South Africa must raise Africa’s voice for …

Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) welcomes the South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni (left) on November 19, 2019 in the office for the G20 Compact with Africa conference in Berlin. (Photo: EPA-EFE / FELIPE TRUEBA)

People in the poorest countries in the world, which are particularly at risk of poverty, can hardly wait until it is possible to finance social protection programs stably from domestic resources alone. They need such protection right now, especially given the devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As is well documented, the Covid-19 outbreak has sparked fears of an impending economic crisis and recession of unprecedented proportions.

The effects are already being felt in various areas as restrictions such as physical distancing, self-isolation and travel bans have led to downsizing in various economic sectors and job losses. No sector has been left unscathed, and countries around the world are struggling with ways to respond to the scourge.

Wherever lockdown measures have been taken to prevent the virus from spreading, people can no longer work or no longer work at full capacity.

The crisis has not only posed major challenges to health and economic systems around the world. It has also created a renewed risk of millions of people falling below the poverty line. In the meantime, well-functioning social protection systems are required to at least partially offset the associated loss of income.

Governments around the world have made efforts to provide additional social benefits to those parts of their populations hardest hit by the pandemic. Numerous such measures have also been taken on the African continent. However, for some countries it is extremely difficult to mobilize sufficient domestic resources to help people cope with economic and social difficulties, for example through additional or expanded money transfer and cash-for-work programs or the restructuring of school feeding programs.

The idea of ​​setting up an international fund has been around for some time to provide low-income countries with financial support that they need in times of crisis such as the current pandemic to keep their social protection systems functioning.

The proposal to set up such a fund, presented almost ten years ago by UN special rapporteurs Olivier de Schutter and Magdalena Sepulveda, has now been taken up by the French government. It will be the subject of this year’s discussions at the G20, the group of major industrialized and emerging countries and the UN Human Rights Council. The Global Coalition for Social Protection Soils, an international civil society alliance that includes many African organizations, recently launched one complaint Support this initiative.

What exactly does the idea of ​​such a new global fund stand for? Its main task would be to temporarily contribute to the financing of basic social protection systems (“social protection days”) when low-income countries do not have sufficient financial resources of their own (in particular tax revenues) for such systems.

According to the Social Protection Floor IndexCurrently, it is mainly some African countries that would have to devote a particularly large part of their GDP to ensuring essential health care and basic income security for all of their residents.

The fund would also help in the event of specific crises (e.g. natural disasters, pandemics or economic crises) in countries that would otherwise be forced to reduce their social protection programs due to financial constraints.

It goes without saying that social protection is a task that, in principle, has to be financed from state resources. Therefore, international support – regardless of whether it is provided through bilateral or multilateral programs such as a global fund – can only ever be an interim solution. In this respect, it would also be important that intensive efforts continue to be made to improve the mobilization of domestic resources.

The people in the poorest countries in the world, who are particularly at risk of poverty, can hardly wait until it is possible to finance social protection programs in a stable manner from domestic funds alone. You need such protection now.

South Africa is the only African country in the G20, so it has the honorable – but also challenging – role of representing the interests of all Africans.

It is therefore crucial that the international community support these economically weaker countries in their efforts to achieve these goals. Otherwise, Goal 1.3 for sustainable development (introducing social security systems for all and ensuring broad coverage of the poor and vulnerable) can hardly be achieved within the targeted time frame of 2030.

Now, of course, one can ask oneself: is this another attempt by the North to impose its socio-political ideas on the global South? This critical objection comes to mind when you consider that in recent years many social protection programs, especially on the African continent, have been launched with the help of western or western-dominated development organizations.

International support does not have to mean foreign rule, however. It depends entirely on the design of the new financial institution whether the African governments can implement their own ideas for the conception of social protection programs in cooperation with the fund.

In this context, the principle of land ownership will be of great importance: if this principle becomes a key element of the governance structure of the Fund and is actually taken seriously in the practical implementation of its policies, then there is the possibility of creating an institution that is not running Risk of maintaining or even strengthening neo-colonial patterns through external dominance in resource allocation and programming.

Instead, it could then succeed in financially strengthening the social protection systems that countries have developed on the basis of their social policy ideas and the priorities in their national action plans for social protection.

A whole series of concepts and instruments have been developed within the African Union in recent years that formulate important guidelines in this regard: the social policy framework for Africa published in 2008; the Yaoundé tripartite declaration on the implementation of a social protection floor from 2010; the social protection plan for the informal economy and rural workers, adopted the following year; Agenda 2063 (the statements on social protection of which are broadly in line with the global consensus contained in the ILO Recommendation on Social Protection of 2012); the 2015 Addis Ababa Declaration on Social Protection for Inclusive Development; and last but not least, the Protocol on Citizens’ Rights to Social Protection, an additional protocol to the African Charter on Human Rights and Human Rights, which is expected to be adopted soon.

All of these documents make it clear how important African governments attach to the issue and that they are also working intensively on their concepts. A strong emphasis on the principle of land ownership in the governance structure of the Fund would therefore be a prerequisite for the actual implementation of the ideas of social protection developed on the continent.

South Africa is the only African country in the G20, so it has the honorable – but also challenging – role of representing the interests of all Africans.

The South African government should take the opportunity to support the establishment of a global fund that will enable the economically weaker countries of the continent to pursue ambitious goals in terms of social protection coverage for their people. Effective poverty reduction through social protection can only be achieved through solidarity – through global solidarity, but also through regional solidarity between African countries.

Before writing this article, we discussed the topic with the Alliance of NPO Networks. The alliance expressly supports the call of the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors for the establishment of a new Global Fund. The fact that this initiative is strongly supported by civil society should certainly send an important signal to the political leaders of South Africa. DM

Professor Markus Kaltenborn teaches public law at the Law Faculty of the Ruhr University Bochum. He is the director of the Institute for Development Research and Development Policy at the university.

Professor Letlhokwa George Mpedi is the Assistant Vice Chancellor: Academic (designate) and Former Executive Dean: Johannesburg University Faculty of Law.

They write in their own personal capacity.

Markus Kaltenborn and Letlhokwa George Mpedi

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