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African Welfare States are Possible Says European Report

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14 January 2011

Seniors receive a state pension at the age of 70 in Lesotho, Southern Africa. But in a country with an average life expectancy of 44, is this a social protection scheme worth applauding? Yes, says Giorgia Giovannetti, Scientific Director of the 2010/2011 European Report on Development.

The 2010/ 2011 European Report on Development (ERD) shows that even small social protection programmes, like the pension payments in Lesotho, can have a positive spill over effect on an entire society and can help reduce poverty and vulnerability, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

To unleash the full potential of social protection, African countries, the EU and other donors need to make it an integral part of their development policies, according to the report findings.

In contrast to a widely held view that sub-Saharan Africa cannot afford social protection, the report found that innovative approaches to building broad-based social protection schemes and systems can be promoted and implemented with success across the region.

"Of course, we cannot transform Nigeria into Sweden", said Dr Giovannetti the lead author of this year's report. "However, our study shows that when there is a political will and when countries have ownership, social protection programmes are feasible".

To see a video interview with Dr Giovannetti, click on the icon below.



The Lesotho's example may be "a drop in the ocean, yes, but a drop that can become a big wave," Dr Giovannetti said. "Assessments show that the spill over is very positive, especially on the grandchildren.”

Dr Giovannetti’s report found that pension payments could have a significantly positive impact, not just on the recipient but on the entire household with grandchildren more likely to go to school.

"The idea is to start with small programmes that are feasible and affordable and show the benefits of social protection,” she went on. "If the programme is successful, it is then much easier to scale it up."

Although social protection is increasingly on the policy agenda of African leaders and several EU donors already support it, this year’s edition of the ERD concludes that these piecemeal efforts are not enough.

"Social protection needs to become a central and coordinated component of the development policies of African countries, the EU and its Member States, and other donors," states the report.

Latest international figures reveal that soaring food prices in 2007 and 2008 plunged 30 million more Africans into extreme poverty. With the risks of climate change not yet fully understood, global food price fluctuations remain a considerable risk and reinforce the urgency for social protection measures that can shield Africa’s poorest from such risks and shocks.

The EU has a number of advantages that can help to support country-led social protection initiatives in Africa, including drawing upon the diversity of models that exist within the union and the valuable transition experience of the new EU Member States.

The ERD identifies seven priority areas for a future EU development agenda on social protection in Africa. These include promoting and supporting comprehensive social protection systems, aligning with domestic priorities, and tailoring intervention modalities to the context and needs of each country. It also encompasses the need to tackle the challenge of financial affordability, as well as the need to promote knowledge-building and the sharing of information, including South-South partnerships.

Social protection is increasingly incorporated into EU development policy. With the publication, in November 2010, of the Green Paper on Development, the European Commission launched a public consultation to pave the way for a modernised EU development policy that includes social protection measures. Findings are due to be set out in a communication in 2011.


The ERD initiative is supported by the European Commission and seven EU Member States (Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden and the UK).

State fragility in sub-Saharan Africa was the central topic of the first edition of the ERD, which was released in October 2009.


DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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