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Uganda - People

Uganda has the youngest age structure in the world, with 77 percent of its population under the age of 30. The population of Uganda is currently growing by about one million people per year, and given the force of demographic momentum, Uganda will see high rates of population growth for decades to come. Ugandas demographic situation impacts all aspects of its development, from economic growth to quality of education to health care provisions. Governance, political stability, security and adaptation to climate change are also deeply influenced by demographic mechanisms.

The population of Uganda is estimated to range between 21 million and 24.6 million, with average life expectancy estimated to be 44 years, down significantly due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV/AIDS prevalence in Uganda is estimated to range from 5% to 6.1% of the adult population with either HIV infection or AIDS. The number of people estimated to be living with HIV in Uganda ranges from 600,000 to 1.1 million.

All governments after independence declared their opposition to discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. Neither the 1969 nor the 1980 census recorded ethnic identity. However, Ugandans continued to take pride in their family histories, and government officials, like many other people, continued to consider ethnic factors in decision making. Moreover, much of Uganda's internal upheaval traditionally was based in part on historical differences among ethnic groups.

The forty or more distinct societies that constitute the Ugandan nation are usually classified according to linguistic similarities. Most Ugandans speak either Nilo-Saharan or Congo-Kordofanian languages. Nilo-Saharan languages, spoken across the north, are further classified as Eastern Nilotic (formerly Nilo-Hamitic), Western Nilotic, and Central Sudanic. The many Bantu languages in the south are within the much larger Congo-Kordofanian language grouping.

Lake Kyoga in central Uganda serves as a rough boundary between the Bantu-speaking south and the Nilotic and Central Sudanic language speakers in the north. Despite the popular image of north-versus-south in political affairs, however, this boundary runs roughly from northwest to southeast near the course of the Nile River, and many Ugandans live among people who speak other languages. Some sources describe regional variation in terms of physical characteristics, clothing, bodily adornmt nts, and mannerisms, but others also claim that these differences are disappearing.

The Baganda are the largest ethnic group in Uganda and comprise approximately 17% of the population. Individual ethnic groups in the southwest include the Banyankole and Bahima (10%), the Bakiga (7%), the Banyarwanda (6%), the Bunyoro (3%), and the Batoro (3%). Residents of the north include the Langi (6%) and the Acholi (5%). In the northwest are the Lugbara (4%). The Karamojong (2%) occupy the considerably drier, largely pastoral territory in the northeast. Ethnic groups in the east include the Basoga (8%) and the Bagisu (5%).

The Banyoro, Batoro, and Banyankole people of western Uganda are classified as Western Lacustrine Bantu language speakers. Their complex kingdoms are believed to be the product of acculturation between two different ethnic groups, the Hima (Bahima) and the Iru (Bairu). In each of these three societies, two distinct physical types are identified as Hima and Iru. The Hima are generally tall and are believed to be the descendants of pastoralists who migrated into the region from the northeast. The Iru are believed to be descendants of agricultural populations that preceded the Hima as cultivators in the region.

Western Nilotic language groups in Uganda include the Acholi, Langi, Alur, and several smaller ethnic groups. Together they comprise roughly 15 percent of the population. Most Western Nilotic languages in Uganda are classified as Luo, closely related to the language of the Luo society in Kenya. The two largest ethnic groups, the Acholi and Langi, speak almost identical languages, which vary slightly in pronunciation, suggesting that the two groups divided as recently as the early or mid-nineteenth century. The Alur, who live west of the Acholi and Langi, are culturally similar to neighboring societies of the West Nile region, where most people speak Central Sudanic languages.

Uganda's population is predominately rural, and its population density is highest in the southern regions. Asians constituted the largest nonindigenous ethnic group in Uganda until 1972, when the Idi Amin regime expelled 50,000 Asians who had been engaged in trade, industry, and various professions. After Amin's overthrow in 1979, Asians slowly began returning, but Uganda's Asian population never reached its pre-1972 numbers.

An international study commissioned in 2009 by the British Parliament ominously observes that, "Of the top 20 failing states, 17 have populations increasing at close to 3% a year. In five of these 17 countries, women have an average of nearly seven children each. In all but six of the top 20 failing states, at least 40% of the population is under 15." Uganda has traveled a long way from failed-state status, but tellingly, it still ranks 21st out of 60 in the failed state index, in large part due to demographic trends.

Uganda's population nearly doubled from 1987 to 2007 and is increasing at an annual rate of 3.2%, fifth highest in the world. The population is growing by 1.2 million people each year, one of the highest absolute increases in the world. Ugandan women have an average of 6.7 children (vs. 2.1 in the U.S. and the 5.1 average for sub-Saharan Africa). Only four countries worldwide have higher fertility rates. More than 50% of the population is under the age of 15, and according to a report published by the non-governmental Population Reference Bureau (PRB), Uganda's ratio of those not in the labor force compared to those currently working is the highest in the world at 116%.

Following a period of sustained economic growth over the first decade of the 21st century, 31% of the very young Ugandan population still live on less than $1 a day and the health of the population remains weak. According to "The State of Uganda's Population Report 2008," published by the GOU's Population Secretariat with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), unchecked population growth is contributing to an increasingly unhealthy and under-productive Ugandan population: 12% of women of reproductive age are undernourished, while 38% of children under five years old demonstrate stunted growth.

The revised National Population Policy, whose theme is "Social Transformation and Sustainable Development," aims to ensure that all aspects of creating a quality population are addressed, including slowing the population growth rate that is now too high for the country's economy to sustain. Yet, President Museveni's own comments continue to indentify the population boom as a foundation for growth and transformation: "The wealth of a nation is not in the soils and stones. It is in its people, its population. I do not agree with the alarmism over the high rate of population growth...we need to educate our children, give them skills and create an enabling environment for employment and job creation. That way, we shall create wealth, make savings and Ugandans will invest and spur economic productivity and growth."

Unfortunately, what Museveni seemed unable to grasp was that while Uganda's economy had grown steadily, growth would need to increase dramatically to generate enough government revenue and new jobs to keep up with the ensuing population surge. Moreover, because the education system is underfunded and failing to keep pace with population growth, an overwhelming majority of young Ugandans are not acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to be competitive, productive, and prosperous in the 21st century economy.

The major factors influencing childhood mortalities in the country include maternal conditions (such as education, parity, age) birth order, nutritional status of the child, place of residence (rural or urban), HIV prevalence rates among pregnant women, malaria endemicity, wealth of households and place of delivery for newborns. The fundamental direct causes of childhood mortalities include: peri-natal conditions (such as pre-maturity, low birth weights and level of supervision during child birth), malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition and measles. These 7 conditions are responsible for more than 90% of the total childhood mortalities.

The HIV infection rate in the country was highest in the early 1990 but has since started declining and it now stands at less than 7% of the adult population. Uganda broadly has two types of malaria transmission whereby about 90% of the country lies in stable malaria transmission (predominantly in the eastern, northern and central parts of the country) and about 10% (that is predominantly in the western region of the country) is characterised by unstable malaria transmission and prone to epidemics.

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