The 2002 Population and Housing Census was launched by the district administration last week. It provides fascinating reading for those interested in learning more about Apac, northern Uganda or ‘rural Africa’. The census was carried out one night almost exactly five years ago, between 12-13 September. As such it captures one moment in the journey of this corner of the world. The main difference between the conditions of life that night and today is the cessation of hostilities by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Another difference is the creation of a new district last year, Oyam district, which was carved out of Apac, but the census has been adjusted accordingly.
The first piece of staggering statistics concerns the number of individuals with a higher education. 317 is the number of people in the whole district of Apac with a completed university degree or above. These 317 graduates make up 0.1 per cent of the population. The census does not detail their livelihoods but it is safe to assume that they work for the district administration, in organisations in the civil society sector, at Apac referral hospital, and, perhaps, teach at secondary schools. There are also 115 people with incomplete degrees, 4035 people who hold certificates or diplomas, and 1594 with incomplete certificates or diplomas. This means that 97.78 per cent of the population holds less formal education than that of a secondary school qualification.
The figure of 317 degree holders does not signify that only 317 people from Apac went to university; rather it means that the well-educated Langi from Apac did not return to Apac after completing their degrees. The reality is that there are few jobs: the public administration can only absorb a limited number of graduates and the civil society sector does not look set to expand with larger organisations which can afford to pay university graduates. (During the past three months three NGOs – ActionAid Apac, Uganda Society for Disabled Children and Uganda Cooperative Alliance – have relocated or phased out their operations). Another factor is the number of graduates who die of AIDS. As graduates from Apac find jobs elsewhere, mainly in Kampala, Lira or Gulu, the district is experiencing a ‘brain drain’.
The brain drain in Apac has consequences for the development of the district, just like it does in Africa as a whole, from where over 300,000 highly skilled professionals have migrated to Europe and North America (according to the International Organisation for Migration). Like a microscopic version of its continent, Apac faces the question of how to attract talent when one is relatively poor: In a world where workers sell their skills for money, how does Apac compete for labour against much more well-resourced places?