Highlights of the population debate

1. The population debate has been with us for a very long time dating as far back as classical Greece and Rome. It has evolved overtime and now includes population explosion and implosion as well as women’s reproductive health and rights.

2. At the global level population dynamics is a function of changes in births and deaths. However, at the national level (e.g. Uganda) total population is a function of births – deaths + in-migrants – out-migrants.

3. The world population change has gone through three phases: the first phase occurred in the Neolithic Revolution caused by shifts from nomadic hunter/gatherer communities to crop production and animal domestication making more food available to feed more mouths in settled communities and reduced deaths; the second phase from the Industrial Revolution that started around 1750. Improved transport systems and cold storage facilities connected food surplus to deficit regions and public health including general hygiene, safe drinking water and sanitation that lowered mortality; the third phase began in the late 1950s and is characterized by medical and technological advances that too lowered death rate. Thus, all these phases from the first through the third have one thing in common: they saved lives and increased life expectancy. Thus, during these three phases the increase in population was not because couples were having more babies. It is because people were living longer due to a reduction in mortality.

How will Uganda get out of the poverty trap?

The 2010 UNDP’s Human Development report has recorded that between 2000 and 2008 51.5 percent of Ugandans lived below $1.25 a day with an index ranking of 143 out of 169. This high level of poverty and associated ills is unacceptable. So, what should be done to get Uganda out of this poverty trap?

First and foremost, Uganda leaders and senior civil servants must genuinely admit that the development model pursued in since 1987 did not work as expected for inter alia the following reasons.

1. The average economic growth rate did not reach 7 or 8 percent essential as minimum for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

2. Excess capacity inherited in 1986 contributed more than economic reforms to economic growth and that that excess capacity is almost exhausted, calling for other sources of growth.

3. Trickle down mechanism failed to distribute the benefits of economic growth equitably resulting in skewed income distribution in favor of rich few families and spreading and deepening poverty.

4. Excessive obsession with macroeconomic stability especially inflation control to 5 percent and balanced budgets constrained investment and job growth because of very high interest rates and starved agriculture and social and infrastructural sectors of essential funding.

What has Uganda family planning skipped?

Since Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) government came to power in 1986, Ugandans have developed a habit of dragging the country into fads without proper analysis of pros and cons or even when they know these fads won’t work. Because Museveni likes to be in the news or popular with the west he has plunged Uganda into experiments in economics, agriculture, health, etc that have overall produced adverse outcomes. Uganda adopted shock therapy version of structural adjustment in 1987 fully aware that it had been rejected in Ghana because of negative consequences. Uganda adopted abstinence in the fight against HIV knowing fairly well that it would not work. Uganda also developed a confrontational regional policy in an atmosphere of geopolitics that has created poor relations with neighbors witness the plunder of Congo resources, meddling in Kenya’s 2007 elections and the latest allegation that Uganda troops were involved in Hutu genocide in DRC. Also Uganda elite have become obsessed with making money or keeping their jobs that many will fully support donor-driven projects or government programs even when they know they will hurt their fellow citizens.

The guerrillas gave us NRM and are taking our land

The task of a researcher is to identify problems and make recommendations for policy makers to act on. A lot has been written and published about Uganda but much more remains to be done to identify challenges especially those related to globalization and East African community and the associated influx of foreigners looking for land to own.

Uganda is a country whose economy and livelihood of her people depend on land for food and foreign exchange. The land has been worked and owned by peasants for centuries. British colonial authorities respected and protected that age-old tradition. In 1986, NRM government presented a people-centered ten-point program confirming that land belongs to the people. It gave an assurance that peasants who lost their land due to political instability and/or faulty policies would get it back.

In 1987, the government launched structural adjustment with a major policy shift and a potential adverse impact on peasants. Private sector and market forces would drive Uganda’s economy and the distribution of assets. Studies were conducted that emphasized large-scale farming as a more appropriate model for speeding up economic growth and transformation from subsistence to commercial agriculture. In other words, peasants were presented as less productive than large-scale farmers and should give way to the latter. Other studies supported rapid urbanization as the fastest path to Uganda’s development, implying rural-urban influx to create room for large farmers. Free mobility and settlement would be facilitated through various instruments.

Museveni’s carrot and stick strategy has backfired

Museveni who was used to accolades of success story, star performer and darling of the west has not yet adjusted to the new reality of humiliating failures in Uganda. The country’s focus has shifted from the glory of taming inflation, boosting economic growth and reversing HIV & AIDS to diseases of poverty underpinned by jiggers and malnutrition, environmental crisis led by Kampala City floods, alcoholism and associated traffic accidents, rampant corruption in high places and blatant sectarianism, allegations of genocide against Hutus in DRC, witchcraft and associated human sacrifice. Organizations that praised Uganda and its leader Museveni sky high in international conferences have gone silent or are blaming Museveni for the messy situation.

In order to reverse this disquiet and return to a normal development path, Museveni should accept full responsibility for what has gone wrong, distance himself from ‘yes men and women’ and pay more attention to critical and constructive advice.