Kampala- A study to determine the impact of age structure on development has found that Uganda will most likely miss the target of becoming an upper middle income by 2040.
Government had promised that Uganda would have an average gross domestic product of $9,500 by then.
But a study by Population Reference Bureau predicts otherwise indicating that this target is unlikely, as Uganda’s population will remain young and dependent on parents and public investment for a long time.
Through these projections, the Population Reference Bureau study places the odds of Uganda becoming an upper middle income country by 2040 at 3 per cent, below poorer South Sudan’s 7 per cent.
The study also shows that among the East African Community partner states; Uganda will most likely be the least developed behind Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Even conflict ridden South Sudan and Burundi have better odds of becoming middle income countries than Uganda.
National Planning Authority (NPA) had said Uganda would attain a lower middle income status by 2020. However, this has since changed with NPA predicting it is now impossible.
Elizabeth Madsen the programme director at Population Reference Bureau blames high fertility rates that will see the country continue to have a bigger number of young people for a long time.
A high population of young people increases dependence, which means there will fewer tax payers yet there will be increased need for public investment in health and education.
According to Ms Madsen, when a country has a high fertility rate and a young dependent population, they don’t just miss out on economic growth but miss out on other opportunities such as sustained political stability and ability to meet some sustainable development goals.
Citing the Arab Spring, the World Bank highlighted young, unemployed populations, as being a risk factor that can lead to political instability.
This puts Uganda, half of whose population is currently under 15 years at risk of becoming politically unstable within the next 10 years.
This would then affect the country’s ability to develop economically and socially progress.
However, government officials dispute these findings.
“Those are not projections. It is completely outrageous conjecture,” says Dr Jotham Musinguzi the director of Population Secretariat in reaction to the possibility that South Sudan has a better chance of achieving lasting political stability than Uganda. Dr Musinguzi admits that having a young populations has an effect on the ability to improve health, education and political stability outcomes. But he says that Uganda’s fertility rate has been reducing and can no longer affect the ability to develop.
“Our fertility rates are no longer rising. In fact we have started a gradual reduction,” he says, adding that Uganda is set to achieve the target of reducing the fertility rate to four children per woman in 2040.
In addition, he says, Uganda is now investing in providing vocational education to the youth, which will accelerate their ability to contribute to rapid economic growth.
Dr Patrick Birungi, the National Planning Authority planning director, agrees with the notion that Uganda has done well in reducing fertility rates and that there have been attempts to provide vocational education.
However, he says, education doesn’t always lead to development.
“You can have an educated population who will ultimately remain unemployed” he says.
A big problem to growth
Data on youth unemployment in Uganda is hard to come by, as different organisations offer varied statistics ranging from 4 per cent to 80 per cent.
But analysts and policy makers agree that youth unemployment is a big challenge to Uganda at the moment.
Economists and politicians say the problem of youth unemployment is best illustrated by lines of young people queuing at embassies of Middle Eastern countries for visas, where many go to work as housemaids in slave like conditions.
On when Uganda will finally become a middle income country with the ability to meet the economic needs of its population, Dr Birungi says no new projections have been made.
But he says that if government can invest in social sectors and execute its projects on time becoming a middle income country in the near future is possibly.