by Ronald Ssekandi
ADJUMANI, Uganda, July 10 (Xinhua) -- As the world commemorates World Population Day on Thursday, Uganda is striving to invest in its youths to explore the benefits of population dividend. The population day will be commemorated under the theme of "Renewing the promise; empowering the youth to contribute to socio-economic transformation".
Uganda has one of the youngest and most rapidly growing populations in the world. Figures by the National Population Council (NPC), a state agency that advises the government on population issues, show that Uganda has a population growth rate of 3.3 percent per annum, making it the third fastest growing population in the world. The country's population is projected to reach 75 million by 2040 from the current 40 million people.
Youths below the age of 30 make up more than 78 percent of the 40 million people, according to the NPC.
More than 70 percent of the youths are unemployed and this is what the Ugandan government is striving to reverse.
Population experts argue that investing in the youth age group will guarantee a healthy and skilled human resource.
According to the World Bank, if the increase in the number of working age individuals can be fully employed in productive activities, other things being equal, the level of average income per capita should increase as a result. The youth bulge will become a demographic dividend.
John Ssekamatte, a consultant with Uganda's National Planning Authority, told reporters on Wednesday that for Uganda to achieve its aspiration of upper middle income status by 2040, the challenge posed by a high population growth has to be addressed.
"For us to achieve that we must meaningfully engage the population as a productive force because if we don't, it will be a productive liability," he said.
Other experts have argued that if a large number of youths cannot find employment and earn satisfactory income, they are likely to become a potential source of social and political instability.
Demographers argue that sustained economic growth is critical in creating opportunities for the youthful population that is entering the labor market. They argue that Uganda needs to invest in growth sectors like agriculture, tourism, oil and gas which can have high job multiplier effect and can spur inclusive economic growth.
The government has embarked on this by first prioritizing areas, which it argues are bottlenecks to economic development. The government is investing heavily in energy and transport infrastructure, so that if the cost of energy is low, more industries would open up and create employment. A better and efficient transport system would also reduce the cost of production since farmers or industrialists would easily transport their products to the market.
Fred Wabwire, chairperson of the NPC, told reporters on Wednesday that the government has embarked on other measures to improve the skills of the youths to make them economically active.
Wabwire said that besides the provision of free universal primary education and free universal secondary education (USE), the government has embarked on vocational training. When the youths finish basic education, those who are unable to continue to university go to vocational training.
"Education empowers, it provides information, and if we can keep all the boys and girls in schools up to the end of USE, that intervention scores a lot of marks," he said.
Wabwire said youths who have completed vocational training can access funding from the government through the Youth Livelihood Program (YLP) to start up small enterprises. The YLP, which is based on three pillars of skills development, livelihood support and institutional support, targets unemployed youths, according to ministry of finance.
United Nations Population Fund argues that the government should continue to invest in the health of the population. The population agency said that the healthiness of the country's labor force determines the level of productivity.
It argued that for instance as children's health and survival rates improve, family demand for more children declines. Smaller family sizes improve maternal health, which further improves child health, as well as increase women labor force participation, hence contributing to economic growth.