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Social Policy and the Quest for Inclusive Development: Research Findings from Sub-Saharan Africa

26 Jul 2007



This paper provides a reflective overview of the eight studies commissioned under the UNRISD project on Social Policy in Late Industrializers: Sub-Saharan Africa and the Challenge of Social Policy. The studies involved subregional and thematic social policy concerns.

Within this framework, one study was concerned with overall conceptual issues and macroeconomic policy directions, focusing on the dominant or ruling ideas on development that shaped each phase of sub-Saharan Africa’s post-colonial history, and how these ruling ideas shaped economic and social policies. A second set of studies focused on health, water and sanitation dimensions of social policy, while a third examined education and labour market policies. Using comparative techniques, these studies examined clusters of countries in East Africa, Southern Africa and West Africa.

The critical areas of focus were education, health and sanitation, and social security (including social insurance, pension schemes, and policies directed at reducing socioeconomic vulnerability). The idea of a tolerable, minimum level of livelihood and decency is intuitive and socially constructed, and normative (ideological) rather than technical. Such concerns define the links between economic and social policies; the desirable system of social relations and governance; and the specific instruments for achieving the perceived minimum level of well-being.

The paper examines the gaps that may exist between macroeconomic policies, social policies and social policy outcomes; and between the intended and unintended outcomes of social policies and social forces that impact on them. Variations in social development outcomes in the countries examined point to the importance of human agency in mitigating the worst impacts of a debilitating policy environment and a country’s ability to manoeuvre. Equally important is the configuration and orientation of social forces within the state and civil society that shape (initiate, contest, enact) social policies.

The paper concludes by highlighting six imperatives of rethinking social policy in sub-Saharan Africa, beyond the neoliberal policy thrust of the last 25 years. These are based on three normative concerns: inclusivity, development, and democracy—where “public reasoning” is the basis of public and civic relationships.

Jìmí O. Adésínà is Professor of Sociology at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.

Order PP-SPD-33 from UNRISD, 46 pages, 2007; US$ 12 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students.