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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 09:53 GMT
Old people in Africa: a forgotten treasure?
An Organisation of African Unity conference on the continent's ageing population opens next week in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The number of people in Africa over the age of 60 is expected to grow from 38 million today to 212 million in 2050.

Old people on the continent traditionally held positions of authority but they are increasingly marginalised. The only African country to have a comprehensive policy on ageing is the island of Mauritius.

Although a few other countries are working on ageing policies, is this too little too late? How will the continent cope with the five fold increase within 50 years? Does age count for anything any more in Africa?

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

The aged in Africa enjoy the highest level of social inclusion compared to the west

Charles Chingwalu, Malawi
The aged in Africa enjoy the highest level of social inclusion compared to the west. The concept of nursing homes is so thin in most African countries. The concept of health is wider than the mere absence of disease. Of course in the absence of Government's social security systems, poverty remains a "trip" from young age to old age. Poverty is not just the lack of money but a series of facets: vulnerability, lack of opportunities, historical perspectives and more recently prescriptive SAPs and unfair competition as a result of economic globalisation.
Charles Chingwalu, Malawi

If we do not address the AIDS epidemic that many African countries share, there will be no need to have a plan for the aged - planning for the aged should start with helping them as children.
Jamie Kruger, Zimbabwean in London

For a long time in Africa old age has been a distinct marker of wisdom. Deplorably, some of our leaders are noteworthy exceptions to this rule. Nonetheless, the likes of Nelson Mandela, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka exemplify the values young Africans should try and emulate. It is unfortunate that urbanization and economic decline have compounded changes in social relations between family members in the African household, leading to the marginalization of the aged. The OAU conference is by all means timely.
Eddie Mandhry, Kenya

If there is any group of peoples that do take care of their old parents I think it is the Africans

Emmanuel Igene, United States
There is no gainsaying the fact that old people are still being given pride of place in Africa. We do not need a hypocritical law or a wasteful, ineffective policy to take care of our parents. If there is any group of peoples that do take care of their old parents I think it is the Africans. They still remain our shining light.
Emmanuel Igene, United States

In the past, age played an important role in decision making when no one questioned anything said by an elder; but with time and awareness, we realised that this group of the population are too conservative and hinder some progress as long as they do not know and would not want to be educated about it. Now, the world is very advanced and this population must not play an old-fashioned role in today's development, which should be given to the young and enterprising population. This will be done by addressing the problem of youth unemployment to better build the future.
Saidou Drammeh, Gambian in USA

I visited Senegal this summer for the first time. I noticed that in many households there were several generations of family. In the U.S. when people reach old age it is the norm to send them to Nursing Homes. I sincerely believe that the way it is done if Africa where the young take care of the old in the family is many times better than our custom in America. In a society where the old are taken care of by the young it makes since to spend resources on the young because they bear the financial responsibility of the society.
Abdul-Qaadir, USA

A five-fold increase in the number of old people may not be that much of a problem

Jeremiah Akindele, USA
A five-fold increase in the number of old people may not be that much of a problem. The effects of ageing are likely to be absorbed by a greater increase in the amount of people in the younger ages who can work to support the older population. So what matters is not the absolute increase in the number of old people but the relative increase. We should now be thinking of ways to make the larger future youthful population more productive so that they can support their older relatives.
Jeremiah Akindele, USA

Africans hold to high esteem their elderly in the society. I think the responsibility is a family affair. They have taken care of their responsibilities to their children and now it is their turn to 'bask' in their children's and grandchildren's success' as it is theirs too. We need policies for the future young generation of Africans who are continually being discouraged by unemployment and corruption as they are left out of the development progress in their countries. Brain drain is separating the families in Africa and that is an issue they should be having a conference over!
Kaki, Kenya - PA, USA

I do believe that the issue of ageing in Africa must be dealt with, and realistically. It is about time for African leaders to eliminate certain tribal norms, such as the role of age in tribal Africa, where the older-ones are in control the younger-ones. I hope to see such a move in the coming summit of A.O.U. Perhaps there is a saying that says, "Age is nothing but a number." Therefore, individual achievement is what needs to be viewed as the value of a particular person, or the degree of his/her dignity on the face of others.
Abdul Bin-Jibreel Madaha, A Ghanaian student in New York

The old still have authority, they are patriarchs.

Bhekuzulu Khumalo, Canada
The reality is we do not need a policy. We have our extended families. That is the backbone of our societies. I know many in the West do not understand what a family is, what relatives are in the truest sense, but the family is a treasure. They are not a financial burden, as not everything has a price. It is because of this that Africa will pull through, that nations will pull through. It is colonialism that attempted to destroy the culture, the old still have authority, they are patriarchs. Kenya, instead of dabbling in nonsense and wasting tax payers money on conferences should develop that land. What a shame, doing all this to please donors.
Bhekuzulu Khumalo, Toronto, Canada

I think Africa is better off having a plan for the productive age rather than the old. There are a growing number of young Africans who roam the streets of their country without employment. Planning for the old, who will be at the receiving end of the equation, will be a big mistake for any sound government experiencing an alarming rate of unemployment.
Lou Leme, (South) Sudan


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