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The politics of scaling up social protection in Kenya


  • Fredrick O. Wanyama
  • 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 coopted 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Fredrick O. Wanyama & Anna McCord, 2017. "The politics of scaling up social protection in Kenya," Global Development Institute Working Paper Series esid-087-17, GDI, The University of Manchester.
  • Handle: RePEc:bwp:bwppap:esid-087-17

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Winnie Mwasiaji, 2015. "Scaling up Cash Transfer Programmes in Kenya," One Pager 286, International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth.
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    Cited by:

    1. Katja Bender & Barbara Rohregger & Bethuel Kinuthia & Grace Ikua & Nicky Pouw & Esther Schüring, 2017. "Understanding multiple trajectories of extending social protection to the poor: An analysis of institutional change in Kenya," IZNE Working Paper Series 17/6, International Centre for Sustainable Development (IZNE), Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences.
    2. Sam Hickey & Jeremy Seekings, 2017. "The global politics of social protection," WIDER Working Paper Series 115, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    3. Barbara Rohregger & Katja Bender & Bethuel Kinuthia & Esther Schüring & Grace Ikua & Nicky Pouw, 2018. "The politics of implementation or why institutional interaction matters: The role of traditional authorities in delivering pro-poor social policies in Kenya," IZNE Working Paper Series 18/2, International Centre for Sustainable Development (IZNE), Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences.

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