Uganda’s ‘idle’ youth slow down economy

Monday May 28 2018

Traffic in downtown Kampala. Uganda’s high

Traffic in downtown Kampala. Uganda’s high fertility rates mean it will soon have a large number of dependent youth. FILE PHOTO | NATION 

By DICTA ASIIMWE
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Uganda is most likely to miss its target of becoming an upper middle income country by 2040, a study to determine the impact of age structure on development has found.

The study by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) predicts that the average GDP of $9,500 target is unrealistic, as Uganda’s population will remain young and dependent on parents, needing public investment for a long time.

It puts the chances of Uganda becoming an upper middle income country by 2040 at just three per cent.

It also notes that in East Africa, Uganda will by that time probably be the least developed country behind Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Even conflict-ridden South Sudan and Burundi have better odds of becoming middle-income countries than Uganda.

According to PRB programme director Elizabeth Madsen, Uganda is projected to sustain higher fertility rates than its neighbours, and will thus have a larger number of young people who cannot work.

This increases dependence, as more parents have to spend their incomes and savings on educating, feeding and treating their children.

The high, dependent population also means fewer taxpayers and the need for increased public investment in health and education.

“When countries have high fertility rates and young dependent populations, they don’t just miss out on economic growth but also the opportunity for sustained political stability and the ability to meet some sustainable development goals,” said Ms Madsen.

For instance, reducing under-five mortality to less than 25 children per 1,000 live births is one of the sustainable development targets that Uganda will most probably miss due to the young population.

Politically unstable

Half of Uganda’s population is currently under 15 years of age, putting it at risk of becoming politically unstable within the next 10 years, hence affecting the country’s ability to develop economically and socially, the study adds.

But the director of the Population Secretariat Dr Jotham Musinguzi disputes the claim that South Sudan has a better chance of achieving lasting political stability than Uganda and argues that the country’s fertility rate has been reducing and can no longer affect its ability to develop.

“We have started a gradual reduction in fertility rates. Uganda is set to achieve the target of reducing the fertility rate to four children per woman by 2040,” he said.
He added that Uganda is also investing in vocational education to benefit from its young population.

But while the planning director at the National Planning Authority Dr Patrick Birungi agrees that there have been attempts at providing vocational education, he adds that education doesn’t always lead to development.

“You can have an educated population who will ultimately remain unemployed,” he said.

He advises the government to invest in the social sectors and execute its projects on time if Uganda is to become a middle-income country in the near future.

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