Politicians in Uganda are currently debating whether or not to make Kiswahili and French compulsory subjects in the country’s school system. As two of the official languages of the East African Community (EAC), both languages play a prominent role in neighboring countries. However, according to some Ugandan politicians, the country lags behind its neighbors in terms of linguistic unity, as neither language is a mandatory subject in Ugandan schools.
Adopting a policy of compulsory French and Kiswahili education could help the country become better equipped to navigate international affairs, according to Rebecca Kadaga, Uganda’s minister in charge of East African Community affairs. Uganda is home to several dozen Indigenous languages, but English and Kiswahili are the only languages with official status in the country. Following the country’s independence from the UK in the early 1960s, English was adopted as the country’s only official language, partly because the nation’s vast linguistic diversity made it difficult for politicians to agree on any other official language. Kiswahili gained official status in 2005—the language plays a particularly prominent role in surrounding countries, where it had been adopted as an official language much earlier.
Currently, the Ugandan census does not include linguistic data, so it can be difficult to estimate how many fluent and/or native speakers of the country’s official languages there are. In the 1970s, however, roughly 35% of the country spoke Kiswahili fluently. Each language serves as a lingua franca for the numerous ethnic and linguistic communities residing in the country; however, Indigenous languages like Luganda are most prominent at the local level. The EAC, an organization of seven countries located in East Africa, recently adopted French as an official language, reflecting the language’s widespread use throughout the region, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. While Uganda was not colonized by any French-speaking countries, politicians like Kadaga argue that the language maintains an important role across the African continent, where it is spoken by more than 140 million people (who are mostly concentrated in West and Central Africa, however).
Kadaga will propose mandatory French and Kiswahili education in an address to the cabinet of Uganda before it can be considered by the country’s parliament. Currently, Kiswahili is a mandatory subject in secondary schools but not at the primary level. French is also a common option for students in the country but is not mandatory at any level.
Before adopting any policy that would make the two languages compulsory subjects, some politicians in the country would like the EAC to fund training centers to ensure that the country’s educational infrastructure is fit to teach students both languages adequately.