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WHY THE OLD AND ELDERLY SHOULD MATTER IN UGANDA TODAY AND TOMORROW

The past, present and future are interconnected. In this interconnection, the elderly are a critical, essential and central factor. Without the elderly being well looked after, a nation loses its past and future to extraneous forces. The young become increasingly disconnected from their past.

Older persons play important roles in African societies as the African cultural systems give them high status. They preserve cultural, ethical, moral and spiritual values, transmit indigenous knowledge and skills, resolve conflicts and disagreements and also educate the young, preparing them for an uncertain future.

Unfortunately, the typical older adult in developing countries lives and is increasingly being mired in poverty due to false and deceptive economic development policies. He or she is being increasingly isolated from the rest of society, his or her children and grandchildren and is being deceptively given social services by uncaring governments.

In his article “Perspective Chapter: Geriatric Care in Africa” published in a book titled “Geriatric Medicine and Healthy Aging”, and edited by Élvio Rúbio Gouveia, Bruna Raquel Gouveia, Adilson Marques and Andreas Ihle, Dabota Yvonne Buowari (2022) writes:

“There is an increasing number of people that are ageing. This is also common in Africa. Therefore, they need specialist care from various categories of healthcare workers and other professionals in geriatric medicine and gerontology. There are few geriatricians in Africa. This is because there are few training centres in the continents. Also, most of the geriatricians are trained on the other side of the continent overseas”. The health needs of the elderly need to be cared for by medical doctors specially trained to care for elderly persons who require special communication skills. Old age is a period in the lives of the elderly for rest after a long life of activity and service. In some communities and societies, socio-cultural referents are used to define old age such as family status if the person has become a grandparent, physical appearances such as the appearance of grey hair and wrinkles”.

Indeed, diminishing health care is one of the greatest challenges facing the elderly of Africa in general and Uganda in particular.

When we become old, we experience diseases that we never experienced during our youth. Besides, pollution and poor feeding our children and grandchildren, who think when they buy meat, eggs, bread and butter, and ensure we have fried foods, provide us with are stressing our lives. Health problems such as high blood pressure, heart failure and diabetes have never been so preponderant among us the elderly as is the case today.

Other challenges are the widening gap between the young and the elderly, wrong education which seeks to separate the young from their cultural roots, diseases, ignorance, culturally-empty development policies, projects and programmes and, most importantly, loneliness. In Uganda we the elderly are watching as false economic schemes such as Myooga and Parish Development Model, based on giving money bonanzas to a few individuals in our communities in the hope that if they become rich their richness and prosperity will flow downward to us. However, these are acting like pollutants because they are too individualized following years of being instructed in the values of individual merit approach to everything. Those who went through our education system were prepared to be individuals and to benefit as individuals. It is therefore foolhardy to pursue development with individualized people who will be reconnected to society by such schemes.

We have seen how the individualized beneficiaries of such schemes have not only have not only ignored applying the public money they receive in form of money bonanzas to benefit their families, but they have also abandoned their elderly parents to the vicissitudes of nature. The rate of death among the elderly has speeded up in recent times. Where we used to have many elderly surviving up to 90 years and beyond, it is a miracle for us to reach even 70 years.

We are dying with our knowledge, wisdom, understanding and insights, which our ancestors passed on to us in the hope that we would pass these virtues to our children and grandchildren. Many elderly people have children living abroad who do not care about their welfare. Others are lucky if their children allow their grandchildren to visit them and stay with them for any length of time. Those who allow make the mistake of allowing their children not to learn their mother tongues. There is no communication between the elderly and their grandchildren. This is confounded by the fact that when their children visit them with their children, they allow their children to transfer their digital life to their grandparents.

It is total disconnection between the past, present and future generations. This makes the elderly sicker if they cannot communicate with their grandchildren. It means the knowledge, wisdom, understanding and insights passed on to them by their ancestors end with them. The future generations are completely ignorant of their past. They cannot even gain from the knowledge, wisdom, understanding and insights their grandparents gained beyond their own parents. Some elderly were men and women of letters, very influential locally, nationally, regionally and globally and gained a lot of experiential knowledge through crossing cultures. This would have benefitted their grandchildren but alas.

