive emphasis within social protection policy is evident.

One of the motivations to expand social protection has been as a means of responding to perceived crises of legitimacy.

As mentioned above, one source of the similarities between Ethiopia and Rwanda’s approach to social protection is the attempts of each to learn from the other. In the cases of social assistance and health insurance, our research found that these examples of policy transfer were mediated by donor agencies that suggested policy models, and funded study tours and even secondments of technical staff from one government to the other. There are close relations between the two ruling parties, and in particular between Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Rwanda’s President Kagame. However, our research did not find evidence that these direct links were particularly influential regarding social protection. More importantly though, the appeal of the policies is clear: in both Ethiopia and Rwanda, social protection is driven by the need to build legitimacy and the importance of combining protective and productive roles. It is hardly surprising therefore that the Rwandan government saw Ethiopia’s PSNP as a policy suited to the Rwanda context, while the Ethiopian government felt that the Rwandan Mutuelles perfectly fit their requirements.
Read Tom’s earlier post, Crises and social protection in Ethiopia: New challenges, new opportunities?
This blog is based on Working Papers produced through the ESID project The political economy of social protection expansion in Africa. Find them listed here.