Brazil’s social policies a model for Kenya

Published on Pambazuka News, by Julius Okoth, July 25, 2013.

The funds transfer programme has lifted millions of people out of poverty, although critics dismiss it as welfare adventurism which African countries can ill afford.

Themes that used to be ignored in Africa such as hunger eradication and reduction of social inequality have now become top priorities as a result of collaboration between Brazil and Africa in south-to-south solidarity. Brazil’s social inclusion policies, such as income redistribution program ‘Bolsa Familia’, are most admired by African social actors.  

Bolsa Familia’, or the family fund, is an internationally recognized program, an obligation that Brazilian government undertook to contribute to eradication of hunger and extreme poverty among its population. It is a part of social protection and promotion which is integrated with systems of food and nutrition security and social assistance.

The program is a social safety-net waiver for Brazilians over 65 years of age and whose household income is less than a quarter of the minimum wage, that is under 169.50 Reais. They are entitled to a non-contributory pension equal to the minimum wage, currently 678 Reais. But poor families who have no older persons living with them, have children and live on less than 140 Reais a month, they can apply for ‘Bolsa Familia’ as well, a discretionary and much less generous monthly stipend paid in return for sending children to school and keeping up with basic medical requirements such as getting vaccines.

This integrated income transfer program has rescued 11-45 million people in all of Brazil from destitution. Bearing in mind that Brazil is upper middle income country, the program might not spell the end of extreme poverty, but it certainly represents another important step towards this goal. There is a strong evidence that the recipients of the ‘Bolsa Familia’ keep their children longer in school and that their children end up better educated and eventually in better jobs. By supporting consumption, ‘Bolsa Familia’ has brought businesses and jobs into some of the poorest corners of Brazil, setting in motion a virtuous cycle of economic growth.

Right after the 1988 dictatorship, Brazil had a constitutional assembly with broad social participation reserved in the new constitution, which defined social policies as a right of every citizen and an obligation of the state, thus bringing social protection to the realm of public policies … //

… The question of affordability has been used by Africa’s opponents to dismiss Brazil’s ‘Bolsa Familia’ social protection model as welfare adventurism which African countries can ill afford.
But in May 2010, a feasibility study by the Tanzanian Ministry of Labour, Employment and Youth found that giving about Ksh 960 to every one over 60 years will reduce poverty by 11% and lift 1.5 million out of poverty, more than twice the improvement achieved between 2001 and 2007 through the full range of government policy intervention.

Kenya also has hunger safety net pilot program and the recent social transfer for senior citizens. Otherwise, social assistance programmes in Kenya particularly food aid and cash for work is often irregular, unpredictable, inappropriate and therefore ineffective. ‘Bolsa Familia’ pilot projects in Africa have been done under the umbrella of south -south relations, with a strong emphasis on cultural similarities and political solidarity.

As many as 50 percent of Brazil’s population trace their heritage to Africa and some parts of Brazil are said to bear closer resemblance to sub-Saharan Africa than Latin America. Lula regularly referred to what he calls Brazil’s historic debt to Africa, a reference to the millions of Brazilians who are descendants of African slaves.

The current President Dilma Rousseff talks of relationship between Brazil and Africa as a special relationship between equals, born of desire to be free of colonial hells. The rhetoric works well for both parties. But it is not clear how the branding will fare as big conglomerates from Brazil continue to expand in Africa. No wonder this fits a perceived trends amongst some observers, that direct foreign investments into Africa by other emerging economies like Brazil is predominantly motivated by demand for natural resources, often at the expense of political and social considerations.

China’s booming trade with Africa, for example, lulled Africa to sleep by the facade of a south to south relationship. China is in the south on face value, but it might as well be in the north. China has often been subjected to criticism for its alleged disregard for human rights abuses and political oppression. Africa should embrace the entry of Brazil on the basis of its social agenda only; but on the exploitation of African resources, civil society and the press should be vigilant. Africa should not be mortgaged to Rio or Sao Paulo, the same way it has been mortgaged to Beijing.
(full text).

(Julius Okoth is a social justice activist with Bunge la Mwananchi in Kenya).

Links:

Brazilian South-South Cooperation and Democracy, on Pambazuka News, by Adriana Erthal Abdenur and Danilo Marcondes de Souza Neto, July 24, 2013: One largely unknown area of Brazilian development cooperation is provision of electronic voting machines and training. This cooperation reveals a key part of Brazilian promotion of democracy and human rights abroad through state capacity building and reinforcing institutions …;

Atlantic slave trade and Africanization of Brazil, on Pambazuka News, by Marco Zoppi, July 24, 2013: Whether as skilled labourers, domestic servants, field hands, or as soldiers in the military, enslaved Africans brought to Brazil not only such important skills but their cultural and religious beliefs and practices that were to blend with European practices and customs. Ultimately it led to an Africanization of Brazil …;

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