July 11—World Population Day is celebrated every July 11, but a report published by the Harvard University Center for International Development (CID) last week, vindicates a long held view by President Yoweri Museveni that a big population is not a bad thing after all. Uganda at three percent-plus has one of highest population growth rates in the world.
The report states in part, ‘India and Uganda top the list of the fastest growing economies to 2025, at 7.7 percent annually, but for different reasons. Uganda joins three other East African countries in the top 10 fastest growing countries, though a significant fraction of that growth is due to rapid population growth’.
According to sources, a rapidly growing and glaring inequality divide is the main reason why Museveni has become more receptive to the other point of view.
“A big population that is mostly poor and consequently has a low purchasing power is more of a burden to government than you might think. These people contribute little by way of taxes and cannot support local business either. In other words, money that could go to such things as infrastructure, instead goes to subsidizing their lives,” an official at the local UN population agency told 256BN.
However Museveni still insists that underdevelopment due to a slow progress in social development often discourages poor rural folk to practice family planning. But he also lists big populations as major attractions for big inward investment. Museveni has also cited how China harnessed its huge population to rapidly make big gains on the most industrialized countries in the world led by the United States.
Early last year, Museveni said, “A big population is important to our quest for socio-economic transformation set out in Vision 2040. Population growth is a strategic contribution to the regional common market of 160 million people.”
Not long after this, Dr Jotham Musinguzi, the Director General of the National Population Council said, “Although family planning is increasing in Uganda, it is increasing at a slow rate, not like in Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia.” The three countries are also earmarked for rapid economic growth within the next decade and East Africa as whole remains a leading destination for FDI.
On the other hand, the report goes to say on a per capita basis, Uganda is the only East African country that remains in the top 10 in the growth projections, though at 4.5 percent annually its prospects are more modest. This is in reference to Uganda reporting its slowest economic growth rate at less than 4% during FY2016/17.
” I believe our nascent oil and gas sector is pivotal in countering any doubts about Uganda’s growth prospects. If investment in this sector is carried out sensibly, I am sure talk of a big population will not matter,” an investment adviser told 256BN.
The CID study says growth projections highlight that economic growth fails to follow one easy pattern or rule system. The countries that are expected to be the fastest growing – India, Turkey, Indonesia, Uganda, and Bulgaria – are diverse in all political, institutional, geographic and demographic dimensions.
Timothy Cheston, a research fellow at CID said,“What they share is a focus on expanding the capabilities of their workforce that leaves them well positioned to diversify into new products, and products of increasingly greater complexity.”
These economic complexity growth projections differ from those of the IMF and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Relative to EIU predictions, CID researchers are less optimistic about a set of countries that include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Iran, Sri Lanka, and Cuba. Conversely, CID researchers have greater optimism for the growth prospects of Uganda, Guatemala, Mexico, Tanzania, and Brazil.
The researchers emphasize that the benefit of these medium-term projections is that nothing is set in stone, but there are many steps policymakers, investors, and business leaders can take to enter more complex production to realize faster growth