Urbanization Destroying Traditional African Care System of Ageing Persons

Independent UN Expert on welfare of ageing people has called for  attention on care of aging persons in Namibia and elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

An Old African (Photo Credit: AgingCenters.org )


GENEVA, Switzerland, March 13, 2017, APO:


Rapid urbanization in Namibia and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa is destroying the traditional African care system which protected ageing people,  a United National Human Rights  Independent Expert on the welfare of old people has warned at the conclusion of her tour of Namibia.

“Ageing in Namibia is just beginning to take shape,”  Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, the Independent UN Human Rights Expert noted. “Namibia has come a long way since it gained independence 27 years ago. It has since enjoyed political stability and steady economic growth and is ranked as an upper middle-income country. We owe recognition to these Namibian achievements.”

But she warned: “The challenges associated with an ageing society are not a distant phenomenon.  It will result in immense pressure on the care system as a growing number of older persons will be living with chronic diseases and disability.”

While the proportion of older persons has remained somehow constant at around 7 per cent since independence, the projected growth rate of the older population in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be faster than that experienced by any other region since 1950.

Focusing on the Namibian case, the human rights expert said low population density and accelerated levels of urbanization have the potential to erode the traditional family care system. In the Namibian case, the expert advised, further investment by the Government in health and care infrastructure is required to provide alternatives to the older persons in rural areas. “Care can no longer be considered simply a family matter and I call on the Government to step up its effort to revise the Aged Persons Act in order to fully provide for the rights, protection, care and welfare of older people, she said.

The United Nations Independent Expert on human rights by older persons  commended the Namibian Government for its political determination and vision on how to improve the lives of all Namibians by 2030 and to protect their human rights and urged the Government to deliver on its promises.

Rosa Kornfeld-Matte

I call on the Government to deploy every effort possible to finalize and put into motion the comprehensive national policy on the rights, care and protection of older people. A dedicated policy on older persons is key to ensuring improved protection of their rights,” Kornfeld-Matte said. She also emphasized that “any policy on older persons has to adopt a human rights-based approach,” adding that “the United Nations principles on older persons alongside the core human rights instruments should guide the Government’s efforts in this regard.” Despite all the efforts, Namibia continues to be among the most unequal countries in the world.

“While I acknowledge that poverty levels have been brought down significantly since independence, they remain high for certain parts of the population and certain regions of the country,” the Independent Expert said. “I am also fully aware that some of the inequalities that persist are the legacy of colonial rule and that attitudes do not change overnight.”

She then noted: “This does not mean that the existing disparities in income and land distribution are acceptable, and I have to insist that more can and needs to be done to fight old age poverty.

Launching of the so-called Harambee Prosperity Plan 2016/17 – 2019/20, an  ‘Action Plan’  towards Prosperity for All, carries great potential to foster enjoyment by older persons of their rights as it specifically refers to the social protection for older persons and addresses key areas such as hunger, poverty, and housing.” 

The expert also expressed concern on mistreatment of old people in Namibia.

“There are serious concerns about violence against, abuse and maltreatment of older persons and in particular older women in Namibia and there is too little discussion about it”, she said. It is estimated that around 4 to 6 per cent of older persons have experienced some form of maltreatment at home. Poverty, inequality, substance abuse are contributing factors, but also entrenched attitudes including about corporal punishment. “The government has an obligation to tackle this as a matter of priority.”

“I would like to assure you that I heard your call for technical cooperation and capacity building. The international community has indeed an important role to play in complementing and supporting your efforts to address the challenges of an ageing society and in particular in the fight of old age poverty. I will do my utmost to encourage the international community to continue its cooperation with Namibia, including through financial and specific technical support. ”

During her ten-day visit, Ms. Kornfeld-Matte visited Windhoek, Katutura, Okahandja,  as well as Rundu, Silikunga, Zone and Mpungu in the Kavango Regions and met with various Government authorities, non-governmental organizations, the academia and others working on the rights of older persons, as well as older persons themselves and their representative organizations.

The Independent Expert will present her findings and recommendations of her country visit in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2017