Caption for the landscape image:

Census: Let’s focus more on population distribution

Scroll down to read the article

John Robert Tenywa

As Uganda’s current population and housing census sparks various debates, it is crucial to initiate a broader conversation about the potential findings of the census, particularly regarding the expected number of people to be counted and the implications this holds for the economy.

A report by Madsen (2009) revealed that Uganda currently has more than 77 percent of its population under the age of 30. At a growth rate exceeding one million people annually, the population is set to have substantially increased since the last census in 2014.

This growing demographic has profound implications for our economy and the policy decisions looming on the horizon.

The discourse, however, often centres on the growing numbers, but a pivotal question remains: Is the issue really about high population, or is it more about how this population is distributed?

Fengler (2010) suggests that rapid population growth, especially in Africa, may not necessarily pose the primary developmental challenge, as commonly asserted. Instead, it could potentially serve as a fundamental asset for a country’s growth and development.

While a direct cause-and-effect relationship between high population growth and high economic growth cannot be proclaimed, it’s strongly evident that countries with a high population tend to have high GDP figures.

Countries like the USA (333 million people), China (1.42 billion), India (1.41 billion), and Nigeria (218 million) demonstrate how large populations can create robust internal markets that drive demand for goods and services, thereby propelling economic growth.

In Uganda, tapping into this potential means adopting policies that not only manage the size of the population but more critically, optimise its geographic and economic distribution.

On the contrary, a very high population can strain infrastructure, stretch resources, and worsen urban congestion. Yet, these challenges are symptoms of deeper issues tied to how we manage and distribute our human and material resources.

Effective population distribution can alleviate these pressures by enhancing the quality of life and economic viability in less dense areas, reducing the strain on urban centres.

The conversation must, therefore, evolve from viewing a high population with pessimism to appreciating its potential benefits.

Solutions should include enhancing rural infrastructure, improving healthcare and education access in underserved areas, and stimulating businesses to operate beyond urban centres. This would reduce pressure on urban areas, creating a balanced distribution of economic resources in the country.

Furthermore, urban planning needs a reawakening that accommodates growing numbers while preserving livability, which involves everything from transport systems to housing and waste management.

Population distribution strategies can also play a crucial role in ensuring fair representation and equitable resource allocation for all citizens.

Therefore, as this census unfolds, it is a golden opportunity for Uganda to recalibrate its focus. We must delve deeper into understanding the narratives our demographic data tells us and how to harness the latent potentials therein.

The policy frameworks we adopt in response to this census must aim to harness the benefits of our demographic dividend while mitigating its challenges.

In conclusion, while population growth presents its set of challenges, it is not the antagonist in our story. With strategic policies that prioritise effective distribution and harness the economic potential of our people, Uganda can transform demographic pressure into demographic prosperity.

Let this census be the first step towards a future where growth and distribution go hand in hand in shaping a prosperous Uganda.

The writer is researcher, London School of Economics