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Is the Uganda government now advocating for fewer children?

Uganda map
Uganda map

I was really surprised to read the article Govt wants four children per woman in the New Vision Newspaper Online the other day where it says “The Government wants each Ugandan woman to produce only four children in the next 27 years to curb the acute population growth, a planning expert has disclosed”. Just a couple of weeks back, I was having yet another very lively discussion with a person who firmly believes in the president’s stated logic of Ugandans having as many kids as possible, who are supposed to provide a ready market as the Ugandan economy grows, which I see as a very much one-sided way of looking at large families. Some of the examples named, where a huge population is supposedly helping the economy, providing a huge consumer base are China and India, which each have a population of 1 billion.

When I mentioned the above New Vision article, which I said appeared like the government was “backsliding”, my good friend’s response referred to the government official to manage the program as a “brainwashed planning expert”, “western trained, I guess”. Actually, when you look at the user comments below that article in the New Vision,

Leave us to produce whatever numbers of children..stop this bazungu appeasements. Are children born for Uganda government? Our population is high due to immigrants.

some few people took the same line, referring to Westerners, some of whose countries are having stagnant population development, which has its negative effects – brainwashing people and instead saying Ugandans should produce as many kids as their ancestors and so on. In highly developed countries where people are living longer & too few children are being produced, there is an increasing problem of enough pension funds being raised to look after the aging population and even labour to man old people’s homes and so on.

I must say another reason I was surprised, apart what appears to be an about-turn in population policy was the type of user comments to the article. Most folks where of the opinion it is high time the government got involved in promoting what is a good & long overdue policy. One says:

The Bill for that is long overdue, instead of debating Divorce, mini etc., this should be dealt with soon.

Another:

For any Uganda loving Citizen of this country, but most especially for their children, it is only right to have children you will take care of. When you think about this, you can never go even beyond 2 for an average Ugandan but guess what, most street families have 6 to 10 kids. The average Rich (really rich) i know have between 2 to 3 kids even 1. …

Like mentioned in several articles on this site, the government needs to urgently get involved in sensitizing the population about the virtues of having smaller manageable families. If it was normal for our ancestors to be polygamous or monogamous and have 10 kids or 15, the fact is the world has moved on and in this era, we have facts those folks did not need to contend with. Today, you need education, good education to get a good job you can live on. That was not necessary 100 years ago or before. Then, you only needed knowing how to look after goats or cattle, grow some crops, probably hunt, fight and look for some roots and berries and may learn some simple trade.

The necessity of universal primary & secondary education shows one thing, that many did not either see the importance of education and required the government to help or force them to educate their own children and even more important that many could NOT afford taking the kids to school for any length of time.  Many families cannot afford education for all the kids they get and so end up sacrificing some, mostly girls, especially if no “rich” relative is there to help. In villages, it was common to see the rest remaining home to cultivate crops or look after cattle, etc.

In the past, one of the reasons many folks had many kids is so some would be left to take care of one in old age. Those days, there was a much higher infant mortality rate. Nowadays with this decreasing means most kids grow to become adults because improving health services. It is a matter of common sense, that having 3 kids to feed with the relatively low incomes most Ugandans have, one is much more likely to feed them with better food, clothe them better and one is in a much better position to educate them through primary, secondary and even higher education than someone have 8 or nine kids!

Why can’t the government see this? If you look at educated people, who mostly live in urban areas, many have with time realized a family of 2, 3 kids is much more manageable. The family in general has a much better standard of living.

Let us look at poor countries with high populations, which government and other advocates of huge populations as an indispensable factor for economic growth as consumers never mention. The one that come to mind are Pakistan – 193,238,868 (July 2013 est.), Egypt – 85,294,388 (July 2013 est.), Bangladesh – 163,654,860 (July 2013 est.) and Nigeria – 174,507,539 (July 2013 est.). Where is the magic of huge numbers of kids or a large population as an economic factor showing in these examples? If you look at these countries, you will note they are not doing well at all and the high population of especially non-productive youth will be one to contend with for a long time.

