Hard economic times is taking toll on the elderly as putting food on the table and acquiring basic consumer goods are increasingly going beyond their reach.
Although the social-economic conditions of many senior citizens have been far from good in the past decade, their plight took a turn for the worst since 2020 when the Covid-19 came calling.
The biting inflation has aggravated the matter further, leading to the mother of all surges in prices of goods on the market for the better part of this year, making it hard for many to even afford basic needs, like food, clothing and housing.
Many are outside the pension scheme, but even those who get pension, say they earn paltry benefits, as low as Rwf5,000 or Rwf13,000 per month, which they say cannot even buy them food.
Musanabera Clemantine (Not real names) was the only graduate in her family, after getting a job in the 1980’s, she started taking care of her family, educating her siblings children.
She later started her own family and responsibilities only expanded, many of her family members were to later be killed in the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, including those she had educated.
Just like many people of her generation, Musanabera never invested for a rainy day in her sunset years, and now a widow with dependents, she has fallen on hard times.
“I had what one can call a good job in those days, but I had many people to take care of, I couldn’t save or invest anything, now I depend on Rwf13,000 of pension but it’s too little to do anything, I depend on handouts, it’s a hard life” she said.
Saying with prices in the market almost doubled for most of the foods, if she’s lucky she eats once. For Dorothea Uwimana, 69, who used to work for in a government Ministry, was even more unlucky because 14 years ago, she started contributing to pension fund right before salaries were increased at her work place, and life went downhill since then.
She says lack of minimum wage, which the government has not set for years despite promises, has greatly affected their pension benefits.
Adding that it is time government adjusted their pension benefits commensurate with the prevailing cost of living, which has subjected them to untold suffering. Saying in the current situation, the money she gets as pension benefits is depleted in a matter of
Other senior citizens depended on their children and relatives, but the economic contractions which came with loss of jobs and incomes made it hard for them to continue supporting them.
Yet the existing poverty classifications like Ubudehe lock many of them out of the social safety nets safety nets in place, like Girinka and mituelle de sante. The stoicism and pride that characterize many Rwandans especially the older generation who regard it noble to be strong and not exhibit one’s vulnerability, has also made it hard for many to seek help or talk about their suffering.
Some of the less fortunate elderly also have dependents who they take care of, many of them are raising grand children born to young mothers who do casual jobs in Kigali.
Some are a result of the rampant teenage pregnancies caused by defilement and rape.
Once some of these vulnerable girls give birth they take these children to their parents or grand parents in rural areas, which adds to the economic pressures these vulnerable elderly people go through.
Among the over 500,000 people that are above 65 years of age in the country, only about 40,000 earn a pension, but even those on pension earn too little to sustain them. Gasore Seraphin, the Deputy Secretary General of Cotrafan umbrella body of workers trade unions in Rwanda, said, “Many of the elderly live in abject from poverty and need extraordinary help.