The Politics of Social Protection in Africa: Public Opinion Evidence from Kenya on Cash Transfers

43 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2019 Last revised: 22 Dec 2019

See all articles by Ken Ochieng' Opalo

Ken Ochieng' Opalo

Georgetown University; Brookings Institution; Center for Global Development

Date Written: November 30, 2019


The idea of poverty alleviation through unconditional cash transfers is popular among academics, the media, and policymakers. However, the widespread acceptance of this policy tool has not been accompanied by a serious consideration of its political implications. This is especially true in African states, where many cash transfer programs are donor-funded, are largely unconditional with a humanitarian bend, and have therefore eschewed overt discussions of distributive politics. Existing works overwhelmingly focus on measuring the economic impact of specific programs. This raises the question: what are the perceived causes of poverty, attitudes towards deservingness of assistance, and willingness to pay taxes to finance social protection in African states? This paper addresses these questions using a nationally-representative survey in Kenya (N=2015). The results show that partisanship is a strong moderator of public opinion on cash transfers. While attitudes about causes of poverty and deservingness are fairly similar across party lines, co-partisanship with the incumbent president is strongly correlated with support for tax increases to finance social protection. I attribute this to partisan differences in trust in government. Cross-country analysis of spending on social protection across 35 African states corroborate the importance of politics as a driver of social protection policies. Higher levels of democracy are correlated with more spend- ing on social protection. These findings call for more research on the political economy of social protection in Africa, with a focus on individual level attitudes.

Keywords: Distributive Politics, Social Protection, Cash Transfers, Africa, Kenya

Suggested Citation

Opalo, Ken Ochieng', The Politics of Social Protection in Africa: Public Opinion Evidence from Kenya on Cash Transfers (November 30, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Ken Ochieng' Opalo (Contact Author)

Georgetown University ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

Brookings Institution ( email )

1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Center for Global Development ( email )

2055 L St. NW
5th floor
Washington, DC 20036
United States

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