Ageing in Africa

The face of Africa is changing. By 2050, the number of people over 60 living in Africa will increase from just under 50 million to just under 200 million. Northern and Southern Africa are the most rapidly ageing regions on the continent. This unprecedented demographic shift is having profound implications for society, influencing people's social, economic and political lives.

Older people play a vital role in African society today. Across the continent, millions of families would not survive without the contribution of older people – from caring for orphaned grandchildren and infected own children to providing much needed household income. The African traditional forms of caring for older people are breaking down. In Southern Africa it is estimated that 50 per cent of double orphans are cared for by older people. Yet older people are often excluded from development programmes and discriminated against by services such as health care.

Despite this indispensable contribution, many older people in Africa continue to experience deepening poverty, discrimination, violence and abuse, and are unable to access entitlements that are theirs by right. Many older people live in rural areas, where there are fewer services. They experience economic exclusion, and are often denied employment and access to insurance or credit schemes. They also encounter social exclusion due to age discrimination and changing roles and practices within the family. Literacy rates among older people – especially older women – remain low, and are often lower than for the population as a whole.

A survey of 15 African countries found that in 11 of these countries the proportion of older people living in poverty was higher than the national average. This is particularly the case when older people live in families with young children. It is imperative that older people and ageing issues are included in national development initiatives, such as poverty reduction processes, strategies and budgets.

Figure 1: National Poverty Rates by household type in Uganda,
Tanzania, Kenya and Sierra Leone | Click to enlarge

Positive change

In Tanzania old age benefits do not exist. Nearly two million elderly people are living in poverty. Especially old women are often indigent. The fast spread of HIV leads to their misery, because after the traumatizing death of their own children, the grandmothers take care of the Aids orphans.
The project Kwa Wazee supports these silent heroes: Kwa Wazee grants pensions to 1000 grandmothers with 600 grand-children in and around Nshamba. Beyond that the project advocates the formation of discussion groups that enable old people to help one another psychosocially and financially. The pensions increase the quality of the life of the elderly women and their grandchildren immensely. With the money they buy food, clothes and other needed items. The nutritional situation stabilizes, the children can go to school again and the grandmothers develop a greater feeling of self-esteem. The project also contributes to a national debate about an improved old age security.

About 6,5 million people in South Africa are living with HIV/Aids. In KwaZulu Natal the infection rate is over 30%. More than 200.000 orphans live here. Elderly people take care of the sick and their orphaned grandchildren. The project MUSA works with over 25.000 older people that are nursing their infected children and raise their grandchildren in the region of Durban. Through information and training they learn about infection risks and the best care. They are enabled to act as advisers and multipliers so they can help other affected people and overcome their own isolation. The elderly people are also supported materially: They receive sufficient food supplies, clothing and items that they need to take care of their sick relatives. The grandchildren get books, school uniforms and other items the need for their education. In addition MUSA acts politically in the interest of older people as they don't want to substitute the government responsibility. The project informs the government agencies of the situation of elderly people and the many Aids orphans and demands political solutions of their problems.

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