Accepted paper:

The politics of social protection in Kenya: state capacity, political competition and the implementation of the universal pension in Marsabit county


Alesha Porisky (University of Toronto )
Tahira Mohamed (University Of Sussex)
Patrick Muthui

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how state capacity and political competition shaped the implementation of the universal pension in Marsabit prior to the 2017 national election in Kenya. It argues that the political visibility of the pension was prioritized over effective targeting and grievance structures.

Paper long abstract:

In 2017, the Government of Kenya extended its provision of social assistance to the elderly through the transformation of the Older Persons Cash Transfer into a universal pension which provides cash transfers to those aged 70 plus. The design and implementation of the universal pension are meant to be uniform across the country, however, the central government has historically faced challenges in the implementation of social services across Kenya's northern counties. Decades of marginalization from the central state, alongside low state reach and capacity, has resulted in a poor record of formal service and welfare provision in the northern pastoralist areas. This paper examines the implementation of the universal pension in Marsabit County. It argues that the visibility of the universal pension was prioritized over effective implementation. Inadequate resources, weak state capacity and limited state reach, combined with pressures from the central government to register beneficiaries before the heavily contested national election in August 2017, resulted in limited avenues for complaints and a targeting procedure which, contrary to official guidelines, relied on community leaders, including chiefs, clan leaders and religious leaders, to register and verify beneficiaries. To make this argument, we employ process tracing to trace the implementation of the universal pension from the national level down to the village level, and in doing so illuminate the power and politics which undergirds its implementation. We utilize qualitative data collected across six months in 2018, including key informant interviews and focus group discussions with government officials, community leaders, politicians and beneficiaries.

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The politics of implementing social protection programmes: political competition, state capacity and policy feedback [paper]