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Can Tanzania Afford a Universal Pension Scheme? Experts Think So

Experts call on the government to introduce a pension scheme that is not discriminatory and cares for the welfare of all elderly people in Tanzania.

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Dar es Salaam. Under a scorching Tuesday sun, Hawa Selemani Mbulete rests after finishing hawking food to her usual customers in the suburban area of Msasani in the city, appearing tired and exhausted. 

It is almost 4 PM, and the 42-year-old mother of one is finalising some remaining chores before closing business for today and returning home to Mwananyamala, a working-class neighbourhood in Dar es Salaam.

Hawa couldn’t say how much she makes per day but assured this journalist that she earns sufficiently enough to take care of herself and her daughter plus her old parents in Morogoro, her 72-year-old father and 65-year-old mother. But the prospects of old life frighten her.

“I am worried because when I get old, how will I survive?” asks Hawa during an interview with The Chanzo. Her daughter, Munira, washes the dishes a few metres away while listening to the conversation. “I will not be able to work, so I will have a difficult life.”

Hawa fears going through what her parents are going through right now. Having toiled for years, her aged parents can no longer work, and, with no support from the government, they are entirely dependent on their children, whose economic conditions make them unreliable supporters.

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“Were my parents receiving a pension, that’d have been better for both me and them,” Hawa thinks. “They wouldn’t have been this dependent and I wouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of this size. But that’s not the case, which is unfair, because my parents built this country.”

Discriminatory pension

Hawa represents about 29.4 per cent of Tanzanians working in the informal sector, whom Tanzania’s pension scheme does not cover, subjecting the scheme to intense criticisms from universal pension scheme stakeholders, who have accused it of being selective and discriminatory.

Tanzania’s current pension arrangement covers people only working in the formal sector, who contribute to the country’s social security funds, the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), which covers employees in the private sector, and the Public Service Social Security Fund (PSSSF), which covers civil servants.

Tanzania does have other schemes designed to support poor households in the country, including the Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF), which does not necessarily pay people after retiring and instead operates under different criteria, mainly the household’s level of poverty.

Jerome Mwaya, a project manager with Helpage International, a non-governmental organisation that works to improve the lives of the elderly, criticises Tanzania’s current system of pension, saying it favours some while condemning others.

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“[Someone] reaches old age and you say that this person cannot get a pension, it is like saying that this person has not done anything, or contributed nothing, to the country,” Mr Mwaya told The Chanzo. “The truth is that they did contribute but no arrangement is in place to allow them to benefit when they retire.”

Mr Mwaya said that the fact that Tanzania does not have such an arrangement cannot be blamed on the elderly, noting that it is the government’s responsibility to take care of its citizens, which, in this case, includes creating an environment that would allow everyone who contributed to building the country to retire peacefully and honourably.

Disadvantaged group

Mwaya, referring to reports by his organisation on the welfare of the elderly in Tanzania, said that the group is one of the most disadvantaged in the country, necessitating a formal government support system for it.

“They have an economic challenge,” Mwaya explains. “But, at the same time, as they get older, they encounter many health challenges, and diseases that haunt them, especially non-communicable diseases. At that time, the need for health services becomes greater, and they do not have the funds to meet those health services. That contributes to making their lives more miserable.”

Joyce Ndalichako, the minister responsible for managing the country’s pension scheme, did not respond when The Chanzo asked her, via WhatsApp, if plans to introduce a universal pension scheme, which creates a well-organised safety net for the elderly, can be expected anytime soon in the country.

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But her deputy, Patrobas Katambi, told the parliament on May 24, 2023, that a comprehensive study is required first, which would assess the government’s ability to fund such a scheme and other implications, before introducing it in the country. Katambi was responding to a question by an MP who wanted to know when such a scheme could be expected. 

Except that such a study had already been carried out, in 2010, by the government, and determined that a universal pension was both technically and fiscally feasible, leading to the government committing itself, in the same year, to introduce the scheme, which has so far not taken place.

Financial implications

Could financial implications prevent the government from implementing the scheme in Tanzania? Thomas Ndipo Mwakibuja, an expert in social security, says yes, telling The Chanzo that rolling out a pension for all could be an expensive exercise for a country like Tanzania.

“If you talk about the pension payment plan for all people, elderly people don’t contribute anything, so the government has to provide all the money that the elderly will be getting every month,” Mr Mwakibuja thinks. “Something that many developing countries, like Tanzania, cannot afford.”

But Mwaya disagrees, warning against looking at the number of prospective beneficiaries without paying attention to the country’s balance of available resources. 

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He gives an example of Zanzibar, which introduced the first social pension in East Africa in 2016, saying the proportionate percentage of the elderly in the archipelago does not significantly differ from that of the Mainland.

Tanzania Mainland has a total of 1,601,875 elderly people who are 70 years old and above, which is equal to 2.7 per cent of the total population, 59.8 million. Zanzibar, on the other hand, has 34,948 elderly who are 70 and above, which is equal to 1.8 per cent of the total population, 1.8 million.

“If you say Tanzania Mainland is big, it cannot help the elderly, remember that the resources that Tanzania Mainland has, its gross domestic product, is also large,” Mwaya notes. “You cannot compare the amount of money that Tanzania Mainland brings in due to its resources with the amount Zanzibar does.”

Feasible policy

Zanzibar’s scheme provides a basic social pension of Sh50,000 a month to all Zanzibari residents aged 70 years and above. 

In a 2019 study to assess the impacts of the scheme, HelpAge International concluded that “Zanzibar’s experience has been critical in establishing universal social pensions as a feasible policy option for the [East African] region.”

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Since Zanzibar introduced the scheme in 2016, Kenya also introduced a universal social pension while Uganda expanded its Senior Citizen Grant to achieve universal coverage.

Mwaya believes Tanzania can follow suit, noting that he sees no reason whatsoever why the government continues to abandon the people who broke their backs in building Tanzania and contribute to its current level of development.

“They gave us the current Tanzania that we rightly enjoy,” Mr Mwaya noted. “They’ve every right to enjoy the national cake. The government should not continue to ignore calls for introducing a pension scheme that is not discriminatory and cares for the welfare of all.”
Lukelo Francis is The Chanzo’s journalist from Dar es Salaam. He is available at

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5 Responses

  1. As much as I agree with much that has be written here, but I also find it necessary [for once I become a devil’s advocate] to have noted that the government (via NSSF) introduced a pension scheme for the informal sector. Upon noting on the same, thereafter you could further try and establish when has it been established? How many people have subscribed to the respective scheme since its establishment? If the number is low, why is that the case? How is the scheme fairing? How does the scheme work?

  2. Before talking of universal pension let us explain the existing government pension
    I know a person aged 83 who served for 39 years and today he gets 116,000 monthly.
    Is this enough to survive? Yet there are big wigs who served together and get pension of 500,000 and much more

    1. The social security system in Tanzania, indeed, needs major policy reforms to accommodate even those who are not in the formal sector.

  3. I think it is high time the country explored alternative social security arrangements and mechanisms that are not necessarily tied to a salaried life to ensure that more people, especially the rural elderly, enjoy a decent life during old age. This is possible and has been practiced else where in Africa, case in point, Namibia. You can search my book on amazon link for policy recommendations on the subject.

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