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Why it has taken Uganda so long to embrace Swahili

Why it has taken Uganda so long to embrace Swahili

There is an old east African joke that Kiswahili was born in Zanzibar, grew up in mainland Tanzania, fell sick in Kenya, died in Uganda, and was buried in Democratic Republic of Congo.

The joke’s origin is unknown, but whoever came up with it chose to kill Kiswahili, the language of the Swahili people, in Uganda because it’s the only one of the countries mentioned where Africa’s most spoken language isn’t a lingua franca. That’s changing, amid a national push to embrace it. “We need it for Uganda to be on equal footing with our sister states,” says Charles Nuwagaba, professor of economics at Makerere University in Kampala, the capital.

After years of trying to incorporate Kiswahili into the school curriculum, Uganda has finally decided to make it mandatory. Lack of government commitment, a shortage of teachers and materials, and opposition from sections of the public have in the past hindered the introduction of the language into classrooms. But now the government is more committed, and opposition is waning.

“We want every Ugandan schoolchild to have a working knowledge of Kiswahili,” says Angella Kyagaba, a senior curriculum specialist at the government-run National Curriculum Development Centre.

Uganda is the only East African Community country where Swahili isn’t a lingua franca

Uganda is a member of the East African Community, a regional intergovernmental organization founded in 1999 and headquartered in Tanzania. In 2016, the East African Legislative Assembly, the group’s legislative arm, passed a resolution urging the organization to amend its treaty “to provide for Kiswahili as one of the official languages of the community.”

Its members also include Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, and DRC. In 2017, the organization’s Council of Ministers directed all member countries to come up with national language policies to institutionalize Kiswahili as one of the official languages of the East African Community.

More than 200 million people worldwide speak Kiswahili. It’s already a national and official language in Kenya and Tanzania, which along with Uganda are founding members of the regional organization, and one of four national languages in DRC, which joined in March and signed the group’s treaty in April. In Kenya, the language is mandatory for the first 12 years of formal schooling. In Tanzania, it’s the language of instruction in primary schools.

Swahili in Uganda is associated with an oppressive military regime

In the past, many Ugandans, especially those who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, strongly opposed Kiswahili because they associated the language with death and destruction. To some, it was a language of thieves. The negative sentiments originated in Uganda’s long history of coups and civil wars, which led to egregious human rights abuses.

Some of the worst atrocities happened between 1971 and 1979, during the regime of Gen. Idi Amin, whose dictatorship might have killed as many as 300,000…

Read Full Story At: Quartz Africa.

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