Will Africa seize the opportunity at TICAD?

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Over the next few days Nairobi plays host to the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), the first-ever TICAD Summit that holds in the African continent in its over 20 years of history. Will Africa seize the opportunity to redefine its engagement with Japan and indeed all other key development partners?
As a member of the G7countries, a grouping that brings together the world’s richest nations, Japan has in many ways contributed immensely to the development of Africa. Billions of dollars from Japan have gone into areas such as infrastructural development, health, education, science, technology and innovation development and transfer. Indeed, the list is long.

Since it was first founded in 1993 the TICAD has been held in Japan and has continued to pursue its goals, namely, to create international awareness on the importance and urgency of African development issues, promote policy dialogues between African leaders and Japan, and mobilize support for African-led development initiatives.

By taking place in Nairobi, TICAD VI provides a wonderful opportunity for many more African stakeholders including policy makers, experts, and citizens through civil society to participate in the discussions. It also provides the opportunity for African stakeholders to collaborate with Japanese leaders, and glean lessons from a country that is well ahead of the demographic change curve.

The question that TICAD VI delegates must ask, is what lessons can Africa pick from the Japan’s ‘hyper-ageing’ society, which continues to be developed despite the fact that 25% of its population is 65 years or over, and that ratio is expected to rise to 36% by the year 2040? In less than 50 years Africa will have its own booming population of older persons. The UN projects Africa’s aging population to rise faster, thanks to improved access to health services, along-lasting investment in strengthening health systems, slowing fertility rates, and improved access to social services including education – all areas that have been at the core of Japan’s engagement through Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).As a result of these advancements and combined with the aging of Africa’s youth bulge, the UN estimates that by 2030, the percentage growth of those aged 50 and over in sub-Saharan Africa will be the highest of any region of the world, with an expected increase of 108% (from 76 to 157 million).

The urgency to glean lessons from Japan’s demographic change is not just a matter of statistics, however. The ongoing demographic trends of global ageing and longevity will greatly influence the future of development and successful implementation of African Union Agenda 2063 and SDGs due to their scale, pace and the irreversible and fundamental impact they are already having on societies and economies.

Yet unlike Japan, in Africa, population ageing and longevity are trends still largely overlooked in development policy and programming which often results in older people being left behind- invisible, unrecognized and neglected with minimal opportunities to participate in sustainable development efforts.

The significance of population ageing and longevity cut across many different aspects of Africa’s development, with implications that cannot be ignored. Older people are often denied access to health and care services, decent work and livelihood opportunities as well as right to own properties. They also experience intersecting and cumulative discrimination; for example older people living with disabilities often experience double discrimination relating to age and disability status, and older women can become particularly vulnerable to poverty, abuse and violation of human rights as gender-based discrimination accumulates throughout their life course.
In addition to being an issue of human rights, such dramatic population ageing has significant social and economic implications. According to International Labor Organization’s 2014 report, only 16.9 % of older persons in Sub-Saharan Africa receive an old-age pension. Without social protection, which provides secure incomes for people in old age with short- and long-term benefits, older people are often unable to support their own health and nutritional needs, or invest their payments in their family’s future by educating children or setting up businesses.

Despite this, Africa remains the region with the highest proportion of economically active people over the age of 65in the world, with over 70% of them living in rural areas, often unsupported due to urban migration of the youth, and with 73% of older people employed in agriculture.

Older people’s contribution is more than economic: the UN report on population ageing published in 2009 estimates that 40 – 50% of the children orphaned by HIV/AIDS are under the care of older people. However according to HelpAge International, throughout much of the continent HIV/AIDS continue to be a primary threat to older person’s health; in Kenya for example, the prevalence rate for the 50 – 64 age group is 5.6% compared to 6.1% for the 15 – 49 age group, and the compounding effect of NCDs and HIV/AIDS can be crippling for older persons and their dependents.

TICAD VI comes at an opportune time, as 2016 is the first year of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and presents the opportunity to do two critical things: The first, a matter of urgency, is for Africa toseek ways to further strengthen her health systems to ensure they prepare for ageing population and maximize demographic dividends of both the youth and the older people without discriminating anyone on the basis of age. The second is to expand avenues of learning and advocating for resources to support income security for older people in Africa.

TICAD VI is also great opportunity for African governments to recommit to effectively address population ageing by strengthening its policy frameworks including ratification and domestication of the African Union Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Older People in Africa (adopted in January 2016).

The best thing for Africa to do to achieve the sustainability of her envisioned changes as stated in Agenda 2063, is to seek the necessary ageing experiences and expertise from Japan in order to profile and integrate older people in its development strategies and activities. Only then will the twin purposes of TICAD – Africa’s ownership of its development intent and outcomes, and the equitable and mutually reinforcing international partnership – be met.

Written by Dr. Prafulla Mishra, Ph. D., Regional Director, HelpAge International

(The writer is the Regional Director, HelpAge International)

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