A newspaper headline caught my eye I a few days ago. It was in the ‘New Vision’ paper and it screamed ‘So many workers but not enough work in Uganda’. I instantly knew that the chickens had finally come home to roost.
The article painted really grim statistics indeed: of the 490,000 people who leave school each year for the job market, only 18,000 employment positions are waiting for them. And that’s just scratching the surface. Because only 5% of the Ugandan adult population are considered to be in permanent employment, with rather the confusing statistic from another study showing that 14% of the working population is either under or unemployed.
We all know someone who went to university to study one thing and then ended doing something else after searching for a job for years. Agriculture, the backbone of the economy, is not seen as an attractive proposition for the school leavers at all. And the fact that the government has not invested heavily in the sector as one would have expected has not helped matters much. So subsistence agriculture rules today.
How did we get into this right old mess? We only need to look back a few years when President Museveni decalred that what was needed for Uganda to Industrialise was for the country to have a larger population, the end result would be a larger consumer market and hence a bigger economy, like china and India.
This is a rather simplistic evaluation and was challenged by a few brave peope including the then Head of the Population Secretariat, Dr.Musinguzi. I heard him on the BBC radio a few years ago continuing to express his fears about the ‘lets have lots more children’ policy that the government was espousing.
Currently Uganda’s population has hit an estimated 32 million this year with a GDP per capita income of $1,200. This is a huge jump from 24 million 10 years ago.
If a large population is the basis of developing a modern and prosperous economy how then do we explain the fact that:
- Australia: population 21.1million and GDP per capita $36,700
- New Zealand: population 4.2 million and GDP per capita $27,600
- Malaysia : population 25.7 million and GDP per capita $14, 200
- Cuba: population 11.4 million and GDP per capita $8,500
- Botswana: population 1.9 million and GDP per capita $13,400
- Iceland: population 0.3 million and GDP per capita $40,100
These are all countries with smaller populations than Uganda and yet have economies that are larger, some even by multiples of 10. Clearly population alone is not enough to explain the small size of the Ugandan economy or that of any other developing nation for that matter.
Currently Uganda has a birth rate of 47.84 per 1000 head of population, the 3rd highest in the world, giving rise to a population growth rate of 2.6% (24th highest in the world). This is an improvement from the 3.6% growth rate in 2008 (4th highest in the world).
Only Niger and Mali have higher birth rate, with Afghanistan, sierra leone, Burkina Faso and Somalia not far behind. Really not company Ugandan can feel proud of.
Contrast this to:
- Kenya: pop. 39.0 million and birth rate 36.64/1000 population
- Tanzania : pop. 41.0 million and birth rate 34.29/1000 population
The end result of this warped population policy is an even more frightening statistic: more than half of Uganda’s is aged 15 years and below, that is 16 million youngsters! Can the government continue to ignore the fact we may soon have close to a million youth hitting the job market every year.
Reducing the public service retirement age from 55 to 50 years is burying the proverbial ostrich’s head in the sand. It works on the premise that the civil service shall be the country’s main employer, and that is not the hall mark of an industrialised economy.
The worse case scenario is having hundreds of thousands of unemployed and disgruntled youth with nothing to lose roaming the streets. That is a future that must be averted.