While Uganda’s overall poverty rate has fallen from 33 percent in 2000 to 24 percent today, the total number of poor people over that same period has declined by just 100,000, to 8.3 million.
What’s more, Uganda’s “formal” economy, which registers and taxes merchants, has provided fewer job opportunities than the “informal” economy, in which unlicensed sellers hawk wares on the streets and skirt taxation.
The result: The Health Ministry has reported that the country’s tax base is growing much more slowly than the population, and the government is missing out on tax revenue that could be used to repair roads, build schools, improve health care and provide jobs.
Labor Minister Emmanuel Otaala has noted that the majority of Uganda’s workers are in the informal sector and that most working Ugandans are classified as “underemployed.” According to the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, about 65 percent of Uganda’s 34 million people are perennially underemployed.
Moreover, Uganda will need about 500,000 jobs created each year to keep up with population growth trends, according to the National Organization of Trade Unions.
In May, the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development launched the National Population Policy Action Plan, which aims to unite politicians, officials, activists and advocates to help shape government policies on population trends.
A key component is family planning, which poses unique challenges to curtailing Uganda’s population:
• Currently, about 40 percent of married women of reproductive age who would like to limit births do not have access to contraceptives.
• Most large families live in rural areas that are difficult to reach because of poor roads, shortages of doctors and nurses, and a lack of media outlets, said Dr. Jennifer Wanyana, assistant commissioner for reproductive health in the Health Ministry.
• Most religious groups in this predominantly Christian nation have been silent on the subject of population control. About 42 percent of Ugandans practice Roman Catholicism, which historically has opposed the use of contraceptives.
• Culturally, a large number of children is associated with masculinity and a source of labor and wealth.
Parliament has approved spending $6 million a year on reproductive health, and about half of that sum will be spent on family planning.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which provided $341 million to Uganda last year, and other donor agencies have been working with local groups like Reproductive Health Uganda to curb population growth.