By Martin Luther Munu

 Munu Passport photo1According to the 2014 National Population and Housing Census Report, Uganda’s population was at 34.6 million people, which represents an increase of 10.4 million persons from the 2002 census. The population in 2016/17 was estimated at 36.9 million persons, with a Life Expectancy estimated at 63.3 years in 2014, up from 48.1 years in 1991.

Uganda’s population is expected to increase further. The high population, dominated by youth presents an opportunity for a country to build a long-term base for power, economic growth and ultimately development due to the benefits.

At a household level, a large population is a problem, in terms of a high dependency burden and associated increase in expenditures on food, health, and education.

However, at a macro level, a high population increases on consumption, providing markets which is crucial for increased investment, trade and subsequently development. This in turn presents better opportunities for households to get themselves out of poverty. Even within Uganda, places with higher population have lower levels of poverty.

Benefits of a large and young population

The benefits of a large and young population are enormous. For instance, during the 2007-2008 global economic crisis, countries with higher populations like Vietnam and Philippians were partly insulated from the ill effects of a global recession since they could locally consume a significant proportion of the goods and services produced. In addition, young populations tend to consume and innovate more.

They also attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) as investors seek to capitalize on the opportunities provided by lower labor costs. Capitalizing on this opportunity however requires a facilitative environment, right from the global to national levels.

A number of policies and strategies have been put in place to harness opportunities for the youth. At the East African Community (EAC) level, the EAC Youth Policy (2013) which seeks “to create an enabling environment for effective youth participation and empowerment in developing and sustaining the East African Community”.

Nationally we have the Uganda National Youth Policy, the National Employment Policy for Uganda, the Skilling Uganda Strategic Plan 2012- 2022 as well as the National Youth Council and Moreover, Vision 2040 which focuses strongly on skills development and employment. Effective implementation of these policies puts the country on course of capitalizing on this demographic characteristic to become a powerful, rich and prosperous nation.

Youth empowerment and shifts in employment

A number of achievements have been realized over the last few years to empower the youth. These include; provision of vocational skills training, internship and apprenticeship for youth, launch of a skills development and access to finance. However, youth unemployment remains the major challenge.

According to a study conducted by the Aga Khan University, 48 percent of the youth identify unemployment as the biggest challenge with government needs to address. The major problem facing the youth is that policy makers assume all of them should “create their own jobs”. This is not only untenable but it relegates government from its obligation to create jobs, hence failing the youth empowerment agenda.

According to a study conducted by Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), youth employment is shifting from agriculture towards the services sector, a move which is more prominent among the educated youth. This corresponds with the increasing role of trade in services at the global level.

Most of the youth engaged in agriculture are simply there because of lack of opportunities. Once they get education and move away from agriculture, a new opportunity arise for commercial farmers to invest in the sector. This could increase adoption of technologies which in turn increases productivity.

The youth who shifts to services on the other hand would benefit the sector through innovations, for instance mobile money transaction which have greatly contributed to financial inclusion.

In conclusion, the high population in Uganda, dominated by the youth has always been seen as a bad thing for growth and development of the country. However, with the right skills building and facilitative environment, Uganda stands to capitalize on these numbers to become a truly powerful and prosperous country.

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