Social policy reform in Zambia under President Lungu, 2015-2017
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Zambia has long been understood as a form of clientelistic democracy. Nonetheless, a change of government in 2011, when Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF) was elected president, resulted in programmatic expansion of social assistance. Sata was elected on a populist platform and led a coalition – that promoted a leftist pro-poor agenda – whose strategic interests meshed with those of donors who wished to expand programmes including social cash transfers. After the death in office of Sata in 2014, Edgar Lungu of the PF succeeded Sata, after mobilizing support through a multi-patron coalition under the umbrella of PF. Despite Lungu’s more market-friendly elite coalition than his predecessor, social protection programmes continued to expand, but this was largely due to the influence of a coalition of bureaucrats and donors. Yet, a fiscal crisis limited the resources to fund the programmes. With limited time before the next elections in 2016, resources were instead redirected to expand clientelistic programmes that mostly targeted the ruling party’s support base. After winning reelection in 2016, Lungu identified social cash transfers as the best means of providing a social safety net for the poorest as his government moved to implement austerity measures as part of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout. Lungu’s reversion to more clientelistic politics than his predecessor demonstrates the influence of political competition on policy reforms and suggests that social protection has not yet emerged as a salient electoral issue in Zambia. It also shows how significant changes of government are in understanding how and why social protection reforms happen in Africa.