Population – Can We Seize the Opportunity?

On yet another afternoon in November, the development community last week gathered in a Kampala hotel hall to know the state of Uganda’s population.

The final verdict from Imperial Royale hotel was not entirely new: Uganda’s population presents a great opportunity. Yet many will be asking the familiar question: are we doing enough to grab the opportunity?

Experts pointed out that with 78 per cent of Ugandans aged 30 years or younger, Uganda is in position to realise massive socio-economic transformation. Speaking at the launch of the State of Uganda and State of the World population reports, UNFPA Country Representative Esperance Fundira gave example of East Asia.

Countries such as South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore invested in their young populations in the 1960s, resulting in a surge in GDPs and increase in per capita incomes – as they controlled fertility rates.

“East Asia invested in its young people’s human capital starting in the 1960s, enabling the country to realize its demographic dividend, contributing to a six- percentage-point surge in GDP and a quadrupling of per capita incomes in some countries,” Fundira said at the launch.

Uganda, experts agree, can walk that road – if the government comes up with requisite investments in the health of the population.

These would include reducing Uganda’s unmet need for family planning – one of the highest in the region and world standing at 34.3 per cent. More families would have fewer children to support, and more resources for savings and investments.

The State of Uganda’s Population report demonstrates how a declining young population in South Korea resulted in the release of resources that were invested elsewhere, improving the quality of Korea’s population, thus enabling socio-economic transformation.

“[Elementary] school enrolments declined and funds previously allocated for elementary education were used to improve the quality of education at higher levels,” the report says.

Tackling early marriages, high HIV infections (one in seven new infections occur in adolescents aged 10 to 19 years according to UNFPA), high unemployment rates (standing at more than 65 per cent) and discrimination against girls and women will ensure that a healthy, less dependent, all-inclusive labour force helps Uganda realise its Vision 2040 goal of reducing the proportion of people living below the poverty line to five per cent. It could also translate into an increase of per capita incomes to $6,697 by 2040.

Makerere University population expert John Mushomi said at the launch that investment in education for the young was critical.

“By education, I do not mean taking a child who can barely speak to school or teaching good English. I mean the skilling of students so that at whatever level a student leaves school, they are skilled. If they leave in P7, they should have a skill. If it is in S4 or S6, they should [also] have a skill,” Mushomi said.

Access to financial resources for production, accountability in governance and the efficient use of resources was also tipped to help Uganda realise socio-economic transformation.

State minister for Investment, Gabriel Ajedra, who presided at the report launch, said that because Uganda realised the youth’s potential in transforming the country, the government was providing the youth with access to funds through the Youth Livelihood Fund.

Source : The Observer

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