Grassroots Participation in Social Protection Programmes by the State: Lessons Learnt from five Pilots in Africa (APSP and Partners)


Social Protection (SP) as a tool to fight poverty and ensure inclusive growth is gaining increasing acceptance in Africa and the world. Actors in SP such as the APSP, the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNICEF, the World Bank and the African Union define SP differently depending on their areas of emphasis, targeting methods or outcomes sought. But there is a common theme that runs through all these definitions: SP aims to provide a basic level of support to the most vulnerable members of society in order to cushion them from shocks resulting from economic downturns, droughts or rise in food prices.

Studies have shown that SP improves livelihoods of the poor, promotes economic activity at community level and ensures a more inclusive national economic growth. For Social Protection to be a sustainable, demand for it must come from the grassroots. As the European Union study reports indicate, social transfers become “entitlements”, especially when established through legislation as in South Africa and Mauritius, and expenditure on them effectively becomes non-discretionary. Throughout 2013-2015, the APSP and its partner Platforms advocated for the increase of opportunities for grassroots participation at the various stages of SP rollout – design, implementation, delivery and review. But for the grassroots to be able to participate, it must be aware of existing SP programmes, they must know their rights, be able to advocate for inclusion and be adept at recognizing opportunities for involvement. Accordingly, APSP’s work in 2013- 2015 included capacity building activities aimed at equipping national Platforms and communities with the knowledge and skills to enable their participation in SP programmes.


To underscore the importance of grassroots participation, the theme of the Annual Delegates Conference held in Harare between 31st and 1st November 2013 was ‘Grassroots Participation in Social Protection’. The conference, which brought together 21 national Platforms, 5 governments and 2 development partners, discussed ways in which various SP players could increase participation of the grassroots and resolved that deliberate efforts to support the initiative in selected countries be sought. Building on this, APSP obtained a small funding and with network partners carried out a pilot project on social audit and grassroots participation in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia.



Key issues for improvement araising from these case studies:

(a) Participation

Social protection by design in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and many countries in Africa has been top bottom with little participation from the grassroots. Where opportunities are provided for participation at times this is not utilised due to either poor awareness creation or fear/lack of participation skills by the beneficiaries due to low self esteem as result of several years of exclusion accompanied with societal stigma attached to poverty.


(b) Feedback/grievance and complaints channels

Equally, complaints handling mechanisms though with a good intention have not been well designed as in some cases the same officers that receive the complaints are the same ones that address them, creating a conflict of interest, additionally, many beneficiaries are not aware of the processes involved in raising a complain/feedback. Some beneficiaries expressed Perceived fear of victimization if they raised a complain, others felt this is a token and are not aware if it a right and therefore even if it delays it is okay since it is a kind gesture by the state on the poor.


(c) Targeting

The process of who to include in the beneficiary list, popularly referred to as targeting presented a problem on who is the most vulnerable to be on the scheme. The inclusion criteria though elaborate was abused in some cases either by the government officers or by the community selection committee. Even where verification was done involving community meetings fear of challenging an anomaly was high due to reappraisals by the well connected members of the community. Effective targeting remains a challenge and issues around transparency and validation of beneficiaries as well as continuous updating and cleaning of the beneficiary register. Besides procedure for enrolment due to lack of identification documents like birth certificates and national Identity cards locked out some of the identified beneficiaries. Kenya for instance has adopted a biometric and single registry system, if well utilized will address most of the raised issues above and other countries can learn from this.


(d) Distance to pay points

Due to poor infrastructure in rural Africa, payment points are far and at times pay days are either missed or funds running out leading to incurring of more costs on transport as majority of the beneficiaries obtain the funds from the Postal Corporation, Banks, temporal pay points and telephone payment service providers. Generally, post offices and banks are located in urban areas and market centres. Most of the beneficiaries travelled to cash collection points despite their age or condition, increasing costs.


(e) Predictable payments

For cash transfer programme to attain set objects, payment should be regular and consistent. However, this is not the case in most cash transfers from the case studies and delays have been observed either as a result of government financial year cycle and budgeting process or due to the systemic issues within government. Discussions with the beneficiaries revealed that these delays had negative effects like children being sent away from school due to non payment of levies and occasionally dropping out of school to seek for short-term employment to earn money to buy food and supplement on the house hold income. This is common in households headed by older persons, Persons with Disabilities and OVC.


(f) Information sharing

Communication between the government agencies coordinating the cash transfer and the beneficiaries was poor , one would expect that there will be prompt communication to the beneficiaries in the event of delays and guidance on the new payment schedules, but this was often not been the case in all the case studies.


(g) Loss of income through collusion

Anecdotal data showed that in the event of delays in payments, money is paid in lump-sum for the entire missed schedule. In some cases paying agents and the next of kin who are guiding the beneficiaries to receive the money, this may be a grandchild of an older person or carer, took advantage by colluding with the paying agents by paying less the beneficiary and sharing the difference.



Cash transfer programmes are becoming popular with governments in Africa as means for addressing poverty. Appropriate structures that enhance transparency and nurturing and embedding right based approaches is critical for better outcomes.

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