Vision 2040: Making A Case For Swahili Language

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So, some of us who have for life vowed never to cease dreaming are still grinning in binoculars at the view of a transformed Ugandan society from a peasant and low income to a modern upper middle class and prosperities country right in the nearing future. (At least someone has warned you before to stop dreaming and die!)

Those questions of feasibility and implementation practicability, the answer is; we as Ugandans have thirty good years right ahead of us which we may choose to put to good use in attaining these good goals or waste in lip service.

To wring the best out of these high expectations set in the vision, everybody will seem to agree that Ugandans are aspiring for a strong national unity and harmony and a good mode of communication is one of those shortcuts that will get us there without much jostle.


With around sixty different indigenous dialects, Uganda is one such country where a sentence in a given dialect in one locality can easily be considered foreign right in the next fifty miles of travel.

Nonetheless, facts reveal that there are three main languages most spoken and understood namely; English, Luganda and Kiswahili – which we shall call Swahili for purposes of this story – and perhaps Runyankore as a distant forth. But the real battle if we had to choose the official language next to English would be between Luganda and Swahili.

The closest of course we have ever gotten towards hitting such a landmark was way back in 1970’s when President Amin constituted a National Forum of experts from across the country to discuss and advise government on such pertinent matters.

After lengthy deliberations on what our next official language ought to be, the issue was put to vote and Swahili took the day.

Unfortunately according to available information, it appeared as though government lacked certainty on what to do next. Apart from news casts on radio and television in Swahili, no deliberate efforts were made to enhance its popularity, and everything later fell apart after the fall of Amin.

Turning back to a man that has been in charge of this country for the last 27 years, if anybody ought to be held responsible for whatever the future holds for our beloved motherland, that person is none other than the president himself.

Outstandingly passionate about his culture and dialect, His Excellency has gone as far as compiling a fully fledged Runyankore- Rukiga Thesaurus (dictionary).

His efforts toward demystifying negative youth’s perceptions about African culture, teaching rich vernacular vocabularies as well as setting a springboard for a better understanding of Bantu Languages, all comprises a better portion of his great legacy across the region.

It however remains rather daunting how through all these nearly three decades of leadership, and the relentless calls for East African unison (read federation), he is still eluded of a good will to coin up a unifying element in form of an inter-ethnical mode of communication for his diverse beloved population.

It’s imperative to bear in mind that Swahili was introduced in the country way before the coming of Europeans and was used as a trade language and later by colonial officials to suit administrative and educational convenience.

Currently Swahili is the lingua franca for our national security forces and that is where my childhood budding fantasy for the dialect later evolved into a steamy passion.

I once was accustomed to fetching two jerry cans of water from a distant well to earn 200 shilling daily to purchase cigarettes for a close relative that had returned from the army having joined as a kadogo, in exchange for teaching me five new Swahili words every day!

The fervor thrived through secondary school and my grades at A’ level came second to none in our district that year. Today I make a case for the language on grounds that through all this time I failed to ascertain any of the accusations by most of school going children today that Swahili is too complex to learn.

Some of them who levied such malicious accusations actually excelled in Physics, Arabic while others had Shakespeare works on their fingertips.

Other confrontations stem mainly from central Uganda thanks to some suspicion by the ‘grandchildren of Kintu’ that Swahili may threaten their deeply cherished language.

But of course this ought to be allayed right away that Swahili and Ugandan local dialects cannot be foes; in fact they exist symbiotically, borrowing from each other.

In Luganda for instance, you have such words as Kuziika, Kwanika, Muntu, Mwana, Mwaka, Muzito, and hundred others all seemingly borrowed from Swahili or vice versa. Many of such cases I could give from Runyakitara and other western dialects if not for shortage of space.

Prof. Nsimbe a Makerere University lecturer from the institute of languages (a Muganda), advises Ugandans, that like people of the west, (Europe and America) we should all endeavor to learn other languages because it is then that a person would be exposed to a ‘sea of knowledge’ (enyanja y’amagezi).

Finally last week we all woke up to some rather weird news that Uganda ranks highest in the region in terms of having a well-off population. A report by World Bank and IMF revealed that poverty rates in Kenya are higher than in Uganda despite the former having a much bigger economy.

Using the cutoff rates of $1.25 per person formula, the report placed Uganda’s poverty rates stands at 38.17% while that of Kenya stood at 43.37%. Rwanda stood at 63.17% Tanzania 67.87% while Burundi trailed with 81.32%.

This not only comes in as a ray of hope for our future economy, but also to neutralize negative forces that work toward disheartening Ugandans by pulling them to a negative psychosomatic poverty confinement.

To realize the poverty eradication Millennium Development Goal in Uganda there is need to shake off any form of protectiveness, fears and narrow-mindedness; and one way of doing this would be to embrace for ourselves the Swahili language among others.

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