The provisional results of the recent census are out, but what do they mean? Paul Busharizi breaks it down.
trueThe provisional results of the recent census are out, but what do they mean? Paul Busharizi breaks it down
The provisional census results do not only indicate that our population growth rate is slowing down, but also that we remain predominantly rural people.
The results issued by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) showed that the annual population growth rate had slowed to 3.03% down from 3.3% recorded during the last head count over a decade ago.
Uganda’s population growth rate, beaten by only seven other countries in the world, has been a major cause for concern.
If a country’s population grows too fast, it will put a strain on resources and the nation’s ability to ensure a good living for its people.
Thankfully, Uganda’s economy has grown faster than the population in all but four of the last 28 years.
In theory, the economy chugging along at a faster rate than the increase in people is a good thing. The challenge remains distribution of these economic benefits more equitably across the population.
Which brings us to our slow urbanisation rates.
According to the census, about two in every 10 Ugandans live in the urban areas, an improvement from the last census when it was 1.5 for every 10 people.
Observers of development notice that urbanisation is strongly related to rates of development.
Urban areas concentrate people in small areas, allowing for ease of provision of basic services. In addition, they are an attractive market for industries and businesses which, in turn, create jobs which in turn attract more people.
Back in the day, Uganda's population was quite small . . .
. . . unlike today
Invariably, in addition to higher economic growth, development statistics like access to health, clean water and opportunity, are higher in urban areas.
In Uganda, not only is more than half the economic activity generated in Kampala, but important statistics such as access to social services, clean water and electricity, are way above anything anywhere in the country.
It is not by mistake that the most developed countries have at least eight in every 10 of their populations living in the urban areas.
As it is, in the region, Uganda is only more urbanised than Burundi.
One can say that the structure of the Ugandan economy which was planned by the colonialists as a small-holder farming economy, means there is little incentive to move away from our villages.
This proved useful during the chaotic 1970s and 1980s, because without this small-holder farmer to keep us food-sufficient, life would have been a lot more unbearable.
Across the border from us, Kenya was developed to support a settler economy, so Africans were dispossessed of large swathes of land to accommodate huge agricultural concerns, a situation which remained little changed after independence.
The nasty environment that are our towns aside, the benefits to the economy of concentrating people cannot be ignored.
The question is: How do we fast track the process?
As it is, our 4.4% annual rate of urbanisation does not cut it. Rwanda is leading the way in this, facilitating population growth around economic activities, mostly agriculture, making it easier to provide roads, social services, electricity and markets for their produce.
The project is still in its early days, but our southern neighbour has decided that is how they are going to fight poverty and keep the economy ticking along.
Clearly, creating jobs by fostering an enabling environment for businesses is key to attracting populations. And it is not the multibillion projects that account for most job creation in any economy, but the small to medium sized enterprises.
Recently, in the World Bank’s annual Doing Business survey, it was discovered that Uganda’s environment is not business-friendly and a lot of the problem is to do with bureaucracy.
It takes Ugandan businesses ages to comply with the law on registration, filing taxes, getting justice through the courts and obtaining finance. In addition, we need to improve education and health services, especially in our government health centres.
Government services act as the standard; it then follows that private players will offer better services. Of course, the rate of urbanisation can outpace the local government’s capacity to provide services for its inhabitants, which can result into an urban poor who are worse off than their rural cousins.
That is an issue the authorities need to keep in mind. Uganda has averaged economic growth of about 6% for the last decade or so, but the trickle-down effect is not showing itself much in general improvements in the people’s wellbeing.
If anything, the income and wealth inequalities are widening, threatening the progress made in the last three decades.
I believe if we get the economy correct, population growth will sort itself out through increased use of birth control and raising the age at which women give birth to their first children, among other things.
Focusing on making the urban areas more attractive for people through facilitating job creation, improved infrastructure and social services, will not only accelerate the economy’s growth, but will also ensure the benefits are enjoyed more evenly.
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