Researching the politics of development



The politics of promoting social cash transfers in Uganda

Working paper 69

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Sam Hickey and Badru Bukenya
In 2015 the Government of Uganda agreed to start rolling out a social pension programme across the country and to increase its own financial contribution to this. This outcome was largely driven by the decade-long and highly politicised efforts of a transnational policy coalition, led by mainly by international donors and national bureaucrats. This was a struggle over ideas as well as incentives and resources, with this coalition having to overcome strong resistance from the Finance Ministry tendency and wider notions of deservingness, dependency and affordability. This resistance largely held until the policy coalition started ‘thinking and working politically’ in ways that helped align the social protection agenda with Uganda’s shifting political settlement dynamics, particularly the President’s increased susceptibility to pressures from below in the context of populist patronage and multi-party elections. Nonetheless, government’s apparent commitment to social protection remains meagre and even after the roll-out only a tiny proportion of Uganda’s poor will benefit from this small transfer. Whether cash transfers will amount to more than another form of vote-buying clientelism remains to be seen. The evidence presented here raises serious concerns regarding both the developmental character of Uganda’s contemporary political settlement and also the costs of the ‘going with the grain’ motif of the new thinking and working politically agenda. Aligning policy agendas with dominant interests and ideas may render interventions politically acceptable whilst further embedding clientelist logics and doing little to address distributional problems.