Can Uganda leverage its population boom?

People carry out business in downtown Kampala in 2021. PHOTO/ ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • This is according to the World Population Prospects, 2022 report by the United Nations that places the global population at eight billion, up from seven billion just 12 years ago.

Uganda ranks among the countries with the world’s fastest growing populations, with its numbers projected to double in the next 30 years, signalling more challenges for the available resources.

This is according to the World Population Prospects, 2022 report by the United Nations that places the global population at eight billion, up from seven billion just 12 years ago.

In the report, least developed countries and others in sub-Saharan Africa, where Uganda falls, are among the world’s fastest growing.

 “Many are projected to double in population between 2022 and 2050, putting additional pressure on resources,”’ the report states in part.

The population growth, globally is attributed to declining levels of mortality, improvements in public health, nutrition, personal hygiene and medicine, and high fertility levels in some countries.

For sub-Saharan Africa with an annual growth of 2.5 percent, three times the global growth, the UN predicts the growth will exacerbate challenges in quality of life and services, as the already limited resources will be further over stretched.

Uganda’s population growth rate currently stands at three percent. Estimates by Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) show the population has grown by 9.1 million people since the last census of 2014.

The highest proportion of Uganda’s population are youth under 30 years, where 53 percent are below 18 as of 2020.

The upward trend is expected to aggravate the already existing unemployment crisis in Uganda’s predominantly young population. Prof Augustus Nuwagaba, an economist, opines that this will increase the dependency burden on the few earning Ugandans.

 “Population growth rate will discount the economic growth rate, and our growth rate has been very high,” he told Sunday Monitor, adding that the “growth will not cause much difference because they will be eaten away.”

SDGs under threat

The population growth, according to the UN also leaves in delicate balance the drive to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, including ending hunger and poverty, ensuring good health, quality education, clean water and sanitation, among others

“The necessity of educating growing numbers of children and young people, for example, draws resources away from efforts to improve the quality of education,” the report states, adding, “For countries with continuing high levels of fertility, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those related to health, education and gender, is likely to hasten the transition towards lower fertility and slower population growth.”

Sources in the health sector have already raised an alarm, warning that the population in Uganda is expanding but the resources are not expanding with the population. This, Dr Emmanuel Tugaineyo, the director general of China-Uganda Friendship Hospital in Naguru, told this newspaper on November 15 “causes a lot of stress on service delivery.”

Uganda currently faces a housing deficit of 2.4 million units, while the development of informal settlements, especially in urban areas has also been attributed to population explosion. Projections by Uganda Bureau of Statistics show the urban population will peak at 21 million by 2040.

Demographic dividend

Uganda is due to conduct her 11th National Population Census next year that Mr Chris Baryomunsi, the government spokesperson, said will be critical to planning and service delivery.

Experts say for Uganda to make positive gains from the rapidly growing population, there should be a deliberate move by the government to create a “positive population.”

“Countries experiencing rapid population growth, most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, must provide schooling and health care to growing numbers of children, and ensure quality education and employment opportunities to increasing numbers of youth,” the UN report states.

Prof Nuwagaba expressed limited enthusiasm at the argument that the big population will mean a wider market

 “In order for the growth to be positive, it must be a quality population, which is highly skilled and is highly productive—like China. If the population is big, and everyone has money that creates big aggregate demand. Does Uganda’s population have these characteristics? he rhetorically asked, adding: “It does not mean when the population is high, there will be demand. People must have money in their pockets for effective demand.”

Global outlook

Uganda’s neighbours, the DR Congo and Tanzania are projected to make up the eight countries that will account for half of the global population by 2050.

The other countries are Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines. India will by next year become the most populous, overtaking China.

Projections show that there will be 8.5 billion people in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.4 billion in the 2o80s. The report notes the population will remain at that level until 2100, after global population growth rate fell under one percent per year in 2020.