The Social Protection Policy in Malawi: Processes, Politics and Challenges

By Blessings Chinsinga
September 2007


This paper is based on a study undertaken to critically understand the dynamics of policy-making and processes under the auspices of the Future Agricultures Consortiums. (FAC) sub-theme on politics and policy processes hosted by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the United Kingdom. FAC.s operative philosophy is that contrary to the traditional and highly stylized perspective, policy making does not happen in neat distinct stages except perhaps in the minimal sense that policies are proposed, legislated and implemented.

Policy processes are thus a complex mesh of interactions and ramifications between a wide range of stakeholders driven, and constrained by the contexts in which they operate (cf. IDS, 2006; Oya, 2006). Understanding the policy processes therefore requires:

1) grasping the narratives that tell the policy stories;

2) the way positions become embedded in networks of various actors; and

3) the enabling or constraining power dynamics (politics and interests).

The decision to study the social protection policy processes was inspired by the guarded optimism among stakeholders about the prospects of formulating a viable social protection policy as compared to the fertilizer subsidy policy programme which is generally orchestrated as a success story. It appears, however, that the differences between these two policy processes are largely due to the factthat the social protection policy deals with issues that are not as visible to the public eye and aspolitically sensitive as the issue of fertilizer popularly perceived as the magic wand to the enduring problem food insecurity. Moreover, the fertilizer subsidy programme is/was a political podium policy while social protection is a technocratically driven policy.

This is to say that fertilizer subsidy issues featured prominently in the 2004 electoral campaign whereas issues of social protection merely lurked at the background except, of course, with occasional vague references to the poverty reduction agenda. References to the poverty reduction agenda were made but often without articulating concrete plans of action to deal with the acute depth and breadth of poverty and vulnerability in the country. It comes therefore not as a surprise that unlike the fertilizer subsidy policy processes, the social protection policy processes are almost entirely divorced from the locus of real decision making.

The key building blocks of the fertilizer subsidy programme were debated and decided on in parliament. In a plural political dispensation parliament is designated as a functionally more appropriate arena for policy debates and dialogue since it brings together political parties representing various shades of opinion from different segments of society. Consequently, by occupying centre in the national legislature, the events leading to the conclusion and adoption of the fertilizer subsidy programme generated a national wide debate and dialogue. In sharp contrast, the social protection policy is nearing completion but a national wide debate and dialogue is virtually non-existent. The fertilizer subsidy programme was a regular feature in the major media outlets but there is almost a complete black out on media coverage about social protection.{jcomments off} 

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