How Technology can be Deployed to Scale-up Social Protection during COVID-19: The Case of South Africa, Nigeria and Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed serious flaws in advanced capitalism, as it no longer holds true that a thriving economy will ensure social well-being. Activist redistributive fiscal policies are as a result, increasingly being implemented to stabilise household consumption, minimise poverty and mitigate rising inequality, particularly, in sub-Saharan Africa. In South Africa, the region’s most sophisticated and unequal economy, an 18 month, three phased COVID-19 pro-poor income and social relief of distress grant (SRD) leaning economic stimulus package valued at ZAR 500 billion (US$ 32 Billion), was put in place by the National Treasury of South Africa in April 2020, and financed primarily through a combination of national budget reprioritisation, concessional loans from international financial institutions, and sovereign bond issuances. In addition to these government efforts, an additional ZAR 3,2 Billion (US$ 2,1 billion) for emergency health, welfare, and business support was proactively mobilised from civil society, private firms, philanthropic organisations and the public sector through the establishment of a Solidarity Fund. Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, has implemented a similar economic stimulus-social protection programme intervention with a greater orientation towards expanded public works programmes and business support, and a relatively small proportion going towards social cash transfers. In addition to reprioritisation of the national budget, Nigeria has unlocked US$ 3,4 billion (NGN 1,3 Trillion) in emergency COVID-19 relief support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the largest amount any country has been able to access, and earmarked for temporary spending increases aimed at mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic and of the sharp fall in international oil prices (IMF, 2020). Other African governments have, on the contrary, not been able to access such emergency concessional lending windows from international financial institutions on account of their weak fiscal and economic management prior to the pandemic, and as such, had to rely on grants and donations to shore up the social protection dimensions of their economic stimulus programmes.