President Museveni’s change of heart to endorse family planning is a good pointer. But this headway was undercut by Sheikh Haruna Emuge, the Kadhi of Kumi District who refused to say a prayer at the opening of the First National Family Planning Conference in Kampala. Sheikh Emuge said family planning was against God’s plan for mankind and Muslim families to multiply.
Mr Museveni and Sheikh Emuge’s opposed positions express how hopelessly split our opinions are on family planning, even when it has been pushed for more than 57 years. This means uptake of the service has remained poor. Yet high fertility rate continues to raise Uganda’s high population growth. And this poses risks as Uganda’s Total Fertility Rate at about seven children per woman in the rural areas and about four children per woman in urban areas remain among the highest in the world.
These Uganda Demographic and Health Survey, issued in 2011, press the need to manage our numbers. By 2008, our population was 30 million, but moved up to about 34.1 million by mid-2012, and projected to climb to 37.9 million by 2015. This will soar to 75.8 million by 2022, spiral out of control, and worse.
As former World Bank President Robert McNamara warns, population growth is the gravest issue the world faces. He calls for action or the problem ends in famine, riots, and war. Already, Uganda has seen pressures of population and tribal fights over dwindling resources, including over land in Bunyoro and northern Uganda. This is why the first National Family Planning conference is crucial.
For now, misconception, including from cultural norms, frustrate family planning uptake. This requires innovative, and mass awareness so Ugandan families can have children they can be able to feed, clothe and pay fees for. For instance, Gulu Municipality Speaker Kerry Komakech has argued that family planning cannot work now in the region since many lives were lost and people are only resettling to have new families after 20 years of war. What these people require, however, is target-specific education so they buy-in, take up contraception, space and limit child births.
So what is urgent now is to prioritise reproductive health rights, empower citizens’ access to voluntary family planning services so they make informed decisions on planned births. Else, the country is headed for disaster.
This is why President Museveni should step to the fore and give family planning campaign the required momentum. Bigger population hold off growth, lower quality of the population, and worse. Indeed, as late South African President Nelson Mandela said: “Solving overpopulation is NOT a technical challenge. It is a political one.”
Museveni’s swing around on family planning is a good first step.