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Census: Can NRM war rhetoric appeal to Uganda’s 30 million under-30s?

The recently released preliminary results of the 2024 census indicate that half of Uganda’s population is below the age of 17 years.

Published by the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (Ubos), the results reveal that Uganda’s population has increased by 11.3 million, rising from 34.6 million in 2014 to 45.9 million. The data shows that 51% (23.4 million) of the population are female, while males constitute 49% (22.4 million).

The census results also highlight Uganda as a predominantly young nation, with children aged zero to seventeen years making up 50.5% (23.1 million) of the population. Youth aged 18–30 years account for 22.7% (10.4 million), while older persons (60 and above) number 2.2 million (5.0%). Those aged 31–59 years represent 21.8% (10 million) of the total population.

Regionally, the Buganda area has the highest population, with 11 million people, followed by Busoga with 4.4 million, West Nile with 3.9 million, and Ankole with 3.6 million. Other notable population figures include Tooro at 3.4 million, Bunyoro at 2.8 million, Lango at 2.6 million, Teso at 2.5 million, Bukedi at 2.4 million, and Elgon at 2.2 million. Additionally, Acholi has 2 million people, Karamoja 1.5 million, Kigezi 1.8 million, and Kampala 1.9 million.

Currently, Uganda has the second-youngest population in Africa, with a median age of 15.7 years, trailing only Angola. Projections suggest that Uganda’s youthful population will double in the next 25 years. A World Bank study highlights that Ugandan children can only develop and exploit 38 per cent of their potential, primarily due to inadequate investment in health and education.

The ministry of Education has been criticized for emphasizing theoretical knowledge over practical skills, leading to a steady stream of job seekers rather than job creators. The report further reveals that Ugandan children lose approximately 2.5 years at both primary and secondary education levels due to the deficiencies in the education system.

Despite the increasing population and government efforts to propel the country forward, Uganda faces significant challenges, including rampant corruption and high youth unemployment.

The burgeoning youth demographic underscores the urgent need for increased funding in the health sector, educational reforms, and policy initiatives to foster national development and harness the potential of Uganda’s young population.


The one-million-dollar question is whether the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, which has been in power for 38 years, can remain relevant without adapting its messaging to address the concerns of the younger generation. Failure to do so may lead to increased disillusionment and potentially a shift in political allegiances.

Given the demographics, it is clear that the majority of Ugandans (70%) are younger than 30 and did not experience the liberation war. This presents a significant challenge for the ruling party, which has long relied on its wartime narrative to maintain power. A Ugandan political scientist, who declined to be named to speak freely, notes, “The ruling party’s reliance on the liberation war narrative has become less relevant to the younger generation, who are more concerned with bread-and-butter issues like jobs, education and healthcare.”

This shift in demographics and priorities means that the ruling party’s messaging, which has focused on past achievements, may no longer resonate with the majority of the population. The younger generation is more likely to prioritize issues that affect their daily lives rather than historical events. Another political commentator observed, “The liberation war narrative has been the ruling party’s trump card for years, but it’s a card that’s increasingly losing its value.”

To remain relevant, the ruling party must adapt its messaging to address the concerns of the younger generation. Ofwono Opondo, the government spokesperson, stated that when the NRM came to power, there were 16 million Ugandans, and the population has since jumped to 45.9 million people.

“Thirty million of them can’t make reference to how you found Uganda in 1986 to buy into your narrative,” he said.
“If the NRM continues to speak above this generation because the children aged 12 can influence decisions, are they not voters? They can be interviewed by the media; they can take pictures or post statements on social media,” Opondo added.

He noted that for the last 38 years, the NRM has been in power, speaking above Ugandans, and if they don’t change soon, they won’t sustain themselves through peaceful means. Peter Walubiri, senior counsel and political analyst, expressed skepticism about the government’s planning for the youth population.

“What we have are so-called revolutionaries who are just here to take care of their interests. Whatever they do in the name of the government is by accident. If they build a road, it is not because they want that road; it is because they want the commission, which is why they go for big infrastructure projects. They get their commission in the lump sum,” he said.

Walubiri emphasized that the large youth population, which could be an advantage to the country, can only be effectively planned for by a democratic government.

“The first thing to do is to grow the economy. If you don’t grow the economy, you won’t have the resources to run hospitals, schools, and create jobs. You need a government whose strategy is to grow the economy,” he stressed.

He criticized the NRM for thinking that the poor economy can be overtaxed to provide government revenue for social services.

“You can’t do that. Nobody is interested in ensuring that we grow our mineral sector, triple our agricultural sector production, and invest in the service sector. They are just sharing whatever is available for personal benefits; you see what is in the parliament,” Walubiri remarked.

“Forget about NRM leadership planning for this country; planning for the youth is a closed chapter. What we should be discussing is: how do we get them out of town? How do we put a responsible government in place to handle the momentous challenge of planning for the Ugandan population? It is a whole national crisis, and it can be done by the government after NRM,” he concluded.

Lawyer and national legal advisor of the Democratic Party, Luyimbazi Nalukoola, pointed out that Uganda has a large percentage of youth who are not only unemployed but also unemployable due to a lack of skills and proper nurturing.

“For every organised society with organised leadership, such a resource should have made it so proud because if you are young, the future of Uganda should have been bright. They are energetic, they can contribute to our GDP, industrial, agricultural, and other sectors of the economy,” he said.

Luyimbazi emphasized that the biggest challenge lies in the current leadership’s unwillingness to equip young people with the necessary skills to lead Uganda’s development.

“It is gratifying that our youth spend a lot of time on unproductive work and education because the leadership has not done the relevant work. We should ditch the teaching of theory and encourage practical courses for the young stars to realise their potential,” he noted.

This lack of effective leadership and relevant education is hindering the potential contributions of Uganda’s youth to the country’s economic sectors, highlighting the need for a shift towards practical skill development. Emmanuel Dombo, the director of Information and Publicity at the NRM secretariat, emphasized the importance of good health and quality education

for Uganda’s population aged zero to 17 years. “What the NRM has done is provide universal primary education and universal secondary education. This is in addition to the free immunization to ensure that they survive without dying,” Dombo stated. He highlighted that these measures aim to help children grow into responsible adults capable of supporting themselves, their families, and their country.


Dombo pointed out that the population growth and improved health outcomes indicate the success of the NRM’s health intervention programs.

“The population growth and its manifestation indicate that our health intervention programmes are working, which is why even the life expectancy of the people of Uganda has gone up over the years,” he said.

He acknowledged, however, that the current education system is predominantly theoretical and expressed hope that the new curriculum, which emphasizes practical skills and job creation, will address this issue. The government has also launched initiatives to skill youth, particularly those who dropped out of school or left without practical skills. Dombo mentioned the presidential initiative for the girl child
and the youth livelihood programme as key efforts to empower the youth.

However, he noted that these programs are often hampered by corruption among implementing officers.

“We believe that if we empower our youth, we will have a better country,” Dombo concluded, underscoring the need for integrity in the execution of these initiatives.

A source who asked to remain anonymous expressed concerns about the NRM government’s intentions regarding youth prosperity. Recently, the government blocked Facebook, a platform that many youths used to market their products.

“The dynamics and trends have changed, and young people are embracing technology to create solutions to various societal problems. The internet costs are too high, yet the world is using ICT to address challenges,” the source noted.

He emphasized that unless the government changes its attitude and creates policies that support the young generation in realizing their full potential, unemployment will remain a significant issue.

“The government needs to create policies that will best support the young generation. Without this change, unemployment will remain the order of the day,” he concluded.

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