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How many people live in Uganda?

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Author: Karoli Ssemogerere. PHOTO/FILE

The informal census says a number of things about Uganda’s population. In Kampala, authorities say the city accommodates 5 million people, three times the nighttime population of Manhattan; the most densely populated piece of real estate in the world, and 3.5 million people at night. Uganda’s 9 regional cities have given upcountry life a boost. Bigger cities near and far exist, Nairobi next door, 4.5 million people. Dar es Salaam’s 7 million people or 9 million people in the Dar es Salaam region make it East Africa’s biggest city.  Our international airport, Entebbe fresh from a glossy cosmetic makeover, is still a small city airport in many ways, a single terminal whose most positive aspect is our airplanes parked at night for the day. It seems a Uganda Airlines executive wants to see all their planes in the parking lot.

Other measures are a bit subtle. In 2023, 749,000 pupils sat for the Primary Leaving Examination. On paper, education is free. Actually, it is affordable compared to our neighbours, but the promise of education, a better life, and access to the workplace continue to fall. In 2023, UNEB reported an 83,000 decrease in pupils sitting the nation’s Primary Leaving Examination. With free education, Uganda is unique in that it lacks a law compelling school attendance. In 2022, Uganda reopened schools after the world’s longest lockdown that saw the conversion of classrooms into chicken houses and other businesses. Many teachers, took off for greener pastures never to return to the classroom.

Our constitution provides for regular enumeration of persons. If for one thing, to provide a formula for apportionment of representation. The old adage, no taxation without representation has come to hit at the core of the economic realities of running a country with a rapidly growing population. Estimates of 45 million people may be off the mark; everything around feels like we are at least 50 million people. This is how you feel when you are accessing social services. There is a building boom across all major religions. It is not just the evangelicals whose roots are more informal who are having open-air services. Catholics who exist at the other end of formality were recently in the press announcing a shortage of altar wine, a reflection of the increase in number of masses celebrated every day in Uganda. Ugandans already overwhelmed popular games like soccer.  In 1980, there were just 100,000 TV sets in the whole country. In 2024, there are 2.5 million television sets in Uganda. Soccer a popular past-time is watched in communities.  MTN Uganda, a national economic operator last week announced they have connected their 20 millionth subscriber.

Ugandan historian, former presidential speechwriter Lwanga Lunyiigo who seems to have found a niche in political history,  says the fate of our country is, Uganda is a country rich in natural resources with poor people. Young countries are bastions of optimism. A boon for both consumer goods and services. Planning may have challenges, but the rate of new construction quickly overtakes the old, decaying infrastructure. Most of the press covers the collapsing public infrastructure, roads, bridges, but beneath the first mile from each highway stop is another level of collapsing infrastructure, private infrastructure. In plain view, in many places is an explosion of shanty towns, the kinds of places where even URA will not be able to collect a proposed final tax on the sale of real estate.

The President complains that our multilateral partners have refused to fund his infrastructure priorities, especially the railway. This speech like the long-forgotten one he gave in 2022, after Tanzania crossed the lower middle-income threshold, attracts some sympathy. Another speech he gave after the launch of the Standard Gauge Railway, after companies from China that were supposed to start on the 965-mile railway opted to construct shiny roads that are falling into disuse, is always short of amusing. One thing for sure, no one is waiting for Uganda to go through its tantrums. Tanzania recently killed the internet with its electric railway, no commission of inquiry. Uganda’s response, a return to a shuttle service between Namanve and Central Railway Station. Our prayers are that the census comes with a new operating manual, and not the spare engines or generators that Gen Kahinda Otafiire likes to talk about!

 Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate. [email protected]