Some elderly people were leaders at all levels of society before they settled in the lands of their ancestors. Their experience in leadership and governance cannot be passed on to their grandchildren some of whom are now in leadership and governance. This is dangerous as it does not help contribute to building the identity of the nation. The nation will be vulnerable to people from elsewhere or with outward-looking personalities and identities.

Therefore, not only is the nation in crisis and in danger of mutating into something else we never expected when the British colonialists passed the instruments of power to a black man, but the elderly are a frustrated lot. They do not see their nation the way they had grown up expecting: a progressive nation of sovereign nationals and citizens in full control of their destiny.

If the elderly have become sicklier and more vulnerable to death, it is partly due to the psychological suffering precipitated by the continuous thought of their children and grandchildren being in a future with their destiny in the hands of foreigners. They are also frustrated pf a long-term future in which their children are no more no less than slaves either to the State or enterprises or external slave owners, whether they are educated or not, and to whatever level. Already they have seen how domestically their children and grandchildren are being underpaid for the skills and services they are rendering to their country, and how this is pushing them to be corrupt. They have seen how the obstinate refusal of government to reinstate Minimal Wage has literary converted every worker in the private and public sectors into slaving workers. Some of their children and grandchildren, compelled by lack of employment or humanizing employment have offered themselves into modern slavery in the Middle East, with the government or those connected to it playing the role chiefs and slavers played in orthodox slavery. Therefore, slavery is killing us the elderly.

As if this is not enough many of those elderly who sacrificed time and energy to contribute to the development of their country are dying either because their pensions were stolen by those who were supposed to safeguard their future (now present) retirement, or when the pensions are released, it is done irregularly and in meaningless sums. They cannot treat the expensive diseases to which they are prone. For those who worked in farming, it is worse because the government gives them only 25000/- when they reach 80 years of age and irregularly, and a lot of it is stolen by government officials.

There is something called successful ageing. This is increasingly a myth, not a reality, in Uganda. In the past, it was a reality because we had the extended family system in which those who could provide social and economic security to so many members of the community whose families could not afford to accrue such security to all members of their families. If there is anything that the present rulers of Uganda have managed to destroy is the extended family system. They have used the culture of money to destroy it by paying peanuts to those who would otherwise provide social and economic security. As if this is not enough, they have allowed green land grabbing to become a new culture in Uganda. This is violating the cultures, belonging and identities of the indigenous Ugandans.

The greatest victims of land grabbing are the elderly who are the custodians of our history, cultures, burial grounds and sacred places. Land grabbing is turning once secure interconnected, cohesive communities, with the elderly as the source of all knowledge, wisdom, understanding and insight necessary for survival into either possession of people from elsewhere or modern-day nomads and internal refugees.

Even then, by hyping individualism over and above communalism, they have ensured that people have less empathy towards others than ever before. This way, they have rendered families and families vulnerable to nature and to their policy choices and strategies to implement them. The elderly are suffering the most because they are being left out in most schemes of government to develop, transform and position the country on the road to progress.

All indications show that a future without the elderly is the one, which is emerging. Indeed the Uganda population is one of the youngest in the world. With the young disconnected from the past, less broadly knowledgeable and lacking in wisdom, understanding and insight, an adroit ruler can do anything to and with them.

Yes, we the elderly are an endangered group of the species, Homo sapiens. It is the elderly in power and positions of policymaking that are endangering both the elderly and the young. Survival of both the old and young is in jeopardy. With poor care for the elderly, there cannot be meaningful care for anybody else in Uganda. Justifications will be advanced from time to time to explain why the government cannot pay its workers well or why it cannot provide social services, even when everyone sees that financial resources are being wasted in things that do not contribute to the development, transformation and progress of the country

For God and My Country.

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Written by Oweyegha Afunaduula (2)

I am a retired lecturer of zoological and environmental sciences at Makerere University. I love writing and sharing information.

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