1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development

Social Policy in Late Industrializers: Sub-Saharan Africa and the Challenge of Social Policy

  • Project from: 2002 to 2004


Social Policy in a Development Context is a project exploring social policy that is developmental, democratic and socially inclusive. This project has evolved into nine separate but interrelated projects (see Social Policy in a Development Context link, under "Related Information"). A policy framework that is both developmental and socially inclusive is not merely a theoretical possibility—it has been accomplished, with varying degrees of success, historically. This is the focus of the five region-centred comparative projects, which delve into historical trajectories of social policy and "late development" in diverse regional settings.

This project, within Social Policy in a Development Context, externally co-ordinated by Jimi Olalekan Adesina, focuses on the role of social policy in sub-Saharan African (SSA) development.

While social development outcomes have been uneven across and within SSA countries, the escalation in poverty, anaemic growth rates, persistence in the structural weaknesses of these economies, and reversal in social development indicators, raise major challenges for them. This social deterioration, which has taken place over the last two decades, shows the urgency of social policy in the region. At the same time the capacities of the SSA states have been reduced dramatically after years of structural reform, while the necessity of tackling social challenges is greater than ever.

Furthermore, violent communal and civil conflicts in several parts of the region point to the continued importance of nation-building projects. Interacting with and aggravating these difficulties are the problems posed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

By exploring this developmental crisis, the project elaborates upon the social, political and economic forces that have promoted as well as impeded social policy adoption. Specifically, it explores social policies aimed at education, health and sanitation, and social security.

It seeks to answer the following questions in particular: Which political forces, in governments or civil society, have acted in support of, or in opposition to, extending social policy? Have structural adjustment programmes and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers promoted economic growth in the region? What has been their impact on social policy? Is social development integrated into macroeconomic policy? What is the role for social policy in nation-building in the context of a conflict-ridden SSA?

Case studies grounded in macroeconomic and social policy analysis seek to answer such questions and evoke lessons for the enhancement of social development. The project examines the development of social policy in 12 countries that have shown varying degrees of success in economic and social development: Francophone African countries (Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Gabon), Anglophone West African countries (Nigeria and Ghana), East Africa (Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya) and Southern Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana).

A team of scholars and researchers with proven expertise on the region are conducting the research and they held a methodology workshop in Grahamstown, South Africa, on February 27-28, 2003. This workshop was attended by 14 people, including members of the research team as well as representatives from UNRISD and Rhodes University.

Papers will be finalized, based on comments received from members of the research team and during the workshop. Some of the research findings will be published as UNRISD Programme Papers and form the basis of an edited volume. UNRISD will also publish a brief that highlights the main policy-relevant research findings of the project.