Eric Ntege, a National Program Officer at NPC, also says he believes as long as efforts are increased in creating employment opportunities, a big population could indeed foster economic growth.
For a country to realise the benefits of a high population, it must invest in education and training for its labour force. According to a 2016 report by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) young persons who are more educated are more likely to access employment than the less-educated. Those who have vocational skills training have higher chances of employment (85%), compared to general tertiary education with a relatively lower proportion (81%).
Currently, six percent of Uganda’s working age population never went to school and 51% left school before graduation. Only 24% completed primary education and 44% had incomplete primary education.
Those who completed either tertiary or vocational training comprised only 8%. Many – about 70% – join the labour market with little or no practical or specialised training past the general secondary education.
Added to this, the experts say, the question of Uganda’s high population growth rate needs to be addressed. That is different from a big population.
Uganda’s high population growth rate could be very disadvantageous unless the country is adequately prepared with enough resources.
Uganda’s population structure is currently similar to China’s in the 1980s. But in the year 2017, for example, the population growth rate of China was at 0.6% as opposed to that of Uganda which was at 3.3%. In the same year, the GDP of China was at $12.24trillion while that of Uganda was at $25.89billion. It can be argued, thus, that the economy of China was better positioned to take care of a bigger population and reap its benefits in terms of economic growth.
Bernard Sabiiti, a data analyst with Development Initiative says Uganda has not built enough structures to enable enjoyment of the positive effects of a big population on economic development. “In Uganda, the median age is 15, and about three quarters of the population are depending on the one quarter. A growing population would therefore mean more young people who provide neither increased labor nor increased market potential.”
Sabiiti also commented on the constant nature of factors of production such as land. He said since land does not increase, every gain made from increased production on existing land would most likely be cancelled by the increasing population. There would be no desired positive effect on economic development.
Countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan had the same demographic profile earlier in the 1950s as Uganda today. And this youthful population is believed by experts to have powered the economic growth of those countries in the late 1990s. That is what experts refer to as ‘harnessing the demographic dividend”. It means the economy has been developed to create jobs for those joining the labour force.
The government has tried to provide opportunities through the Youth Livelihood Programme which gives youth groups entrepreneurship skills and seed money. Launched in 2013/14 FY, it had by a 2018 evaluation, benefited 83,000 youth. That is just 7% of the youth that need to be served.
More needs to be done because, generally, the economy produces far fewer new jobs and opportunities. This is partly because the economy is dominated by agriculture and the biggest contributor to growth has been the service sector. These two have a low employment multiplier effect. Most agriculture farms employ family labour and a few hire labourers, while hotels, banks, telecom companies, and the transport sector employ a few more.
This is because over 80% of Ugandans live in rural areas. While the agricultural sector has declined significantly as a contributor to the economy in the past decade, it still accounts for about 50% of the national product, and employs more than 80% of the labour force.
Historically, most people who were born in rural areas tended to live in rural areas. But increasing population pressure on land, ease of mobility, and lure of city lights are pushing more people into urban areas. Many of these settle in the crowded suburbs where jobs and money are scarce. Many take up petty jobs, join the hordes of urban poor, or fall into a life of crime. The industrial sector contributes only 10% currently. That needs to grow.
Even as youth fight over cheap LDU jobs, they cling on to their ambitions and expectations. They see what others have achieved as possibilities for themselves. National level labour surveys and other studies suggest that young people with secondary education or more are the ones missing out the most from the flourishing economy.
Many believe that, because they are educated, they deserve more than their uneducated counterparts. That is why the government should be concerned that they are scrambling for low paying LDU jobs. Their huge numbers are bad news for the government as young jobless people can become a political risk. Without clear opportunities, young people become restless.