Population data, demographic dividend and tax collection key for Uganda’s economic growth

 This week, Uganda plays host to two African conferences. First, the 8th African Population Conference (APC) and the 4th International Conference on tax in Africa.

APC is organized in conjunction with National Population Secretariat and supported by the Union of African Population Council in conjunction with United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) while the other is organized by Uganda Revenue Authority.

The theme for APC – “Harnessing Africa’s Population dynamics for sustainable development: 25 years after Cairo and beyond” – was deliberately chosen as an emphasis on importance of Population data sets as a prerequisite not only to meet the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations but also the targets set in Cairo 25 years ago.

These commitments include Gender Equality, Universal education, reduction of infant and child mortality, reduction of maternal mortality and Access to reproductive and sexual health services like family planning.

This year’s ICPD theme “Innovation – Digitalization and harnessing technology to improve tax systems.” It seeks to emphasize the importance of big data – including population data in designing and using appropriate digital technologies for national revenue collection purposes.

All governments use ‘Data’ as a basis to derive legitimacy to rule (democracy or its various variants) but more critically as a justification of interventions intended to spur economic growth. As Africa and the rest of the world increasingly go digital (new forms of data), ‘Data’ is assuming a more prominent role.

These new forms of data are being used to address challenges in health and demographic surveillance systems, access to universal education, programs geared towards gender equality as well as in processing and understanding different revenue streams for national governments. Data is the new gold!

Why data is the new gold

Population data is majorly used to make the case for demographic dividend, defined by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) as “the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a population’s age structure, mainly when the share of the working-age population is larger than the non-working-age share of the population”.

In other words, it is “a boost in economic productivity that occurs when there are growing numbers of people in the workforce relative to the number of dependents.” UNFPA states that, “A country with both increasing numbers of young people and declining fertility has the potential to reap a demographic dividend.” Fertility then is a critical component.

Policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders optimistically discuss the demographic dividend. Many in the developed world view the benefits as imminent and within grasp. However, many policy makers in the developing world (especially in Africa) are still some way off from achieving this economic benefit without substantially lowering birth and child death rates—a process referred to as the “demographic transition”.

While child survival has greatly improved in developing countries, birth rates remain high in many of them. To reach their full economic potential, these countries must act today to increase their commitment to and investment in voluntary family planning.

This calls for a decline in fertility rates which in turn will lead to smaller families. In Uganda, nearly 50% of our population is under age 15 and depends on financial support from working-age adults. This large number of young people represents great economic potential, but only if families and government continues to adequately invest in health and education whilst also stimulating new economic opportunities.

However, as long as the average number of children per woman (total fertility rate) and population growth remain high and children and adolescents greatly outnumber working-age adults, families and governments will not have the resources needed to invest adequately in each child.

To achieve a demographic transition, African must focus on providing women with voluntary family planning information and services. When women can choose when and how often to become pregnant, they are more likely to have fewer children and are better able to achieve their desired family size.

In addition, delaying the age of first birth through Education of the girl child is a good way to slow population growth. An educated woman is less likely to birth a great number of children. She is more likely to get busy with economic productivity. Indeed, a delay of just 5 years in first birth and marriage has been shown to slow population growth by 15 -20% in Sub-Saharan Africa. (Judith Bruce and Erica Chong, “The Diverse Universe of Adolescents, and the Girls and Boys Left Behind: A Note on Research, Program, and Policy Priorities”)

Much of Sub Saharan Africa has exhibited relatively high levels of economic growth, this growth has not improved the living standards of most people.  As a result, fertility remains high and demographic transition is slow. Until there is a more substantial reduction in fertility and complete a demographic transition, tax collection will not be sufficient and therefore the opportunity for a demographic dividend in much of Africa will be delayed. This is why these conferences are good for Uganda and Africa.