Pay to play? Power Relations in Malawi’s Social Cash Transfer Programme

Authors: Roeland Hemsteede*, University of Dundee
Topics: Africa, Development, Social Geography
Keywords: Malawi, Cash Transfers, Power, Development
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Directors Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Malawi’s Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP) is a social protection intervention covering the most vulnerable 10% of the population. The programme however almost completely depends on donor funding while there appears to be limited political support for it. This raises important questions about the power relations that shape development interventions and the extent to which the SCTP ‘nationally owned’. The latter has implications for the SCTPs sustainability, as well as in relation to the principles underpinning the Paris Agreement, Accra Agenda for Action, and SDG 17. This paper is based on qualitative data from 43 in-depth interviews with key stakeholders in the development community, government, and politics. The data show that the development community embraces the SCTP and has continued to push for, and fund, its expansion. Malawian politicians however are not as excited about it which is reflected in the limited funding the Government of Malawi provides. Grounded in a theoretical understanding of power and how it is gained, maintained, and exercised this paper challenges frequently voiced notions of national ‘ownership’ and ‘leadership’. It argues that while government ownership in this case is limited, the government plays an instrumental role in the SCTP and should not be considered powerless. Instead, the stakeholders and power relations surrounding the SCTP are entangled. Donors have power over the programme’s design and implementation while the government is able to utilise this fondness to dedicate its own resources to programmes it is more in favour of.

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