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Mzee Clement Kwezi: a leading figure on ageing issues in Tanzania

06 Nov 2015

Mzee Clement Kwezi, chair of SAWAKA in Tanzania

He is vibrant, energetic and exudes a warmth that affects all around him. His demeanor belies his age. Seated among younger journalists attending a media training workshop organised by HelpAge International's Tanzania office this month, the 79-year-old Mzee Clement Kwezi Nsherenguzi is an active participant.

Mzee Clement (Mzee is a Swahili word for respectable older man) listens and actively contributes to debates. He is quick to put up his hand to ask questions. He is full of energy and enthusiasm and his life depicts the vivacity of the local older people's organisation Saidia Wazee Karagwe (SAWAKA), which is an affiliate of HelpAge International in Tanzania and whose board he chairs.

Clement's story

Born in Karagwe in northern Tanzania, Clement has led a varied and exciting life. He travelled, lived and worked across the world, including in Germany, Italy, Greece, the UK, Belgium, USA and Canada.

His foreign tours began when he went to study economics in Berlin, Germany in the 1960s, graduating with a masters in economics, which led him to work for the United Nations Development Programme. He went on to study journalism and film, working as a journalist in Germany towards the end of the decade, before moving home to work in Jinja, Uganda.

Tanzania's founding president Julius Nyerere brought him back to his homeland in 1971 to set up and launch the Tanzania Film Company, which imported films and spearheaded Tanzania's domestic film production.

He left in 1975 to join Tanzania Tours Limited - a company tasked with selling Tanzania to the world and bringing in tourists. He later went back to Germany to work on tourism at the Tanzanian embassy.

It was 1994 when Clement found his calling to help Tanzania's older people, coming out of retirement to found Saidia Wazee Tanzania (SAWATA), which translates to "help Tanzania's older people" in Swahili.

From national to local

SAWATA served as the national base for the work in Tazania. Once it was set up, Clement returned to his home district in Karagwe to establish the local chapter called Saidia Wazee Karagwe (SAWAKA).

He saw that SAWATA was not an effective enough platform for providing effective advocacy to all of Tanzania's older population.

"We realised that as a small team, and hard on resources, we would not effectively represent older people in the entire country," Clement said.

"We opted to retreat to our home districts and form small chapters from where we felt we would achieve more in each locality."

From just 17 people at the start, SAWAKA's membership has grown to over 7,000 across 70 branches in the Karagwe and Kieerwa districts of northern Tanzania.

Involvement in advocacy

During the last International Day of Older Persons on October 1, SAWAKA hosted over 600 people including the region's commissioner - the most senior state official locally - to discuss issues that affect older people.

This led to discussions on radio and TV on how to solve the challenges older people face, and two press conferences universal pensions and the country's ageing policy with journalists in the Kagera region.

It also saw SAWAKA members share their manifesto with the now elected president Dr John Pombe Magufuli during his campaign.

Mzee Clement Kwezi (far right) with Dr John Pombe Magufuli, President of Tanzania (in yellow)

Clement has spent over five years advocating for pensions - consistently writing letters to ministers arguing his case. He has also used every opportunity given to him in public meetings to talk about the need to create enabling environments for older people to participate in national development.

Zanzibar to spearhead change?

He is thankful to the semi-autonomous government of the Tanzanian island Zanzibar, which has led the way on the issue of pensions.

When the island's government passed a law for universal pensions to be provided to all older people beginning April 2016, the Tanzanian government followed suit. It now promises pensions of Tsh 10,000 (£3) to older persons above 70 per month.

"This is some victory for us," says Clement, although adding that it is just a start as those aged in their 60s remain excluded.

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Your comments

Ulli Mwambulukutu

Good Mzee Clement. Let's see more Wazee come out forward to not only advocate for help (saidia), but also for a place in a society tending to underrate the role of Senior citizens.

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Henry Neondo
Job title: Regional Communications Officer, EWC Africa

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.