Thursday, November 13, 2008

(TALKZIMBABWE) Time for African social security

Time for African social security
By Hans-Horst Konkolewsky*
Thu, 13 Nov 2008 13:02:00 +0000

AFTER decades of structural adjustment, social security is back on the African agenda. New evidence confirms that social security programmes are one of the most effective and sustainable ways of lifting people out of poverty. African social security systems are playing a vital role in the development of their societies, contributing to income maintenance, old-age security, health care and poverty reduction. Social security is making a major difference to the lives and hopes of millions of people.

Despite these achievements, the social challenges facing Africa are large. Coverage remains limited in most countries, and the majority of people in Africa live without any social protection. There are three areas which need to be tackled in a new and collaborative way if social security is to fill the gap.
Health: Health shocks impoverish millions of people each year, either because they cannot access health care or because their out-of-pocket costs for treatment and medicine renders households destitute. The extension of health protection, which already exists in some form in almost all African countries, would assist millions to remain healthy and active.

Caring for the elderly: Africa, despite having a younger population than other continents, is no exception to the global trend towards falling mortality and fertility. By 2050, the number of older people in Africa will rise to over 200 million. Despite progress in several countries, relatively few people in Africa can expect a pension in their old age. Yet, as countries as diverse as Tunisia, South Africa and Ghana have demonstrated, the introduction of non-contributory old-age grants can radically reduce the country's destitution gap.

Influencing policy: Social security needs to form an integral part of overall government and social policy. Social security systems can make a unique and important contribution to national economic and social development, by shaping policy, providing expertise and advising government. To build trust, social security administrations must demonstrate sound management, good governance and strong integrity. Administrative and operational efficiency are essential elements of any social security strategy.

Social security is not only about protection, but it is also about investment in people and society. As the industrialized world has shown, social development cannot be left to the market alone, but must be ensured by governments as a condition of economic development and growth. Economic and social objectives are complementary. Ultimately, effective social security systems can contribute to a healthier workforce, more productive economies and greater social cohesion. The financial crisis, and the pressing humanitarian demands on the continent, should not distract from the need to invest in long-term social security as a key to African development.

As African social security leaders gather in Kigali, Rwanda at the first Regional Social Security Forum for Africa, many will express confidence that "yes, we can!" is a slogan that is also applicable to this region. Actors in social security at the international and national levels must seize the moment to ensure that economic and social priorities are reconciled, and that the significant progress towards social security in Africa continues. Now is the time for African social security.

*Mr. Hans-Horst Konkolewsky is the Secretary General of the International Social Security Association (ISSA), the principal international organization bringing together social security institutions and agencies, and organizer of the first Regional Social Security Forum for Africa, 18-20 November 2008 in Kigali, Rwanda.



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