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From Trade to Regional Integration: The Checkered History of Kiswahili in Uganda

  • Isabella SoiEmail author
Living reference work entry

Abstract

Unlike in other Eastern African countries, notably Kenya and Tanzania, Kiswahili did not become an official language or lingua franca in Uganda until very recently. Using both secondary sources and archival material, this chapter aims to explore the reasons behind this (partial) marginalization, analyzing the history of the language in Uganda since it arrived there in the mid-1800s. It explores why, after a period of great popularity, Kiswahili began to be neglected and lost its currency among the Buganda elite.

Kiswahili arrived from the east coast with Arab traders and spread thanks in part to the increase in the number of practicing Muslims in the kingdom of Buganda. In the late 1800s, during the so-called religious wars and the consequent marginalization of the Muslim community, Kiswahili suffered the same fate. A few decades later, it became one of Uganda’s main languages thanks to Muslim president Idi Amin Dada. The president’s army was notorious for the violence they used in their dealings with the population, and since Kiswahili was the language of the army, it started being considered as the language of violence – a language used by soldiers (and Muslims). After the end of the Amin regime, Kiswahili fell into decline once again, and it has only been with the new National Resistance Movement language policy and the resurgence of the East African Community in the late 1990s that it has regained a (partially) central role in Ugandan life.

The proposal that it be made the official language of the East African Community has fueled the debate on the use of Kiswahili and its role in Ugandan society, and for many it remains a symbol of the country’s turbulent past. This chapter argues that its history and connections with the Muslim community and to an even greater extent, with the army, have sealed the language’s fate, leading to the current tensions and resistance to the East African Community’s choice. Despite being marginalized and not widely spoken, Kiswahili remains a controversial topic and a powerful symbol in Ugandan society.

Keywords

East Africa Marginalized language Muslim East African Community Uganda Trade Integration Kiswahili 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Università degli Studi di CagliariCagliariItaly

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