Social policy reform under the Government of National Unity in Zimbabwe, 2009-13
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The formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU) in Zimbabwe in 2009 has generally been assessed as a façade, with ZANU-PF retaining real power to serve its own ends. Whilst this may have been true of the key challenges facing Zimbabwe – ensuring democratic political competition and the rule of law, and (less clearly) economic stabilisation and growth – it was not true in all areas of public policy. With respect to social protection, the partial change of government resulted in significant reform. In the mid-2000s, social protection in Zimbabwe was for the most part limited to donor-funded and distributed emergency food aid. Under the GNU, ministers from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) presided over more programmatic responses involving the state and donors working together, including on the country’s first sustained experiments with cash transfers as well as innovative food aid programmes. The shift in policy was not due so much to clear policy preferences on the part of the MDC as to the transformed relations between MDC-controlled government ministries and donors and international agencies. The MDC opened the policy reform door to donors and agencies that were enthusiastic about cash transfer and reformed food aid programmes. The shift to cash transfers was also made possible by dollarisation and market liberalisation. Whereas Zimbabwe had been very anomalous in terms of its pro-poor policies in 2009, by 2013 its policies were far closer to those of its neighbours, although they remained constrained by poor public finances.