One by one they enter the sub-county hall. Waiting outside are the minders for the most vulnerable. All have one thing in common, they are either in their 80s or over 100 years old. The scene inside the hall whose chairs are like church pews, and the one outside are worlds apart. Inside, the small whispers and murmurs are broken by the area supervisor who calls out each person to come forward. They each present a yellow bank card and national ID and are issued small verification cards they present to the biometric desk outside the hall. It’s the last day of February and it is pay day for the senior citizens’ grant beneficiaries at Kayonza Sub-county in Kayunga District.
The senior citizens arrive at the sub-county mostly on motorcycles or bicycles boda bodas. Due to their advanced age, some are sandwiched between the rider and their minders. Many have to be carried onto the boda boda and off. Many of them use walking sticks. They make their way into the hall for the register verification before joining the queue for the biometric verification and clearance to go to the paying cashiers waiting in the mobile banking van. Meanwhile, traders across the sub-county display their wares to attract buyers who have just received cash.
In the vast sub-county compound, the senior citizens who have been paid chat with their contemporaries in small groups. On one extreme end is a Saracen guard in a military green bullet vest on top of his blue uniform, keenly watching the mobile bank van.
Kayunga, like many of the new districts that were not part of the pilot Senior Citizens Grant project, which gives a monthly grant to the top 100 oldest people in each sub-county.
In the hall, the supervisor calls people of a particular village to attention as he reads out their names. Along the way, the supervisor calls out a name of someone who has passed on and in unison they answer: oyo kati mugenzi (That one is the late now). The name is marked for replacement. On two occasions, there is a unison response as a dead person’s name is read out.
Others are not present but most of the elders know each other so they explain why one of them is not present -sickness being the major reason.
A-hundred-year-old Yosam Mubiru from Lukonda village, nine miles away from the sub-county offices was one of the recipients getting Shs100,000, having missed the previous pay day due to ill health (The senior citizens receive Shs25,000 monthly but payable every two months. On pay day, each recipient therefore receives Shs50,000 for two months).
“This is the fourth time I’m receiving this money, a bigger percentage of what I get, I spend it paying labourers working in my garden. Before this system was introduced, I was doing the digging myself. But because of old age I was digging a small piece. But this money has helped me clear a big chunk of land than before, this has increased my harvest.”
The love for good things has no age limit. 102-year-old Veria Nazziwa of Nakaliro village, Kayunga Town Council, had to fulfill her dream of sleeping on a foam mattress.
“I had never owned a mattress of this kind in my life, but Museveni has enabled me get one, for that reason I have named it ‘Museveni’”
She not only bought a mattress but also invested some of her money to reduce the burden of her need such as special feeding for herself and her daughter who is living with her. Nazziwa bought a sow, which gave her seven piglets and she sold off six at Shs70,000 each to cater for her needs.
“The money from the piglets has helped in supplementing my nutritional needs, on top of the senior citizens grant she receives. I can afford to get things like rice, Irish potatoes, sugar and other needs. Before the grant, I was another burden to my widowed daughter. But now I feel more human because I can also contribute to not only my upkeep but also something to the home, however small it maybe.”
It is a similar story for 90-year-old Muhammed Mulaambi, who migrated from Namutumba in Busoga in 1966 and settled in Kamasabi village, Kayunga District. Despite his advanced age, he rides his battered bicycle for the 18 miles return journey every pay day to get his grant. “This is my third time to get money, in total I have received Shs250,000, which I have invested in farming to feed my family better. I have a big piece of land which I could not afford to till. I have a family of eight people and they are my responsibility but majority are young grandchildren who cannot dig. Feeding them was a big problem but this money has gone a long way in increasing the food production, and now feeding my family is no longer a cause for worry. We can afford to have two meals a day, which was not the case before.”
At the sub-county hall, payment is done starting with the furthest village from the centre. “We pay people furthest from the centre first to give them ample time to get home, and those nearer are paid last,” explains Collins Kafero, the Sage project coordinator in Kayunga District.
Though each recipient gets Shs25,000 a month, it is paid every after two months. But for some reason, the recipients in Kayunga were receiving their September-October money in February. On pay day some people get more than others and Kafero explains that “though they are all entitled to the same amount, [for those] who miss out on the payments their money is credited to their account and that explains why on pay day some people receive more than Shs50,000.”
How they spend the money
While Shs25,000 may seem very little and to some people it’s not even pocket change, to the recipients in Kayunga, and most likely in other areas where the programme is being implemented, it’s a lifeline. It has been a game changer in their lives. In Kayonza sub-county, some of the recipients say they have used the money to better their lives by doing things like upgrading their houses from grass thatched to corrugated iron sheets. Others say they have created small income generating activities.
Many of the senior citizens I interviewed at Kayonza Sub-county on pay day praised the government saying this grant is the best to have happened to them. Some of them, like Mulaamba, says “I have been around for a long time. By the time of Uganda’s independence I was a family man, but since independence until now I have never seen a president who cares for elderly people like us the way Museveni does,” he says.
Another recipient, 98-year-old Nakigozi, was also full of praise saying, “whoever wants Museveni to go wants to send me to the grave. I had been abandoned to wait for my death, but he came to my rescue, I can go to the butcher and order for a kilo of meat. Not eating meat was going to kill me before any sickness would have killed me. Even the man at the butcher can now give me credit knowing I will be getting money to pay him, which I couldn’t do in the past.”
Of the Shs50,000 she gets every two months, she is able to make a small saving as well. Asked what she is saving for, she said: “You never know when you need money. I want when my grandchild comes to visit me I can also afford to buy him a soda.” She adds: “In my life I had never been in such a situation where I’m sure of getting a certain amount of money every month. Now that it has come, let me keep some; you never know when it ends. I don’t want to go back in the same situation I was in before this programme started.”
The financial discipline exhibited by some of these senior citizens is amazing based on the amount they are given.