Andrea Grolimund: The Caring Elderly of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

PhD-project, Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Basel

The SNSF project Ageing, Agency and Health in Urbanizing Tanzania examines Tanzanian elderly as social actors whose lived experience of ageing and health draws on broader cultural representations and at the same time shapes and possibly even transforms them in engagement with others in specific living and care arrangements. The focus of this PhD project is on elderly persons in Dar es Salaam, the largest city of Tanzania.


In Sub-Saharan Africa, the study of ageing and health is still a new and interdisciplinary field of research. The present project aims to add new theoretical and empirical insights and thus make a contribution to this research field from the perspective of social anthropology.
Specific Objectives
In rapidly changing demographic, urban and transnational contexts, the PhD project aims at gaining a deeper understanding of 1) the lived experience of ageing and health as expressed, for instance, in living and care arrangements, and of 2) forms of agency in response to problematic situations in everyday life.


In order to include elderly with diverse educational, religious, occupational and cultural backgrounds, households with at least one elderly person have been sampled through transsects in four different residential areas of Dar es Salaam. Fifty elderly have been interviewed by using an interview guideline with open-ended questions. Based on the findings, twenty elderly with translocal and transnational family networks will be selected for further study of intergenerational transformations.

First Results

The national ageing policy of Tanzania and commonly articulated social norms expect families (and communities) to take care of the elderly. However, first findings show that in most of the households the Mabibi and Mababu (grandmothers and grandfathers) are the main caregivers of the family: As long as their physical and mental health allows, they raise grandchildren, provide financial support or advise family members.


Through constant exchange with local universities, state actors and NGOs the project tries to provide solid qualitative information for further quantitative studies and health initiatives.


Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Brigit Obrist, Prof. Dr. Till Förster, Dr. Piet van Eeuwijk

Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF

Collaboration: University of Dar es Salaam, State University of Zanzibar

Duration: 2012 – 2016

Download Poster: The Caring Elderly of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (2012)

Key words: Health, Ageing, Care, Agency, Resilience, Transnationalism, Gender



Links: MA Profile