English,Luganda,China and Development

1. It is true that USA has got no official language. It is again true that official languages are those designated by the law. However, a language can be considered to be de facto official language, meaning that although a language may have no official status in a particular country, it is the most commonly used language in that country and the one usually used in official settings. In other words, English is the de facto official language of the USA. It is considered the official language in practice if not in law. The US constitution and all federal legislation are also written in English. 30 of the US states already have got official languages. US naturalization laws standardize English.

2. It is also true that the US Senate voted in favour of making English the national language in 2006 according to the BBC(2006) (internet: available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4996512.stm ). 83% of the population of USA speak English. What I’m trying to say is that English is both the ‘official’ and ‘national’ language of USA whether it is endorsed by the law or not. It has got the hallmarks of both an official and national language of USA. That’s why I stated in my earlier message that Ugandans don’t need government legislation if they want to support Luganda as the national language. All they need is to promote it in their homes and the rest will just be a piece of cake.

3. Swahilli is already one of the official languages of Uganda, but like I stated, the decision was just political. Swahili does not qualify to be an official language of Uganda if we are to look at the basis of an official language. English is rightly the No 1 official language of Uganda and Kenya and I hope this status quo remains forever.

4. It is true that Swahili has got a bigger following in Sub Sahara Africa than Luganda. On the other hand, Luganda is more spoken than Swahili in Uganda. If we are looking for something national, then Luganda fits the bill very well.

5. In terms of technological advancement, this is just business by Microsoft. Both Swahili and Luganda are being technologically promoted in East Africa and Uganda respectively. Last year (2008), African software and language experts launched a project to translate Mozilla’s Firefox web browser into the local Ugandan language of Luganda.I also read something techological about Luganda in Bukedde in 2007,i guess.


6. A-China will always be on board with or without our people learning Chinese languages. China itself is promoting English for strategic reasons. Angola and DRC are some of the African countries that have got China as a strong key economic partner but they have got Portuguese and French as their official languages respectively. Angola president’s second visit to China in five months in December 2008 was an example of the strong partnership that exists between the two countries. Angola is now China’s largest-supplier of crude oil. The DRC government has also signed a series of landmark asset-backed deals with China, totaling around US$9.25 billion.


B-However, Language is a concern for foreign patent applicants. Both Chinese and English are the official languages of the Hong Kong SAR and it is only necessary to provide limited information in Chinese. In Hong Kong, traditional characters are still used, but in mainland China an application for a patent must be in simplified Chinese characters. Further, while some patent offices allow applicants to file in their own language and submit translations later, the Chinese Patent Office does not allow this.


7. Fifty-Five countries in the world have got English as their official language. So it’s not a delusional for any country to get on the band wagon anymore. So probably Rwanda is on the right track. Again, the politics between the current Rwanda government and France are very complicated just like the tensions between Tutsi and Hutus. So I don’t want to read much into why Lunyarwanda did not directly replace French. Kagame is really making the right decisions so far. Remember Rwanda was the first to come up with the idea of free primary education before Uganda.


One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. DM,

    Chinese and Spanish instead of German
    Though it is true, that Luganda is probably the most widely spoken language in Uganda. It would be very difficult to make Luganda the defacto official language of Uganda. As you have stated anonymously. Luganda is a very beautiful language in terms of vocabulary but like other African languages maybe difficult to use in legislation and modern terminology. However I also agree with you, that Luganda does not have to be the defacto or official language to be relevant with regard to recognition as a widely spoken Ugandan language.

    On the other hand we have Runyakitara/Lunyakitala, though it is not considered a language it is spoken and understood by people in Western and South western Uganda, Eastern Congo, North western Tanzania. It is also understood to some extent in Rwanda, and parts of Malawi. However some non western Ugandans might have already began to feel nauseous by that insinuation, so that would not qualify as a National defacto or official language.

    The reason that after independence there was an attempt to introduce Swahili as one of the national languages (besides English) is probably because it was felt that an African country should have an African language as one of its official languages as is the case with Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda in East Africa, so in my opinion this reason was of a Pan African nature, which is very reasonable to me as an African. Secondly, Swahili not being an indigenous local language would be more palatable to people who opposed Luganda or Runyakitara for ‘tribalistic reasons’, tribalistic not necessarily with a negative conotation, but an inherent desire to promote ones own culture over others which is very natural.

    However we could also look at other options for non-defacto languages that could be promoted in Uganda. As you have mentioned: Chinese currently spoken by more than 1.4 Billion people in China, as well as in the USA which has a large Chinese population (Hua Yi), Singapore, Malaysia, and to some extent Madagascar. It is also one of the 5 official languages of the UN, and with the level of development of China, it could be a good option for students in not only Uganda but also East Africa for business purposes. Although I will agree that many Chinese today are learning English in school and the need to speak Chinese may be irrelevant in the next 20-30 years. It could however replace languages like German on the curriculum, or in terms of priority for obvious reasons.

    Another important language is Spanish which like Chinese is an official UN language, and is spoken in Spain and most countries of South America, however this might also entail a regional preference or specialisation i.e. people with an interest in those regions.

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