Uganda: The Country and Its Languages - Part 2
The official language of Uganda is English, while Swahili and Luganda are widely used.
In Uganda, Christianity is widespread, making up approximately 84% of Uganda’s population. 39% of the population are Roman Catholic, with 32% following the Anglican Church of Uganda. The remainder of the Christian population belongs to Pentecostal and Evangelical churches. The next largest religious group in Uganda is Islam, with 12% of the population being Muslims. Most of these are Sunni, with a small population belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Other smaller groups include Bahai, other non-Christian religions, or people with no religious affiliation.
The Languages of Uganda
The official language of Uganda is English, while Swahili and Luganda are widely used. Other languages used are Bantu and Nilotic. Even though Uganda has many different ethnic groups, none of them form a majority population. There are currently approximately 40 different languages currently being used in Uganda.
Following independence, English became Uganda’s official language, with Ugandan English being a local variant dialect. Luganda is the most widely spoken local language, and this is predominantly spoken by the Baganda people in the urban areas of Kampala, and in the localities and towns which encompass Kampala in the Buganda region. Then we have the Runyankore-Rukiga and Lusoga languages, which are predominantly spoken in the south-western and south-eastern parts of Uganda. In the year 2005, Swahili was approved as Uganda’s second official national language: this language is used widely throughout both Eastern and Central East Africa.
The Debate over Uganda’s Official Language
The three languages mentioned when debating Uganda’s official language are English, Luganda, and Swahili. It’s a controversial subject because many people believe that more languages should be elevated to national language status. It’s interesting to note that South Africa has 11 official languages, while Zimbabwe has 15. The Swahili language was proposed as Uganda’s second official language, but as yet has not been ratified. English is used for all formal communications when it comes to government, politics, the judiciary, and education; while Swahili and Luganda are languages used for inter-ethnic communication.
Swahili and Luganda
Swahili features on notices in courts of law and on Ugandan shilling notes; while Luganda is the language of the largest ethnic group in central Uganda. It’s the language of inter-ethnic communication and is used as a lingua franca - it’s used in media and telecommunications, education, trading, urban hip-hop, and in church.
Second to English, Luganda is the most widely spoken indigenous language. The Baganda are the native speakers of Luganda and they constitute 18% of Uganda’s population. In 1912, Luganda became the government’s official language, but it was replaced in 1928 by Swahili due to complaints from other ethnic groups. This was contested by the people and Luganda was subsequently reinstated as the administration’s official language. Even today, locals prefer to use Luganda in education over their local languages due to the belief that it opens doors to urban life. But it’s been repeatedly turned down as a potential national language.
It was during the colonial period that English gained its status as a language for aristocrats and government officials. English was associated with status and prestige - a higher social class, and even today English is still considered by Ugandans to be the road to a better life.
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