The debate on national language is ongoing

By Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba

Dear Ugandans,

I'm yet to know why the Bunyoro kingdom spokesperson, Sir Henry Ford Mirima, one time addressed me as 'omunyoro semuwemba' but I'm here to plead with Banyoro and the rest of Ugandans to back Luganda as the national language of Uganda because this debate is ongoing. All I know is that one day this issue will be revisited by the parliament of Uganda because laws change with the dynamics of the society, and I ask those who consider themselves to be nationalists to consider making Luganda the national language of the country. These debates on national or official language are reviewed from time to time. Remember, English defeated German by 1 vote to become the official language of USA in a congressional debate in 1795. And this was because more than 45 million Americans say that their ancestry is German. Spanish speakers also make up a big percentage in USA (estimated to be around 40 millions).Right now, English is has been accepted as the 'official' language of the USA.

We should not worry about the politicians in Uganda because they make policies depending on how they benefit from the situations. So this debate is not concluded at all. Because the politicians don't want to offend the non-Baganda voting bloc, which is becoming larger every year, the trick is to play both sides, giving non-baganda what they want (making swahilli the second official language of the Uganda) while not losing the Baganda vote. They do that by trying to justify Swahilli as our language by using many ruses, hoping that one of them resonates with as many Ugandans as they can, such as: 1) Swahilli is spoken by many tribes in East Africa; 2) Swahilli is the language that can unite different tribes in Uganda; 3) How can Uganda be ashamed to adopt other languages?

Please let us not beef up this issue of a national language into Baganda arrogance and lose sight of what is best for the country. The truth is that one is free to speak whatever one wants, but the big problem is when you have 52 people speaking 52 different languages in one room then you have a major organizational problem. This is why I think a national language like Luganda is necessary, because it is at least spoken by several tribes in the country. It is unfair that indigenous African languages in Africa do not enjoy the status of national language because Africa has got a lot of tribes. We need to go around this problem by agreeing to at least one language.

Declaring Luganda as our national language will be a good thing for the country in the long term. Requiring immigrants to Uganda to be able to speak and write Luganda will be a needed requirement. The national language is the language in which commerce is conducted, the language used in public education, the language embraced by government. To have a foreign language as one's national language carries a very deep message of the lack of self-determination and one's liberties.

USA has got more languages than all of Uganda combined but they managed to agree that English becomes their national language. In 2006 the USA voted in favour of English as the national language despite having Spanish and other languages being spoken in the country. Actually, they didn't exactly use the words "national language." Instead, they chose to call it a "common and unifying language." Whatever way they called it, it was a good start. If you want to come to the United States and be a part of the culture or become a citizen, you should have to learn English. The same was recently started here in the UK. For too long, Ugandans have coddled people who expect to come in the country from all directions and continue speaking whatever language where they came from. This needs to stop as soon as we get Luganda as our national language. In fact, before anyone is granted Uganda citizenship, one should be given a simple Luganda language test. If you cannot demonstrate your ability to speak the native language, you're out. Go home, learn Luganda and then apply again, as simple as.

I have also been impressed with some non-Baganda women who dress in a kiganda way and speak luganda on their weddings because they are indirectly promoting nationhood. Nationhood usually involves some combination of a national language, diet, dress, religion, physical appearance, etc. If somebody's Swedish, the safe bet is that he's a blond Lutheran who's eaten lutefisk, and if he's Italian, I'd guess he's Catholic, brunette, and eats pasta. If he is British, he should somehow like our traditional fish and chips.We can promote our national identity without necessary being Baganda by tribe.

I would also like to pint out that we missed a chance of adopting English as the official language of East Africa and instead went for Swahilli but all these things are reversible if people can see these things clearly without bringing a lot of tribal pride or prejudice in it. Please let us keep English as Uganda's official language and promote Luganda as the national language. Whatever policies the current government came up with on this issue can be changed by the will of the people. So the matter is still in your hands.

Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba