Many Ugandans are barely scratching through the day as a tough economic situation confines most of them to beggars, leaving them at the mercy of the few good Samaritans, writes ALON MWESIGWA.
At least 23 million Ugandans are living hand-to-mouth without engaging in any commercial economic activity that earns them money, a review of the 2014 census figures has shown.
Uganda’s population has shot up to 34.6 million from 24.2 million in 2002, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos), which carried out the census. The figures released last week indicate that out of the 7.3 million households in the country – each with an average of 4.7 persons – as many as five million households (69 per cent) were growing food for consumption only.
These figures could be looked at as an indictment to government, given the many programmes and enormous amount of resources sunk into them to enable Ugandans move to commercial production from subsistence farming.
There have been a number of government programs - from Bonna Bagaggawale to Plan for Modernisation of Africa, National Agricultural Advisory Services, to the most recent one, Operation Wealth Creation - there is little impact from these sorts of interventions.
The census report says hundreds of Ugandans still depend on others for survival. The dependency ratio in the country is 103 – meaning for every 100 economically-active persons, there are 103 dependants. In 2002, the dependence ratio was 110.2.
After being announced winner of the 2016 polls, President Museveni said “Uganda will be middle income by the end of 2017,” which now looks like a glaring impossibility, according to analysts, if the country still has such a huge number of people not engaged in commercial activity.
On Thursday, Museveni seemed to accept the reality, saying “it seems a lot of Ugandans were still asleep.”
Referring to the army’s intervention through Operation Wealth Creation, Museveni said: “Now the people are thirsty and the population wants to engage in commercial agriculture but they don’t have seedlings. That’s why we put the army there.”
Yet, this is not to say Ugandans were not trying. According to the census, most households were engaged in some sort of enterprise. At least 43 per cent of the population has an agricultural enterprise, while 16 per cent is in manufacturing. Most of these enterprises failed to break-even, the report pointed out, adding that many were stuck in subsistence farming.
One key change, according to the report, is that there are more Ugandans moving to towns to seek better opportunities. Ugandans living in urban centres increased to 21 per cent in 2014, from four per cent in 1991.
This does not mean all those in town have got opportunities, Ben Mungyereza, the executive director of Ubos, said.
“When you go through the suburbs of Kampala and see young boys playing pool during working hours, know that there is a problem,” Mungyereza said.
One key feature that shows the progress of any society is the source of light. The more people use electricity, the more advanced the society is taken to be. In Uganda, the census figures show that half of the population or 52 per cent of the households use tadooba (a paraffin candle) as their source of light.
Just 15.5 per cent of the households use electricity connected to the national grid while 4.9 per cent use other forms of off-grid electricity such as solar. And there are more statistics that show a sizeable number of Ugandans still wallowing in despair.
For instance, census figures show that at least 8.8 per cent (about 600,000) of the households did not have a toilet at all. And three per cent of these are in urban centres. This means they practice open defecation at nearby bushes, which not only contaminates drinking water sources but can also spreads cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery and typhoid.
There has been an improvement though. In the 1991 census, more than 25 per cent of the households did not have a toilet facility and in 2002, 15 per cent did not have one.
The fertility rate has declined from seven children per woman in 2002 to 5.8 children. The population growth rate has dropped to three per cent from 3.2 per cent, although this is still the highest in the region.
The statistics agency said this is because more women were getting education and there was an improved use of family planning methods.