Age and Generation

Veterans, Volunteers, and Welfare in (Post)colonial East Africa

PD Dr. Katrin Bromber

The project explores human intergenerational relations through the lens of social and institutional engagements in volunteer organizations. Within the (post)colonial context of East Africa, it studies the links between the YMCA/YWCA, the Scouts Movements, the Red Cross/Red Half-moon Societies, and Young Pioneers on the one hand and associations or parties for veterans of the World Wars or of the independence movements on the other. The central question, which it addresses is: how far the erstwhile dispersed civic-institutional design of help for the elderly has gradually led to the crystallisation of the idea that care for the old aged is indeed a matter of state’s concern, rather than just a family affair.

Looking from a comparative perspective at how these links between family, civic institutions, and the state were established in Ethiopia (1940s-1970s) and East Africa (1940s-1980s), the project is driven by three major questions. First, how did the representation of the veteran come to serve as a ‘good example’ of social conduct within the larger attempts at moulding the youth into the ‘torchbearers of progress’. Second, did progress-driven conceptualizations of the veteran lead to a set of specific ideas about acceptable or preferable forms of being old, or ageing. Third, which long-term consequences in terms of material well-being and prestige, but also expectations and social pressure to fulfil the legacy of the veterans, developed and shaped the nature of intergenerational relations.

In brief, the project studies concrete attempts to conceptualize and, in fact, use youth as a telescopic extension into a pre-conceived future that often clashed with the future-related ideas of young people and their organizations. Putting intergenerational relations into the focus, the project broadens the earlier research on ‘Ideas, Agents, and Symbols of Progress’ conducted within the rubric of the ZMO’s previous research programme (2014-19).