It gives me great pleasure and honour to welcome you all to this very important two day conference focusing on financing socio-protection in East and Central Africa. 

EPRC and Development Research and Training (DRT) are honoured that you all accepted our invitation. This is a clear demonstration of your institutions' appreciation of the critical importance meeting socio-protection needs in the region.

Attending this conference, are participants from Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and the host Uganda. We had invited participants from Rwanda and Ethiopia who unfortunately could not make it due to lengthy clearance procedures.

We are also grateful to renowned socio-protection experts from outside Africa (Italy) who have accepted to participate in this two day conference to share experiences from other developing regions.

The conference is very important and timely partly because population affected by poverty and destitution remains very large in the region and without reliable and predictable resource allocation to socio-protection, some countries in the region may not be able to meet part of the international commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

At the same time, the relatively high population growth rates in most of the countries in East and Central Africa means that the demands for socio-protection are likely to continue rising for the foreseeable future.

Declining Social protection budgets

The socio-protection landscape is changing fast on the African continent and this calls for rapid response to the changing environment by governments as well as other players. First, the overall budget allocated to socio-protection has declined in the recent past as national governments have increasingly focused on expanding infrastructure. 

The decline in budgets is happening against a backdrop of renewed global commitment to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. As such, there is need to engage the Ministries of Finance in our respective countries on the need for additional resources for SP programmes.

Small scale cash transfer schemes

Two, different countries are pursuing different SP programmes. For instance, as you are aware, a number of countries in the region have initiated socio-protection programmes the most notable being cash transfer schemes.
However, most of the schemes being implemented are relatively small scale in comparison to the need. As such, identifying ways of expanding such socio-protection schemes is a major priority for the various actors engaged in socio-protection programming including policy makers, development partners, politicians and researchers in the Uganda.

Natural resource discoveries and socio protection

Three, the discovery of commercially viable deposit of natural resources in the East and Central Africa region has the potential to change the socio-protection financing landscape in the region. Uganda is in the process of developing its oil resources in the Albertine region while Kenyan process is also underway in Turukana. Such vast natural resources, if utilized appropriately, offer an opportunity to finance nationwide socio protection programmes exclusively from the national budget.

As such, I urge member present to actively engage in debate in their respective countries on how the proceeds from natural resources should be governed and managed.

Training and Research on SP

Four, development partners have responded to changing post-conflict environment by supporting SP training and research. For example, the IDRC sponsored the initiation of the Master of Socio-Protection degree at the University of Mauritius.

I am happy to note that we have two representatives from the University of Mauritius among our regional participants. I am hopeful that over the course of the two days, the Mauritius team will share with us the type of financing options are being taught to future socio-protection practitioners.

Similarly, IDRC has also supported universities in Kenya, Burundi and Uganda to undertake a regional research project examining the impact of socio-protection programmes on the welfare of vulnerable groups. As such, today, we shall presentations from the University of Nairobi, the School of Economics, Makerere University and National University of Burundi on this particular theme. 

As such, I am happy to note that academicians have also taken a keen interest in socio-protection issues in the region—either through training or research.

EPRC’s work on Socio Protection

Given EPRC’s mandate to contribute to evidence-based policy making, the Centre has over the past few years actively engaged in the design of socio-protection programmes as well as regular monitoring of the performance and reach of Uganda’s socio-protection programmes.

For instance, EPRC and DRT contributed to the design of the Uganda’s social cash transfer scheme—the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) scheme. We also participated in the baseline survey for the impact evaluation of the SAGE programme being spearheaded by the Oxford Policy Management (OPM).

I am sure that during the conference, you will get to know about this pilot cash transfer scheme in Uganda. Apart from SAGE, EPRC has been engaged in the impact evaluation of the Northern Uganda Socio Action Fund (NUSAF).

Appreciation of funders of the conference

The conference is organized by EPRC and DRT with support from the Think Tank Initiative (TTI) at IDRC and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.
EPRC is very grateful for the continued funding from TTI to raise awareness and build partnerships on critical issues affecting the population in the region. Learning from other African countries will not only to maximize the policy impact of conference proceeding but will also ensure that the socio-protection financing options being discussed are adaptable and suitable to the regional context.

Indeed, with support from international partners like TTI, EPRC has been involved in organizing a number of regional events such as “Oil and Gas Management for Inclusive and Sustainable Development An East African Regional Forum” held in Kampala in January 2013 and the regional launch of the “African Capacity Indicator procedures".

Conclusion

I invite you to get more details of EPRC’s research activities from our website. For those on social media, you can follow our Twitter handle (@EPRC_Official) or like our Face Book page Economic Policy Research Centre, Uganda or check our blog.

With these remarks, I would wish to once again express our appreciation for honouring EPRC and DRT’s invitation to this regional conference and wish you very fruitful discussions.

Speech by the Executive Director, EPRC (Dr. Sarah Ssewanyana) during the opening of the regional conference on “Financing Socio-Protection in East and Central Africa”, held on October 22 2013 at Lake Victoria Serena Hotel.

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