Though Kiswahili (often called Swahili) is the official tongue of the East African Community, an economic bloc, and advocates say wider use of the language would make Uganda more competitive in the regional trade market, Ugandans have bad memories of its use by troops of violent dictator Idi Amin. The training of one teacher per school began two years ago, and the government hopes to place Kiswahili teachers in every school in the country, but funding is an issue, and both government officials and those who speak other native languages oppose the move.
KAMPALA, UGANDA — Lillian Namusisi was trained in college to teach Kiswahili. She taught the language at Nakasero Primary School, but none of the children sat for exams for the language.
“I taught it here from primary four, five, six and seven, but it was not [tested] by Uganda National Examinations Board,” she says.
Eventually, Kiswahili courses were removed from the options at primary schools, Namusisi says. Now, she teaches music and English.
Kiswahili, often called Swahili, is the official language of the East African Community, which has a Kiswahili Commission to promote its use throughout the region and to assist member states in training Kiswahili teachers. Uganda’s membership in the EAC comes with an obligation to promote the use of Kiswahili, and advocates of the language say it will make Uganda competitive in the regional trade market. The language is widely spoken in other EAC countries.
But that’s complicated in Uganda, where Kiswahili, though it’s the native language in some parts of the country, has negative connotations for many people. It was the official language under President Idi Amin, a violent dictator who forced its use throughout the government and among his security forces, and many Ugandans prefer not to use it.
Patrick Muinda, the assistant commissioner for information and communications technology and information management in the Ministry of Education and Sports, says some progress is being made: The language was first implemented in technical colleges three years ago. There, all teachers are required to learn the language.
But the recruitment of Kiswahili teachers for all schools in Uganda hasn’t occurred yet, because of the cost of such a task, he says.
“In the interim, training of one teacher per school is currently ongoing, and a number of teachers have already been trained,” Muinda says. “The intention in the long run is to roll out teaching of Swahili in all Ugandan schools.”
The training of one teacher per school began two years ago.
Over time, the government will guide recruitment of Kiswahili teachers for all schools in the country, specifically targeting teachers who have already studied the language, he says.
Perpetua Arinaitwe, a Kiswahili curriculum specialist with the National Curriculum Development Centre in the Ministry of Education and Sports, says the language hasn’t been prioritized by the government.
Arinaitwe says her department trained 130 teachers and 620 tutors and developed curriculum materials that were piloted in a number of schools, but the full Kiswahili program hasn’t been rolled out, due to a lack of funds.
The language’s history in Uganda limits people’s ability to adapt to using it now, Arinaitwe says.
“People deep in communities do not have the right information about the use of Kiswahili as a language,” Arinaitwe says. “They related it to language used by soldiers to intimidate locals.”
But Yunusu Lubuuka, the president of Chama Kyakiswahili Kya Tanya Uganda, an association of Kiswahili teachers and other supporters of the language, says Ugandans will increasingly be at an economic disadvantage if they don’t learn the language.
Lubuuka says his organization is conducting research to present to the government on how to implement Kiswahili in Uganda. The language can’t get a toehold in the nation because so many people, including government officials, oppose it, he says.
There’s also plenty of opposition from Ugandans in areas where other languages are commonly spoken.
Noah Kiyimba, spokesman for the Buganda Kingdom, a subnational entity in Uganda, says it’s better to develop a local language than a foreign one.
“They say we shall benefit in the East African Community, but when you look at the Swahili of Kenya, it is different from that of Tanzania,” he says.
Luganda should be Uganda’s official language, since most Ugandans already speak it, he says.
Ugandans who wish to learn Swahili should make individual efforts to do so, as with any other foreign languages, he says.
Namusisi, the would-be Kiswahili teacher, is just one among a handful of teachers who were trained to teach the language but never had a chance to fully put the training to use.
Anne Turihohabwe says she participated in a long-term course over four years to learn to train other teachers.
“But the minister later came and told us government had other priorities,” she says. “Kiswahili was not rolled out countrywide.”
Now, Turihohabwe has doubts as to whether it makes sense to add Kiswahili to Uganda’s languages.
“They say children come from home speaking their mother tongue, then speak English at school; adding Swahili would confuse them,” she says.
But Arinaitwe, the Kiswahili curriculum specialist, says her department is developing sample papers to help determine how the language should be tested.
It’s important that Ugandans learn Kiswahili, she says. They’ll lose business if they don’t.
“Communication is a vessel to everything,” she says.
All sources were interviewed in English