Kampala — HERBERT Musisi dropped out of school when he had just joined S.1 three years ago. Now aged 18 years, the sixth born in a family of nine, says he dropped out of school because his impoverished parents had to push his last three siblings through up to at least P.7.
Like his parents, Musisi started having children at 16, a year after quitting school. But the resident of Jinja-Kawempe in Nabweru, Wakiso district, is a porter whose survival depends on when he gets work.
"I can take a week without having what to do. This can be a very trying period for me because I have to look after my children and wife," Musisi says.
He is, therefore, only assured of a livelihood when he gets casual employment. Like Musisi, many young people sweat to survive by doing odd jobs as they are virtually unemployed and thus unproductive.
With Uganda's population swelling by 1.2 million people every year, the competition for resources is set to get tighter. At an annual growth rate of 3.2% per annum, Uganda's population is projected to double in the next 22 years from about 32 million to 64 million people, spelling more doom for a country whose population structure is largely youthful and unproductive.
Over 56% (17.8 million people) of the population is under 18 years while about half (15.9 million people) of the population is under the age of 15 years. This population is predicted to remain unproductive for the next 15 years.
The rising population is due to a very high fertility rate (6.7) and a high teenage pregnancy rate (25%), notes Charles Zirarema, the acting director of the Population Secretariat.
Philda Apio is a typical example of a teenage mother. She conceived at 14 years and quit school. The resident of Agung village in Paicho sub-county, Gulu district, now has five children and finds it hard to fend for them.
At 27, Apio was still giving birth had it not been the intervention of Reproductive Health Uganda which recently talked to her about contraceptives. Since she dropped out of school, she has been a peasant in Agung, living from hand to mouth.
Like Apio, hundreds of women countrywide are ignorant or cannot access family planning. The unmet need in Uganda is 41%. The unmet need is the number of women who would have wanted to access family planning but cannot. Such women end up having many children, further swelling the country's population.
Zirarema notes that besides the high unmet need for family planning, a low contraceptive prevalence rate (23%), low child spacing (less than 24 months) and a poverty level (31%) are key reasons for the rapidly rising population in Uganda.
Zirarema made the revelation at the launch of the state of Uganda and world population reports 2010 at Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala last week.
Ruth Nankabirwa, the Microfinance state minister, launched the report on the state of Uganda's population titled: "Population and Sustainable Development: Emerging Challenges, Opportunities and Prospects" as well as the State of the World Population report titled: "From Conflict and Crisis to Renewal: Generations of Change."
Uganda's population is increasing but the resources are not increasing to match it which presents the country with a challenge of planning to ensure quality and productive nationals.
With this population explosion, Uganda is sitting on a time bomb.
"The floods, drought, landslides and famine we see are as a result of pressure on land. The land gets overburdened and it gives way a result of population pressure," Nankabirwa points out.
The 2009 UN Habitat Report indicates that 80% of Ugandans rely on resources like land and lakes for livelihood, while 99% use firewood and charcoal for cooking, putting a strain on the natural resources.
Nankabirwa hopes that the Bill on Establishment of a National Population Council, which Cabinet approved recently will help in planning for the high unproductive population.
"A big population can be good for the market provided it is productive and is of good quality," she notes, before urging men to get involved in determining the number of children for their families. This, Nankabirwa adds, will reduce maternal and child mortality.
"The more children a mother has, the higher the risk of maternal and child mortality," she says.
A United Nations Fund for Population Activities report also urges the Government to plan services for an increased population, increase funding and investment, especially in activities involving the youth, if the country is to develop its human capital. It also recommends policies targeting for employment for the youth.
Despite the large and fast-growing youthful labour force and the Government's introduction of universal primary and secondary education, Uganda still has a shortage of skilled human power. The report blames this on poor quality of the education system which does not respond to the skills requirements of the job market.
The health sector is hard-hit with a low number of health workers thus affecting health service delivery.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), out of every 10 jobs advertised, over 1,500 graduates apply. At least 400,000 graduates come into the labour market annually, but only about 80,000 are able to find formal employment.
Agriculture accounts for over 75% of Uganda's labour force. However, there is low agricultural productivity, land degradation and soil fertility depletion, which is affecting crop yields.
According to the report, Uganda's labour productivity is very low compared to neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania. The report says six Ugandans are employed to do a job that can be done by one Kenyan.
It says Tanzania's labour productivity is 28% higher than that of Uganda.
Although Uganda has recovered from the economic downturn of the 1970s and 80s, the country's size and per capita income are still very low, compared to those of other economies in Africa and Asia, the report adds.
"While Uganda's economic performance was at par with countries such as Kenya, Ghana, South Korea and Malaysia in the early 1970s, these economies have since improved significantly over Uganda's economy," the report says.
The report cites unemployment, underemployment, lack of skills, a poor culture towards work, gender relations, inadequate and poor state of the infrastructure as some of the factors which contribute to the low productivity level in Uganda.
Women and unemployment
The report notes that women are excluded from contributing to profitable production and development. Women earn less than men, with over 50% employed in the lowest paying sectors which do not require highly-skilled labour.
It adds that women dominate food production, providing nearly 70% of labour in agriculture.
"Women account for 80% of food production, yet most of them do not own land. They also rely on labour-intensive tools such as hoes," says the report.
Youth, especially females, are the most unproductive group, with about 70% engaged in unpaid family work. The highest unemployed population is in urban areas, and a greater proportion of the unproductive population is located in northern Uganda.
State of world population report
According to the UNFPA report, the high annual population growth rate of 3.2% is far above the global average population growth rate of 1.1%, which makes Uganda one of the countries with the fastest growing populations in the world.
The world report focuses on the effect of conflicts on women and their involvement in rebuilding the community (peace) after conflicts have ended.