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Aimée Wolff

November 25th, 2020

Cutting Edge Issues in Development – Why Development and Transformative Social Policy Matter: Lessons of COVID-19 in Africa

2 comments

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Aimée Wolff

November 25th, 2020

Cutting Edge Issues in Development – Why Development and Transformative Social Policy Matter: Lessons of COVID-19 in Africa

2 comments

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

On Friday 20 November Professor Jimi Adesina gave an online lecture, ‘Why Development and Transformative Social Policy Matter: Lessons of COVID-19 in Africa’ in honour of Professor Thandika Mkandawire and as part of the Cutting Edge Issues in Development lecture seriesJimi Adesina is professor and the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Social Policy at the College of Graduate Studies, University of South Africa. Read what Health and International Development MSc student Aimée Wolff took away from the lecture below.

You can watch the guest lecture back on YouTube.

Screenshot from the YouTube live stream of Jimi Adesina’s Cutting Edge Lecture at LSE on ‘Why Development and Transformative Social Policy Matter: Lessons of COVID-19 in Africa’.

Joining us from South Africa to speak about transformative social policy and development in the African context, Jimi Adesina dedicated his lecture to Thandika Mkandawire, whose visions of development did not only serve as an inspiration, but “from [whom] we learned how to be human”.

Adesina eloquently summarised two sets of lessons that can be learned from Africa’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic by drawing on the cases of Nigeria and South Africa – two of the largest economies of Africa, yet also two highly unequal societies. The first set of lessons covered national responses to livelihood impacts of the pandemic, while the second part of his lecture focused on what the pandemic has revealed about structural transformation, research and innovation, and manufacturing capacities in Africa.

National responses to livelihood impacts
National responses to the pandemic illuminated the importance of pre-pandemic investments in the social policy architecture. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to the largest share of the informal economy in the world, where a significant proportion of the population is employed in the informal sector to varying degrees across countries. Pandemic restrictions and national lockdown measures placed the greatest burden on those most vulnerable at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. When a national lockdown was enforced in Nigeria, the government mainly relied on cash transfers and the sporadic distribution of food parcels as part of their social protection measures. Adesina suggests that the social policy architecture in place plays a key role in defining a country’s capacity to respond to adverse livelihood impacts. In the case of Nigeria, cash transfers were rolled out to the most vulnerable through the Household Uplifting Program, which had been in place since 2016 to support poor and vulnerable households. Subsequent cash transfers also targeted self-employed individuals to mitigate the adverse economic impacts experienced by small entrepreneurs and artisans. South Africa, on the other hand, pursued a three-pronged response based on existing social grants, special COVID-19 relief grants as well as a COVID-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme. The success of the latter was attributed to the fact that it was a publicly managed national social insurance scheme and Adesina stressed that a market-based insurance model would not have produced the same results.

Structural transformation, research and innovation, and manufacturing capacities 
The reality of external dependence as well as intellectual and scientific sovereignty has been exacerbated in the COVID-19 pandemic. This is linked to investment in national research and innovation capacity within a “framework of a national sovereign project”. Adesina elaborates that the underfunding of innovative infrastructure as part of neoliberalist Structural Adjustment Programs has come at the cost of African scientists – who are capable of innovation, but are constrained by the “defunding” of infrastructures that are required for fully functioning national innovation systems. This is exemplified by the dependence on sourcing necessary reagents for locally produced test kits from abroad, as well as the dependence on research establishments in Europe for validating locally produced test kits. Nigeria, for one, imports the majority of its test kits and PPE from China, while South Africa imported diagnostic test kits for the first eight months of the pandemic, despite greater manufacturing capacities and greater support for national innovation. In response to this, Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology created seven funding awards totaling R18 million to spark innovation among local actors for the local production of reagents and COVID-19 test kits. These deficiencies in national innovation and manufacturing capacities limit a nation’s ability to respond to external shocks – in the short and in the long-term. Out of the 48 vaccine candidates currently undergoing clinical trials, the majority stem from European and North American research institutes while not a single one is from Africa. The severity of the maldevelopment and maladjustment in large parts of Africa is evident in the debilitating Vaccine apartheid. Vaccine nationalism has resulted in the holding of the majority of COVID-19 vaccines by only a few countries, which will consequently result in the inequitable distribution of vaccines, further reinforcing existing health inequities. Pfizer, who has just applied for first approval with the US FDA for its COVID-19 vaccine, has already sold more than 80% of its vaccine stocks to the world’s richest countries.

What can be learned from the series of events that unfolded in 2020 is that development and transformative social policy matters. The pandemic has once again reminded us of the degree of external dependency and lack of national sovereignty spanning across Africa. Towards the end of his lecture, Adesina drew on Professor Mkandawire’s vision of development as one that involves growth alongside structural transformation of both the economy and society, the acquisition of technological mastery, and strong manufacturing capacities. A vision where the development process extends to incorporate transformative social policy, democracy and inclusivity – and one whereby investments are made in institutional knowledge development and in state capacity to further steer the development process. This vision of development will continue to be pursued until development is approached as a national sovereign project.


This Friday’s guest lecture will be with Professor Nora Lustig, who will be joining us from Washington DC to talk about ‘Inequality in Latin America: Markets, Covid-19 and Policies’. LSE staff and students can sign up for the lecture here. External audiences can join the lecture via YouTube

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the International Development LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

About the author

Aimée Wolff

Aimée Wolff is a Health and International Development MSc student at LSE and a volunteer at the charity Global Health Film. Her interests include health in fragile and conflict-affected settings as well as the implications of climate change on health and migration. She’s particularly interested in the Asia-Pacific region followed by sub-Saharan Africa.

Posted In: Covid-19 | Events | Featured | Topical and Comment | Uncategorized

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