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“People Age,But Their Rights Don’t”

Photo Courtesy of HelpAge International

Mzee Kioko

Alice Majorie and Mary Nzuki

Mzee Peter Gakunju

 Florence Olum

Mzee Kioko is Timeworn. Almost
eighty years in my conservative estimate.He is also very enthusiastic. His
steps when walking are steady and he has not bent yet.He is an advocate of the
rights of the elderly in Kenya.He lives in Kibarage.”But where is
Kibarage?”,I ask him as I hand him a bottle of water.It a slum near
Westlands I learn from him.He was among the over one
hundred older persons who joined the revelries to mark International Day of
Older Persons at All Saints Cathedral yesterday.
The theme this  year revolves around “Taking a stand against ageism”.The UN defines ageism as a widely prevalent and prejudicial attitude that stems from the assumption that age discrimination, and sometimes neglect and abuse of older persons is a social norm and therefore, acceptable. It is a reality in some form in all societies, and finds expression in individuals’ attitudes, institutional and policy practices, as well as media representation that devalue and exclude older persons.Mzee Kioko  is chatty and every time
the floor of the plenary opened, his hand was up. “I have done so much for the
old in Kenya.I am their voice”, he tells me as he sips water from the Dasani
bottle.
Rarely do older people in
Kenya get  a chance to meet, intermingle but also a chance to share their grumbles
and trials. They are not listened to as it used to be back in the day when
traditional African society and way of life was still intact. Things have
changed. Mzee Kioko notes that the young disrespect and disregard the elderly.Prior
to the contact with the West, older people were highly valued in African
society because of their accumulated knowledge and wisdom, which they used to
settled disputes, integrated the society and educate the young. In return, they
enjoyed many privileges in the society.
Also in attendance is Peter
Gakunju. He was in fore of struggling for liberation in Kenya. He is a walking museum
of some sort. However old and a bit frail he is neatly dressed and also putting
on happy socks. His chronology of events of the Kenya “that was” and “the Kenya
that is” is estimable. His major glitches as he shares is access to public transport
and obviously access to healthcare.Inevitably old age comes
with health complications. 
He notes that not all the elderly people have the
NHIF Card that was promised for the elderly and those who have always incur
additional costs of buying medicine in private clinics. “Huko kwa hospitalini
wanasema hakuna dawa”.His wife is also elderly and the government does not give
her the cash transfer since “It cannot give two people in the same household”,
as Peter tells me.
Mary Nzuki seems to agree
with what Peter discourses. Infact she is nodding almost all the time.She is
the jovial type .She walks with a crutch just like I do.She jokes that I am
also elderly as she is.And we all laugh.She tells me she does not like to be
called Old.”I am not old. I am a senior citizen”, She giggles again. She is a
staunch Christian and is an active member of the All Saints Senior Citizens
choir.
“I almost fell in the
Matatu today.The driver sped off before I had sat. Never mind I waited for long
at the bus stop because some drivers just don’t like to carry me because I am
slow”,she tell me.”And It happens almost all the time”, she notes sadly. Public
Transport in Kenya is synonymous a chaos and disarray. It has little or no
patient at all for the slow ones.In the midst of the debate
and the experience sharing Florence Akinyi believes that the youths have a crucial
role to play in safeguarding the rights of the elderly.
Florence is a social
worker and interacts with the elderly on a day to day basis and at household level.
She rants that the problems of the elderly are not necessarily physical, they
are also psychological. “They are lonely, depressed and no one visits them or
talks to them. It is the little things”, she adds, as a matter of fact.
The public opinion has it
that the Elderly suffer because in their youthful days they made mistakes. Something
Mr.R.N Gachogu dismisses. He is the chairman of the Anglican Senior Citizens Association.
“You do not need to have done anything wrong now, or in your youth for life to
be uncomfortable as a senior citizen”, he states. Fellow senior citizens nod in
agreement. “As senior citizens we are illustrated as reliant, disconsolate and destitute”,
he adds. ”That might be true, but Times Magazine wrote a few months ago that older
people are happier than those in their 20s”.
He goes on to Raise great insights on
how the media and the public gives the narratives of the elderly. Something
that should change. The narrative should be balanced.With reforms and goodwill in
Kenya and globally the elderly can lead a very seamless life indeed. In the west
the social welfare and pension scheme is very efficient that the old do not
struggle too much. With Identification budges mr Gachogu thinks that the
elderly with access public spaces and facilities without being forced to queue.
“It happened in the last election, where those who did not look sickly were
forced to queue. It happens in hospitals too. In Tanzania the elderly do not queue”,
he notes
Desmond Tutu,Described as
South Africa’s moral conscience once said that “Even when people age, their
rights do not”,yet by listening to the voices of the older persons yesterday it
was clear that their fundamental rights were in their death bed. Their families
have neglected them while their rights to own property are desecrated.“Our
children want to take everything from us, land, everything”, Notes Mr. Njoroge
who has a court case with his children.
At regional level the
African Union has the Protocol for the Rights of older persons.Not many member
countries are implementing it though. Leaving one skeptical if  the Older Persons bill in Kenya will be passed
into law and if it will be implemented.There is no reliable disaggregated data
on the statistics of the number of the elderly in Kenya.A gap that only
government and the relevant stakeholders could fill.
The forum was also attended
by the youths in an effort to have them advocating for the elderly. The youths committed
to supporting them.Speaking at the forum,Dr.Prafulla Mishra the Head of HelpAge
added that it will take all of us collectively to support the elderly to realize
their rights and live a comfortable life.
The HelpAge Network,A worldwide alliance standing up for the rights of older people
were the conveners of the conference.The network advocates for the rights of the
elderly  and uniquely supports them by having
them speak for themselves.It is based Across 75 countries, there are 119 organisations member organisations in the
HelpAge network.
The annual United Nations International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP) is on 1st October and this year the theme will be to  take a stand against ageism by drawing attention to and challenging negative stereotypes and misconceptions about older persons and ageing.

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