Degrading Development, Subverting Democracy: Social Assistance and Policy Merchandising in Africa

Start date

Monday, 10 Feb 2020, 16:15

End date

Monday, 10 Feb 2020, 17:45

Aula B
International Institute of Social Studies
Spoken Language
Jimi O. Adesina

Jimi Adesina is Professor and the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Social Policy at the College of Graduate Studies, University of South Africa in South Africa. Educated at the University of Ibadan (Nigeria) and Warwick University (UK), Prof Adesina taught at the University of Ibadan (Nigeria), was Professor of Sociology at Rhodes University (South Africa) and at the University of the Western Cape (South Africa).

The turn to the relief of poverty as the prime concern of ‘development’ has shaped international ‘development’ discourse in the last three decades. The concern diminishes the initial, broader, understanding of development, which linked improvements in human wellbeing to growth with structural transformation of an economy and society. At the same time, it erodes what is considered the acceptable threshold for a decent living. In doing so, it decouples wellbeing from the broader concerns with macroeconomic functioning, redistribution of proceeds of economic performance, and employment. It obscures the social and economic processes that create the vulnerability for which social assistance is offered as a panacea. The turn is central to social assistance merchandising.

Tethered to the degrading of development is a take on public policymaking, which underpins the merchandising of social assistance on the African continent. It is one in which extra-territorial forces foist a specific take on social policy on the African public policy terrain. Against the claims of working with the grain of African politics, we unpack the fictitious historical and anthropological accounts that reduce African politics to clientelism, and the misuse of the idea of ‘political settlement’ to underpin a modality of imperial clientelist reworking of civil society and public policy institutions. Again, this take on public policy intervention is central to the merchandising of social assistance. The effect is a subversion of democratic culture and deliberative governance.

We illustrate the discussion above with selected in-depth African country cases. We argue for a return to a wider vision of social policy, synergistic interactions between economic and social policy, and the widening of democratic space for deliberative governance.