The politics of cash transfers in Uganda
This paper reviews the politics of welfare policy-making in Uganda, specifically as it relates to planning, gaining political support for, financing, implementing and scaling up cash transfer schemes. Uganda is a low-income country, but has made substantial developmental strides since the Museveni/NRM regime came to power in 1986, including relatively high rates of economic growth and reductions in poverty. However, chronic poverty persists and a large proportion of the non-poor are classified as vulnerable. Development policy has, and continues to be, focused on infrastructure development and facilitating private sector growth (earning Uganda darling status among proponents of the ‘Washington consensus’). But it has also adopted some pro-poor policies like substantial increases in social expenditure (principally health and education). Social protection has, however, lagged behind other developmental interventions and cash transfers are a recent phenomenon, with the first large-scale pilot being implemented from 2010. The Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment scheme (a pilot social pension and vulnerable families grant) has been implemented in fourteen districts with strong donor support. The scheme is largely funded by DfID, enjoys substantial donor technical support and followed an extensive agenda-setting and promotion exercise by donors and their civil society allies. National rollout of a social pension is firmly on the policy agenda and appears to have gained strong support in recent years (especially among legislators who see electoral advantages and sections of the bureaucracy) and is popular among the public. But sections of the Ugandan political elite remain sceptical, owing to concerns over ‘dependency’, adverse incentives, affordability and sustainability. Given the authoritarian, patronage-based and personalised character of the Museveni regime, presidential support for scale-up is seen as key, but Museveni’s support remains uncertain. While previous pro-poor initiatives appeared to have been driven by electoral pressures, the NRM has never faced a substantial electoral challenge and institutional reforms appear to have stalled. The paper concludes that donor-driven promotion of cash transfers has been surprisingly effective, but that the future of cash transfers are by no means ensured. Questions over political support, resource availability and technical capacity to implement a national programme remain.