Social pension essential for older citizens

Petero Karasanyi (not real name) is an octogenarian widower without land or home of his own nor children to take care of him. On his return from many years of exile in a neighboring country two years ago, he was a guest to his elder sister in Gatsibo District.
Frank Tanganika
Frank Tanganika

Petero Karasanyi (not real name) is an octogenarian widower without land or home of his own nor children to take care of him. On his return from many years of exile in a neighboring country two years ago, he was a guest to his elder sister in Gatsibo District.

When the sister passed on there was neither land nor house to inherit from the only relative. Petero’s condition became more difficult because the supply of food and other commodities the sister received from her children have dwindled.

There are many people like Petero in our society who need government’s attention. Petero’s condition was put into societal perspective, late last year,  in a Rwanda Television programme ‘Ishusho Nyayo’ that hosted Mr Justin Gatsinzi, a senior official in the Ministry of Local Government, and Theogene Nkuranga, the Executive Secretary of the  National Youth Council who presented an informative picture of the national programmer aimed at empowering Rwandans to improve standards of living. The Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP) and its components like Ubudehe were portrayed as viable strategies that provide beneficiaries with fishing rods rather than the proverbial fish.

While I appreciate Gatsinzi’s contention that the programmes benefit all the categories of poor, the aged poor are not catered for adequately.  My view is that senior citizens above the age of 70 should be paid the proposed social pensions. It is my contention that if every district administration inserted the elderly in their budgets, it would not affect delivery of other essential services.

Although I don’t have statistics to back my argument, Rwandans in that aged bracket who are not beneficiaries of other pension schemes are few and will be fewer in the future as people get more sensitized about the various pension schemes now available.

While Rwf 7,000 sounds little to some of us, it would make a difference to a beneficiary who has no other form of income. Consider an old person who is a dependent, and a resident of Bwera in Rwimiyaga Sector of Nyagatare District who needs to travel to Bugaragara Health Centre.  

It is a rural area without public service transport. The money will facilitate his travel to go for healthcare by taxi motor bike without which it would be impossible to access medical care. 

Secondly, we can draw from Gatsinzi’s example of a beneficiary of a monthly income of Rwf7000 who was able to invest in a profitable venture and later became a poultry and dairy farmer. This illustrates the point that the social pensions for people would reduce dependency and give hope and dignity to the old poor, for as Banyarwanda say, ‘Ubusabusa buruta ubusa buriburi’.

Vulnerable groups like orphans and widows have benefited from advocacy, consequently there are projects run by government and civil society that educate, provide them with medical care, and empower them to get involved in gainful activities.

Don’t the old also need advocacy given that socio-cultural structure of the family unit that cared for the weak is being eroded?

The Ministry of Local Government has a number of programmes that cater for the vulnerable. The needy that include the older have been facilitated to access decent housing, but more could be done for the aged poor, if an exhaustive policy is developed. 

The activities and practices help Age International, an international NGO, could provide a framework for such a policy. The NGO helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and health lives.

Help age works through networking with like-minded organizations to lobby governments to have policies and through practical projects on issues that affect older people notably climate change, rights, health, social protection, work and HIV/Aids.

Whereas the government has built houses and paid medical insurance for the poor older people, I propose that the department in charge of social affairs, in addition to ensuring that social pensions are regularly paid to older people, initiate a project that helps them to overcome poverty and to network with agencies that have experience in the area.

For Rwanda, the type of pension known as Means-Tested Pensions, where only the poor receive the pension would be the best option. The fairest criteria for determining the beneficiaries should only be levels of income. Where social pensions have been implemented in poor countries, it has been reported that they are neither complicated nor costly.


In this column, last week, there was a mix-up of names. Instead of saying “Both Umuseso and Umusingi newspapers owned by Kabonero and Gatsimbazi respectively, we mistakenly wrote,

“Both Musekeweya and Umuvugizi newspapers owned by Kabonero and Gatsimbazi respectively”. We regret the error and apologize to all concerned.

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