The implications of power relations at the national and international level on the design and implementation of social cash transfers in Southern Africa

  • Roeland Hemsteede

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis explores how power relations at the national and international level are implicated in the design and implementation of social cash transfers (hereafter cash transfers) in Southern Africa. Cash transfers are an increasingly popular international development intervention and central to Sustainable Development Goal 1: the eradication of extreme poverty. The power relations between stakeholders profoundly shape cash transfers, which in turn also shape these power relations. This research offers an original contribution to existing knowledge in three ways: 1) it explains the mutually constituting relationship between power relations and the design and implementation of cash transfers; 2) it goes further than existing (political economy) literature by focusing on programme design and implementation, rather than exclusively focusing on the politics of policy adoption.This is done by analysing programme expansion after their adoption, beneficiary selection and identification, conditionality, and establishing transfer values; and 3) it looks at a broader set of power relations which includes but is not limited to politics. The analysis relies on a newly developed framework that combines human geography and development studies and draws on 109 in-depth interviews with key stakeholders in Lesotho and Malawi. It shows that while some power relations are very visible, many of the finer workings of power operate beneath the surface. In both Lesotho and Malawi transnational actors, such as international development organisations and donors, use their control over funding and knowledge to shape cash transfer programmes and the overall social protection agenda. As such, cash transfers represent a continuation of the past when transnational actors imposed their ‘development solutions’ onto ‘developing countries’. The dominance of transnational actors reduces national governments’ policy space, but this does not mean national governments are powerless. Rather, evidence shows that with political will, governments have significant potential to shape cash transfer programmes. Lesotho’s government extended its control over cash transfers while Malawi’s government decided to leave the responsibility for them to transnational actors. This thesis therefore argues that a hierarchy exists between the different sources of power possessed by stakeholders. All stakeholders involved gain promotive power which expands their collective capacity for action. The design and implementation of cash transfers in Lesotho relies multiple simultaneously active governing rationalities such as socially liberal, inclusive neoliberal, and advanced liberal governmentalities.
    Date of Award2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council, UK
    SupervisorLorraine van Blerk (Supervisor) & Fiona Smith (Supervisor)


    • Power relations
    • Cash Transfers
    • Africa
    • International development
    • Lesotho
    • Malawi

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