Researching the politics of development



The politics of scaling up social protection in Kenya

Working paper 87

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Fredrick Wanyama and Anna McCord
This paper discusses the role of Kenya’s political settlement in the adoption and promotion of social protection, which has expanded significantly since 2003.  Analysis focuses on the interplay between the domestic political settlement and external factors in shaping the social protection discourse and policy and provisioning outcomes.
Successive regimes in Kenya since 2003 supported social protection as part of their framing of the development discourse. There has been significant progress in developing the legislative and policy structures to support cash transfer provision, including a commitment in the 2010 constitution, together with an increasing fiscal commitment, largely donor supported, and a rapid expansion of cash transfer coverage. However, where the realisation of constitutional or legislative commitments would have a cost to the political settlement, disturbing clientelist relationships, less progress has taken place, as illustrated by the failure of the proposed National Social Health Insurance Fund. Implementation of social protection policy and provision has been managed in such a way that the clientelism at the centre of the political settlement is not disturbed.
The extent to which the political settlement ultimately shapes social protection outcomes is also a function of the preferences and incentives of the donor community and it is the convergence of the requirements of the political settlement with donor interests that has driven the successful provision of social assistance, whereas the lack of convergence has hindered the development of social health insurance. Initially a donor-led agenda, cash transfer provision has become increasingly popular politically, as politicians have realised its potential as an additional constituency-level patronage resource, which they have successfully co-opted in recent years, resulting in the paradox that improved, and largely externally financed, social protection performance is intrinsically linked to the entrenchment of the existing political settlement.
The paper concludes that the social protection agenda in Kenya is defined by the extent of accommodation between the underlying clientelist interests of political actors and the aspirations of external actors.