Uganda DOES NOT this 6.7 kids/woman or the around 3.3% population growth rate we have now, which is one of the highest in the world. Apart from mere economic questions of daily survival many of these families have to contend with, we should remember the world does not only belong to the human race. There are lots of bad changes being made to the environment to accommodate expanding populations. Lots of swamps, which play a big role in the ecology of surrounding areas are being cleared. For this, one needs to look at increasing reports of floods even around Kampala or the increasing pollution of lake Victoria with consequences for the fish & so on. In other areas, forests are being cleared for firewood & timber or for settlement.

Bududa is a good example of disastrous effects of an extremely high population growth, which puts pressure on the natural vegetation on the mountain ranges. This has been gradually cleared exposing the land to soil erosion, which in the last 20 years alone has led to several tragic mudslides, the frequency of which has increased. The land and in Bududa area where settlements are mostly on hillsides where folks have lived for generations, has reached saturation. There is a limit to what the land can take, including population density & this coupled with natural vegetation clearance. The banana plantations & a few coffee plants cannot replace the trees and other natural vegetation cleared with time to hold back the soil when it rains heavily in the rainy season.

It does not take any special science to deal with this. When the president, in reaction to fatal mudslides says people should not settle on “mountain sides” to avoid this, I think a point is missed. That is where people have ALWAYS lived. The problem though is the HIGH POPULATION GROWTH & DENSITY which is a RECENT & on-going change is changing facts. The solution is do not produce 6, 7, 9, 12 kids, who will take up more & more of this same land. More in the article => The recurring problem of mudslides in Bududa and the Uganda government’s role.

This problem is not only in Bugisu area. It is just that the results here appear more dramatic. Actually there have been clashes involving people from the Bugisu & Sebei sub-regions encroaching on areas gazetted for Mount Elgon National park. The fact is the country is not only for human settlement. There have been a number of reports on this site referring to increasing conflicts involving populations in the north, west and south west either having wild animals from neighbouring parks raiding crops or attacking people. There was a report of elephants raiding some crops, I think Queen Elizabeth National Park area, and attacking people. One man was shown in the New Vision with horrific injuries. I will not go too much into this, but one just needs to look at the few remaining mountain gorillas in the south west and their precariously deteriorating homeland, or the articles => A beautiful documentary about Brutus and other chimps in the Kyambura Gorge and its sad lessons, and the Increasing number of clashes between animals and humans across the country illustrate the effects of too high a population on the available land, at least in some regions.

Limiting the number of kids to manageable levels is commendable

A couple of years back, the Rwanda government, which is aware of the high density of their population and with limited land resources made it a policy to encourage its people to limit families to 3 kids. This was an article in the New Vision newspaper in 2007: Uganda should copy Rwanda’s three-child limit. Such intentions by our government are good, but will only be good and make an impact if it gets actively involved, like it did with AIDS. The president and his officials will have to see the current disastrous growth rate of around 3.3% p.a. leading to about 7 kids per woman as a PROBLEM and not something to be dealt with in future but NOW. We need to stop looking at this only from the viewpoint of the many kids providing a big market and instead look at the implications for each family of having a number of kids they cannot educate, or properly feed or dress. They need to look at the environmental effects of expanding populations. Actually Uganda, as mentioned in other articles on this site, in spite of having had impressive economic growth figures, you will note that the average income has hardly changed in 20 years because of the disproportionate growth of the population in the same time.

The government, apart from educating people on the benefits of manageable families, should also do the same by managing and encouraging family planning services and facilities to enable this in the first place. If Uganda continues with development and manufacturing grows, it will not lack where to sell its goods as long as they are of a good quality. We have markets in neighbouring countries in addition. There are lots of countries which were at the same level with Uganda and other developing countries at the time of independence, like Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea. Where are they now? We have countries like Taiwan,  the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries and so on, which have smaller or much smaller populations than our own. They have no problem with selling their products. So we shall be watching to see exactly what the National Planning Authority to implement the otherwise noble policy. If it succeeds, then we shall have folks even villages where 87% of the population lives having only 3, 4 kids as many of their urban counterparts. Many will manage to look after their own kids without having to depend on some richer relative helping out with one or some if they have any and of course there will be in the longer term a halt to the destruction of the environment and its effects on the flora and fauna, the climate and much more.

Population figures & map from the CIA – The World Factbook