The Forum involved almost 250 participants, including ministers, CEOs and senior managers of social security organizations from 35 African countries, and analysed developments in the extension of coverage, the adequacy of benefits and innovation in the use of information and communication technologies. While social security schemes exist in almost all African countries, and many are expanding their reach, a majority of citizens still do not have access to social protection.
Recognizing achievements in social security
Opening the event, International Social Security Association (ISSA) President Errol Frank Stoové welcomed the evidence of progress in social security taking place in the region, but recognized that extension of coverage to vulnerable groups remains a “predominant challenge” for Africa.
“Much work is being undertaken in Africa to make schemes more sustainable and successful, to work towards good governance and to ensure that social security is increasingly proactive and preventive,” he said.
“Social security is one of the most dynamic sectors of our society and one of the fundamental pillars of social cohesion and development,” Stoové noted.
According to an ISSA report on developments and trends in social security presented at the Forum, African countries have accomplished much to extend social security in recent years.
“Social security institutions across the continent have implemented innovative and effective measures to extend coverage both through contributory schemes, and through an increased focus on schemes for vulnerable groups,” according to ISSA Secretary General Hans-Horst Konkolewsky.
“Efforts to extend coverage are nothing new for the region, but a trend towards more effective approaches is clearly discernible.”
However, social security institutions face significant obstacles to the extension of coverage, Konkolewsky stated, particularly to reach the informal sector and the rural population. He called on social security institutions to increase collaboration and partnerships, to move beyond their traditional mandates to contribute to coverage extension, and to give greater emphasis to preventive approaches and to the adequacy of benefits.
Towards African forms of social security
Social security policies must be tailored to the cultural and historical context and informal economies of Africa to be fully effective, argued Nathaniel Wellington, Senior Teaching Fellow at the University of Sierra Leone.
An emphasis on the development of traditional and community-based African social protection modalities and their incorporation into larger scale formal social protection architecture may be beneficial, he said.
Pervasive poverty and the permanence of the informal sector require specific approaches, Wellington stated. “Through investment in social protection and an emphasis on proactive and preventive approaches, you reduce the need for future support, as well as the inter-generational transmission of poverty.”
Improving adequacy of benefits
Together with coverage, social security institutions agree on the necessity of improving adequacy of benefits. In an address to the Forum, Irene Isaka, Director General of Tanzania’s Social Security Regulatory Authority, encouraged the development of a “customer-centric” approach by social security schemes, and an emphasis on timeliness and fairness of contributions as ways of ensuring adequacy.
“There is a huge social multiplying effect when you have adequacy,” she said.
Isaka called on social security institutions to make use of new technologies, and particularly mobile phones which are more widely-used than banking systems, to pay benefits.
Harnessing new technologies
Social security administrations everywhere, including Africa, need to adapt to meet today’s client requirements for improved quality of services, according to Constantine Bitwayiki, an ICT and e-Governance consultant from Uganda.
“ICT systems need to be aligned to business processes and client needs, and not vice-versa,” he emphasized. “Social security institutions can leverage technology, but the main driver should be the business process of the institution.”
Achieving social security for all
The introduction of a basic “Social Protection Floor” (SPF) to provide minimal social and health protection to the whole population was within the reach of most African countries, according to the representative of the International Labour Office, Judica Amri-Lawson, speaking during the Regional Social Security Summit that ended the Forum.
“The ILO has developed a simple, realistic and pragmatic paradigm for the extension of social security to all,” Judica Amri-Lawson recalled. “The main principles of the SPF are sustainability (in financing), affordability according to the population revenues, solidarity, and progressivity (not all benefits to all at the same time).”
“It is our task here to ensure that a powerful African vision of social security and its important role in poverty alleviation, economic development and the achievement of the MDGs is taking its rightful place in the global debate,” Amri-Lawson concluded.
Governments and donors have made important policy commitments to the priority of social protection and social security in Africa, Thomas Winther-Schmidt of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reminded participants.
“We need to do a better job in selling our agenda, by communicating some of the successes, good practices and evidence of the role of social protection, and by holding policy makers to account,” he concluded.
Time for social security in Africa
In his closing remarks, ISSA Secretary General Konkolewsky underlined the need for social security institutions to continue to improve their governance systems, administrative efficiency and service quality as a gauge of confidence in their essential role in the future extension of coverage.
“The crucial questions of political will and fiscal space which are required to extend coverage now form an integral part of social and economic development strategies in Africa, and create an important window of opportunity to enable access to social security for millions of people living today in social insecurity,” he said. “Now is the time for social security in Africa.”
Participants agreed on the need to give higher priority to the practical implementation of social protection policies. Ramadhan Dau, Director General of the Tanzanian National Social Security Fund that hosted the event, echoed the sense of opportunity for African social security organizations.
“There are strong messages that emerge from the Forum. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We have a lot of experience to share in Africa, most immediately in the areas of coverage extension and of building appropriate ICT solutions,” Dau stated.
“What is now needed is more government commitment, more political will, for social security and especially the extension of coverage. We are not short of ideas in Africa. It is now time for Africa to act.”