In debates about the need for social protection in Africa, it is often hardest to convince those that hold the purse strings — Treasuries and Finance Ministries — that social protection is needed, and that it is affordable and sustainable.
So social protection advocates can perhaps take heart from the Ministerial Statement which emerged from a meeting of African finance ministers in Lilongwe, Malawi, at the end of March.
The ministerial statement came at the end of the 3rd Joint Annual Meetings of the AU Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance and Economic Commission for Africa Conference of Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. The theme of the conference was: Promoting high-level sustainable growth to reduce unemployment and poverty.
The conference affirmed the importance of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and noted that strong policy measures are needed if Africa is to achieve most of the MDGs by 2015. The Ministerial Statement called for particular focus on economic growth that reduces unemployment, particularly, among young people. It called for several other measures, including the realization of a food-secure Africa within five years, acceleration of regional integration, and the integration of climate change into growth, employment and poverty eradication strategies.
Along with this, the ministers recognized “the importance of having in place counter-cyclical and social protection measures to address the impact of global crises, especially on vulnerable groups.” (Paragraph 4)
Paragraph 6 of the statement is particularly powerful:
“We note the disproportionately high-level of unemployment among the young, and the impact of external shocks on vulnerable groups – women, the youth, the elderly and the rural poor – as many of our countries lack effective social safety nets and mechanisms to protect these groups. We stress, therefore, the need for special employment and protection measures for vulnerable groups. In particular, we emphasize the need to promote youth employment and gender equality in the labour market as a means to enhance long-term growth and promote political stability.”
Finally, the ministers also pinpointed the need to implement existing policies and action plans already agreed upon: “we recognize that the non-implementation of existing policies and commitments has constrained progress towards meaningful economic transformation, job creation and poverty eradication in many of our economies. Hence we commit to effectively implement agreed plans of action…” (paragraph 15)