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Luganda Isn’t Uganda’s Most Spoken Language


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Those that push for Luganda as a ‘national’ language on grounds of its widespread use base their argument on a misreading of the country’s demographics. Thus, the argument goes: according to the results of the national census, 18% of the population are Baganda, making them the majority.

Therefore, since they are the majority, Kiganda should be made the national lingua franca. The reality though is that, Baganda are the largest (or least small minority), and that is totally different from being a majority, which would probably be the case if the Baganda population was 50% or more.

In addition, the tendency to conflate ‘language’ with the naming of subethnic communities obscures the fact that, such tongues (if I may call them) like Runyoro, Rutoro, Runyankore, Rusongora and Rukiga are in reality not ‘languages’ in their own right, but they are dialects of a single language cluster. For example, those that argue in favour of Luganda on grounds of its ‘majority’ status will claim that, whereas Baganda are 18%, Banyankore are only 10%, so in terms of language, Luganda should take precedence over Runyankore.

However, Runyankore is not a language: it is a dialect of the Runyakitara language consisting of the 4Rs of Western Uganda or the WUBLA (Western Uganda Bantu Languages – Runyoro/Rutoro..including Rusongora..and Runyankore/Rukiga). Those dialects are more than 95% mutually intelligible to such an extent that, the national news broadcasting service always carries a joint news bulletin for them.

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Accordingly, Luganda can only be meaningfully and logically juxtaposed with Runyakitara. Hence, the picture that emerges is this: while Luganda is the mother tongue of 18% of Ugandans, Runyakitara is spoken by at least 25% of the population, i.e., Banyankore (11%), Bakiga (8%), Banyoro (3%), Batoro (3%).

Similarly, when we erroneously take Langi to be a ‘language’ but not the dialect that it actually is, we would hold the mistaken notion that, while Luganda is the language for 18% of the population, Langi is spoken by only 6% of Ugandans. However, Langi is a dialect of Luo, which is the language spoken by the Lango (6%), Acholi (4%), Alur (2%), Dhopadhola (2%) and also 90% intelligible for groups like the Jabwor (the interface between the Luo of Acholi and the Ateker..Jie); the Kumam (the interface between the Luo of Lango with the Ateker…Teso) and the Chope of Nakasongola and Masindi…Pawir. When you add up the Luo speakers, they may come close to the 18% Luganda speakers.

When the situation is looked at in the sub-regional context, i.e., interlacustrine region, another picture emerges. Whereas Baganda are the only community that lack cross-border ethnic affiliations, most of the major groups were bisected by the Berlin borders. While Luganda is spoken only by a Ugandan indigenous group, Luo is spoken in by indigenous groups in North Eastern DRC (the Lendu), South Eastern Sudan (the Acholi of Opari District in Equatoria province, the home of the largest of the Acholi clans); Kenya in Nyanza province), Ethiopia (the Anuak), Tanzania (the Luo Kavirondo of Mara District). Runyarwanda, the language of 6% of the population of Uganda is spoken by the largest ethnic grouping in the Great Lakes , the Banyarwanda. Rwamba is spoken by Banande of DRC, Runyakitara is spoken in much of Northwestern Tanzania and large swathes of North Kivu in DRC. This is the case for at 19 Ugandan communities.

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The point here is, even if one does not go into the arguments regarding the merits of Kiswahili (which are legion ), the fact is Luganda is perilously imprisoned within the entrails of Uganda, compared with many other languages that are transnational and supra-ethnic. This is what makes it imperative for us to think more in terms of the realities on the ground rather than being driven by devotion to our narrow groups.

Those of us that tend to very easily drift into the emotional tirades against the so-called “ Buganda haters” would do well by reflecting on the perceptive words of Senator Frank E. Moss:

“Whether for the individual or for the nation, self is best served by transcending self.”

This Article was Written by Lance Corporal (Rtd) Patrick Otto via the UAH forum

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