The rise of the social protection agenda in Zambia over the past few years seems in some ways to fit with mainstream accounts of how welfare states are likely to emergein developing countries, particularly in terms of the links to elections and pro-poor political parties. However, here the authors demonstrate that this (still incipient) policy shift flows more directly from two alternative sources, namely shifting dynamics within Zambia’s political settlement and the promotional efforts of a transnational policy coalition.
Adopting a process tracing approach, the paper compares the progress made on social cash transfers and social health insurance in Zambia. It investigates how the interplay of domestic political economy and transnational factors shaped the commitment of government to formulate and deliver the respective policies in the context of competing demands and priorities within the wider distributional regime. Despite some progress made in both policy areas, social protection has not as yet displaced certain interests, ideas and rent-allocation practices that are more deeply embedded within Zambia’s political settlement. However, given that it would be politically dangerous to remove social cash transfers from communities that have become used to receiving them, what matters now is the way in which such transfers become integrated within Zambia’s distributional regime, including whether they simply deepen its clientelist nature or start to form the basis of a new citizenship-based social contract.