Accepted paper:

Processes of domination and resistance in the shaping of Malawi's cash transfer programmes


Roeland Hemsteede (University of Dundee)

Paper short abstract:

Unequal power relations between international actors and Malawi's government strongly influence on how its cash transfers are designed and implemented. This presentation explores processes of domination and resistance between stakeholders during the formation of policy, all while remaining partners.

Paper long abstract:

The Sustainable Development Goals call for the implementation of nationally appropriate social protection systems. However, what is 'nationally appropriate' and to what extent can governments of developing countries such as Malawi lead this process when they depend on international development partners for financing and expertise? This paper explores how the power dynamics between national and international stakeholders have shaped Malawi's cash transfers, both in development as well as humanitarian settings. The analysis is based on numerous in-depth interviews with key stakeholders in Malawi's social protection sector. It looks critically at how development partners promote their ideas and interests by singling out specific groups that are 'deserving' of their support and the supply of funding and 'technical support', all of which can be instrumentalised as tools of domination. Malawi's government however is far from powerless, and in many cases able to resist, and sometimes even turn the dominance of development partners to its own advantage. The paper finds that Malawi's cash transfers are strongly shaped by, and dependent on, international development partners. However, these development partners themselves are also subject to outside forces which affect their behaviour. The impact of all these power relations is that the eventual design and implementation of cash transfers is sometimes at odds with how Malawian politicians think about social protection. Consequently, this presentation engages with debates about the structural 'top-down' power relations whereby the 'North' tells the 'South' how its development should take place, despite decades of criticism and rhetorical international commitments to change.

panel M4
Deconstructing the political economy of policy diffusion in developing countries through the case of social protection