1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

Les politiques sociales en Afrique de l’Ouest: Quels changements depuis le Sommet de Copenhague?

This document reviews research conducted in five African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Senegal), between March and November 1999, in order to identify changes in social policy since the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995. Because information and data vary from one country to another, international comparisons were sometimes difficult.

The countries studied have “low human development”, according to the criteria of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). They faced increasing difficulties during the 1980s, particularly because of the sharp decrease in their export earnings, which led to the devaluation of their currency, the CFA franc, in 1994. This constituted the real breaking point in the societies under study. Since then, economic reforms have intensified under pressure from the Bretton Woods institutions.

Mass poverty has increased, and it will be difficult to reduce significantly in the short run through public sector resources alone. The countries studied have all set up programmes that aim to eradicate poverty, and there is widespread mobilization in favour of this fight.
Yet states’ room for manoeuvre regarding social policy is limited by the weight of debt servicing and military expenditures, which constrain the redeployment of public expenses toward basic social services (BSS). The HIPC (heavily indebted poor country) initiative, launched by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, aims to reduce the debt burden of certain countries, and thereby redress this situation.

When it comes to funding BSS, education receives the biggest share, followed by health, water supply and sanitation. This distribution is problematic because a great deal of the population (approximately 48 per cent) has no access to quality water or health services. Moreover, analysis of public expenditures reveals that those who are not poor are the main beneficiaries of the allocation of public resources to basic social services.

In this context, official development assistance (ODA) since the beginning of the 1990s has increasingly targeted health infrastructure rather than salaries. This has led in some countries to “relative overinvestment” in structures, with facilities that do not operate due to a lack of materials and personnel.

As far as the 20/20 initiative is concerned (according to which developing countries commit 20 per cent of their budget to basic services and donor countries 20 per cent of their ODA to this priority), Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali did not achieve the set objectives, neither at the level of expenses nor in terms of ODA. Resource reallocation in favour of basic education is the motto, and some reforms in this direction have been implemented—the Ten-Year Education and Training Strategy in Senegal and the Ten-Year Education Development Strategy in Mali—but these plans do not target the poor specifically.

External donors are committing increasing resources to health, but this trend was under way well before the Social Summit was held. The macroeconomic priority in favour of health expenditures remains rather low except in Burkina Faso, where the 20/20 study revealed that the budget allocation to BSS increased from 8 per cent in 1990 and 1991 to 26 per cent between 1996 and 1997, with an average rate of 15.7 per cent for the entire period. Pressure to increase resources for the health sector is bound to intensify because of the growing expense of treating AIDS patients, who occupy the majority of available beds in some of the region’s hospitals, in Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire in particular.

What emerges from the analysis is the difficulty of isolating, within the social upheaval observed in the countries studied, specific positive impacts that can be linked to the Social Summit. The Summit was rather a phase in a global process of “rediscovering the social”. The countries have adopted the recommendations stemming from the Social Summit, but follow-up actions have been relatively weak, because the recommendations were not sufficiently internalized, and especially in view of the cost of the social policies put forward by the Summit.

Social, political and economic change underscores the limits or difficulties of the types of management models in these countries since independence. There has been a tendency for state institutions to be weakened, following periods of macroeconomic adjustment, of which exchange rate changes and the reduction in the number of government-owned companies constitute important aspects.

Increasingly neoliberal policies have worsened poverty. The macroeconomic framework put into place during adjustment entails a disconnection between investment and the social situation. If a way out of the current situation is to be found, it will be critical to think about and organize “post-adjustment”. In each of the countries considered for this study, the attention required to solve problems in the short term is so great that such thinking has not even begun.
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  • Pub. Date: 1 Apr 2001
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-8208
    From: UNRISD