Ensconced in his chair at home on Friday at 4.00pm local time, retired Pastor Naasson Hitimana plays gospel music on the radio on his left side, has a Bible on the cockpit by his right and awaits a visitor he was told about, none else but a journalist from IGIHE. Elder Hitimana has got another chance to break loneliness and engage in a lengthy talk, definitely as long as 25 minutes compared to 10 minutes of the previous talk when he got tired and the talk was postponed until another schedule.
His caregiver is away for a gospel mission, a housemaid is busy outside, Pr Hitimana sits alone in a big modern house located in Kicukiro District, Kicukiro Sector, Gasharu Cell. He shakes hands again with the visitor who had been there a week before but the elderly cannot recall the face until he is reminded. He picks Bible and explains how he usually loses mind on everything starting from Bible verses he had memorised and used for around 40 years. He talks of frailty that comes with elderhood.
He says he was born at the time birth days were not recorded but it was later guessed and recorded for him as born in 1932, meaning he is now 85 years old but he says he is older than that. He started teaching at primary school in 1947 and was later sent to Cameroon where he spent four years receiving pastoral training and came back to Rwanda in 1962 with a qualification as a Pastor for a Christian church. He served the church until 1998, the time he retired due to frailty of ageing.
Hitimana, whose wife and some children passed away while other children live overseas including a son working in England, has no close family member around him but a nephew, young Pastor Désiré Niyomugabo, who committed the last seven months to staying with his paternal uncle, Hitimana. Retired Pastor Hitimana lives on his pension and rent of his two houses but sympathises with older persons who do not have means to afford their needs.
“I had always heard of a local adage ‘Gusaza ni Ugusahurwa’ (loosely translated as ageing is losing all) but I could not understand its real meaning until this age. An older person loses all capabilities to do what they used to do for and find themselves in need of someone else to provide everything just as a little baby needs. I have means to pay my housemaid but I imagine how challenging is the life of older person without such means, it is worrisome!” He says.
Pastor Hitimana urges churches to work closely with governments to provide eldercare by establishing centres for older persons who do not have caregivers, provide them with space for expressing their views and contribute to decisions that affect their well-being.
“Imagine that we need someone to take water and do us a bath yet young people also have got responsibilities and need to work for their prosperity. Centres for older persons would help better because they can hire workers and pay them for the job. It is a huge but crucial project; its elaboration should start now,” he adds before concluding, “I am tired now, you have made me talk and it is good for me but I am tired. I like having someone attending to me for a talk as I usually spend entire day alone. Thank you for coming to talk with me.” He stops talking, stands up, leans on walls and walks to bed for rest.
The concerns were shared by a number of other older persons that IGIHE visited including Tesla Bayijuka, 93, Louise Bamurange, 84, both living at Muhima Sector in Nyarugenge District and members of elderly support group ‘Nsindagiza’ based in Remera Sector of Gasabo District.
United Nations’ definition of older person considers aged 60 years and above.
Activists advocate for particular policies
Well over 10 years through Age Demand Action (ADA), rights activists have advocated for international convention on the rights of older persons, participation of older persons in governments’ decisions that affect them and having choice about their lives in their respective families.
Elie Mugabowishema, the president of Nsindagiza, a local non-governmental organisation that advocates for rights and social welfare of older persons, told IGIHE last week that there is still a lack of international convention and local policies about the rights and welfare of older persons.
He urged the Government of Rwanda to set up particular platforms through which older persons can channel their concerns as children, youth, women and people with disabilities have theirs.
Béatrice Mushimiyimana, the coordinator of Nsindagiza activities, said most of older persons suffer serious depression and stigma resulting from isolation and creating space for them to participate in the country and family’s life would be the best solution as well as developing effective social protection schemes for older persons.
Government finds no gap
Minister of State in charge of Social Affairs and Social Protection at the Minitry of Local Government, Dr Alvera Mukabaramba, told IGIHE last Friday that government does its best to support all vulnerable people and older persons constitute the majority of beneficiaries of social protection schemes such as cash transfer under Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP) and Community-Based Health Insurance (Mutuelle de Santé).
“Not all elderly persons need support. Some are receiving their pension while others have children or other family members supporting them. We are working on a comprehensive social protection policy considering together all categories of the disadvantaged as the current policy will expire in 2018,” she said.
She said that only people with disabilities have their particular policy being developed because their case is not only about social aspect but fall in different ministries such as Ministry of Infrastructure for their mobility, Ministry of Education for their special needs in education and Ministry of Health for their special healthcare.
Dr Mukabaramba urged young people to save for their old age, saying that every working Rwandan, not only monthly salary earners but also informal sector actors including those on government support schemes, has to save for pension as a sustainable solution for ageing demands.
“Government seeks to strengthen pension scheme and poor people who will join the scheme will receive government’s incentives according to law which is now in Parliament. Meanwhile, children should not forsake their old parents and government will intervene where necessary,” she said.
Marie Rose Mureshyankwano, who chaired the Parliamentary Standing Committed on Social Affairs in Lower House for long before being appointed Governor of Southern Province last year, told IGIHE that older people do not necessarily need particular laws, policies or a council to have their issues handled because existing mechanisms are considering vulnerable older persons for social protection.
“Every Rwandan cannot have a particular policy or council to deal with their concerns. These councils for women, youth and others are not only for social support but mainly for empowering those categories of people in order to participate in the country’s affairs,” she said.
International Day of Older Persons
Dr Mukabaramba said Rwanda will mark International Day of Older Persons, which is usually marked on 1st October, on 8th October in Nyamasheke District at a national level and in all districts under the theme “Stepping into the Future: Tapping the Talents, Contributions and Participation of Older Persons in Society.” Nyamasheke is the second district, after Gicumbi, with the highest number of older persons.
Fourth Rwanda Population and Housing Census, 2012 released in 2014 indicates that there were 511,738 elderly persons (aged 60 and above) living in Rwanda, representing 4.9% of 10,515,973 population. According to National Social Protection Strategy 2011, only 24,300 aged 65 years and above (7.4%) had access to a pension from the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB).
Global AgeWatch Index report 2015 ranked Rwanda as 89th out 96 countries studied including 11 on African continent, the position that Minister Mukabaramba refuted saying that there are obviously Rwanda’s commitments towards older persons which were not reported and ensured of reporting all to win a better ranking in the next report.
The study measured four key domains for older people: income security, health status, capability, and enabling environment –factors that older people say are necessary for them to be able to function independently.
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa adopted by the 26th ordinary session of the Assembly convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on January 31, 2016, stipulates that “States Parties shall ensure that the 1991 United Nations Principles of Independence, Dignity, Self-fulfillment, Participation and Care of Older Persons are included in their national laws and are legally binding as the basis for ensuring their rights.”