STRUGGLING to walk with the support of a walking stick, Asha Mwondosha had covered over 40 kilometres from Kawaya village in Hai district to Regional Commissioner, Leonidas Gama's office.
"Is he available?" the over 90 year old senior citizen, mother of six, five of whom are already dead, asked after arriving at the RC office's reception. Ms Mwondosha came to see Mr Gama armed with a file of documents some dating back to 1950s showing that she and her late husband, Ndoile were right owners of a two hectares farm.
As she struggled to get seated on the wooden bench, Amiri Selemani (70) was so concerned that he rose to give her support to sit properly. A woman who once weighed over 80 kilogrammes in 1950s was hardly weighing 50 kilos, after five decades down the road.
"They want to snatch my piece of land," she said as she pulled the zip off her soiled handbag and produced a stack of similarly aged documents, some hand written, others typed and stamped by colonial district commissioners to back up her claims.
"I just want them to leave me a piece of land for my burial," she lamented while pleading with one of Gama's aides who was trying to convince her that the RC had a busy schedule hence could not see her. She was sad and confused after using part of her hard earning savings to pay for bus fare to see the regional chief but ended up at the reception.
A UN Population Fund and HelpAge International Global AgeWatch Index report for 2013 released this week puts Tanzania at par with Afghanistan and Pakistan as places where being old is a condemnation. The report released to mark the UN's Day of Older Persons last Monday, said researchers used 13 different indicators - including income and employment, health provision, education, and environment to come up with the results.
The research is the first study of its kind to be conducted on a global scale. Authors of the study say countries across the world face an ongoing challenge from the rapidly ageing global population.
"The continual exclusion of ageing from national and global agendas is one of the biggest obstacles to meeting the needs of the world's ageing population," says Silvia Stefanoni, the interim Chief Executive of HelpAge International.
"By giving us a better understanding of the quality of life of women and men as they age, this new index can help us focus our attention on where things are going well and where we have to make improvements,"
Mr Stefanoni said.According to National Bureau of Statistics released 2012 Population and Housing Census, an average of 5.6 per cent or 2.5 million people in the country are above 60 years which means they are retired. Kilimanjaro leads the pack of regions with the largest number of retirees or people above 60 years, followed by Lindi, Coast and Mtwara.
But most of these retirees have never been formally employed hence are not beneficiaries of the country's social security schemes. But Ms Asha Mwondosha is not even seeking to benefit from the social security but simply have her land saved from grabbers.
The UN Population Fund and HelpAge International report strongly suggest that countries like Tanzania should do a lot more to allow the elderly leave better lives after retirement both from the formal and informal sectors.
"Equally important are questions related to expanding the opportunities open to older people, especially those in older age groups. Here, community and state support is important - to make health services accessible to older people, to focus part of preventive services on the special needs of older people, to encourage children and adults to maintain or strengthen traditions of caring," said Professor Sir Richard Jolly from Institute of Development Studies at University of Sussex in the UK. Prof.
Jolly who wrote an introduction to the Global- AgeWatch Index report further noted that action also needs to be taken in other areas such as making public transport more accessible by, for instance, lowering the cost at off-peak times, all of which are applicable to Mwondosha.
President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete has already hinted at having a universal national pension scheme which covers both the formal and informally employed to allow retirees access health services but also earn some monthly pension payment. Last May during annual social security week organised by Social Security Regulatory Authority (SSRA), President Kikwete ordered Labour and Employment Minister, Gaudensia Kabaka to start making plans for the government to pay all retirees in the country monthly pension.
"But be careful because we don't want to start something which we cannot sustain," he warned. But with the coming into being of a gas economy backed so far by 43 trillion cubic feet of confirmed natural gas reserves with an estimated value of over 430bn US dollars, the president's directive should soon come to reality and benefit senior citizens such as Mwondosha and others whose poor financial position is the reason behind harassment by corrupt village government officials.
But countries like Tanzania which are in the good accounts books of multilateral lenders and development partners as being good performers in economic reforms with an average annual growth rate of above 5per cent in the past one and a half decade, need to take urgent measures to address the gap.
"The report's ranking of countries in terms of the needs and opportunities of older people shows that a country's GNP (Gross National Product) neither guarantees good living for older people nor is an obstacle to improving their situation.
Older people in poorer countries often have better lives on average in several key respects than those in somewhat richer ones," argued Prof Jolly. The index of older people thus serves as a challenge to governments and community groups to raise their sights as to what is possible.
As the number and proportion of older people rises in many countries, the importance of these lessons cannot be overstated, he noted.
The report named Sweden as the best place in the world to be old followed by Norway and Germany. It warns that while the number of older people will outnumber those under the age of 15 by 2050, many countries lack adequate support in place for their ageing populations.