Friday July 11 2014

Empower young people for a brighter future

As countries mark World Population Day today, Ugandans must, as the day’s theme suggests, invest in young population for a brighter future. Today, Uganda’s young population stands at nearly 60 per cent according to Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) 2012/13. This data by Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) means about 20.4 million of our 34 million population is below 18 years of age. This is a powerful force that Uganda should tap into to reap demographic benefits.

But for now, this young population ‘bulge’ is a burden on Uganda’s working age population, estimated at 16.3 million people. This means Uganda has fewer workers with very many young mouths to feed. This produces a high dependency ratio because only 3.3 million of the 16.3 million people are formally employed.

But this non-working age population should also give us hope. Soon, Uganda should benefit from increase in the working age share of this young people. Despite its apparent shortcomings, Uganda’s high population offers economic opportunities such as widened domestic market, ready labour, attraction of investors, widened tax base and innovations resulting from increased competition. But Uganda must prepare well in order to reap from the changes in age structure.

Uganda should thus plan a transition from older persons, living shorter lives and having large families to the young population, living longer lives and having smaller families. First, Uganda should promote family planning, given our high fertility rate, which propels high population.

Our total fertility, estimated at 6.8 children per woman in rural areas and 3.8 in the urban areas, is one of the highest in the world, according to Uganda Demographic and Health Survey, released in 2011. When reduced, our dependency ratio should fall, and our economy should employ the extra young workers.

This means Uganda must provide resources and opportunities for these youngsters to realise their full potential. This means our policy makers should match our high young population and their demands on the fixed resources for a sustainable future, and educate these youngsters because a large uneducated population depend directly on natural resources and increases pressures on these resources. As UN Under-Secretary-General and UNFPA Executive Director Dr Babatunde Osotimehin says, a healthy, educated, and productive young people can help break the cycle of inter-generational poverty.

Finally, as our younger population enters working-age, our productive labour force will be increased. This should facilitate more rapid economic growth, higher incomes per person, better living standards and less strain on families.