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The Most Popular Languages in East Africa Region

Over 263 million people in East Africa authoritatively speak Kiswahili as a binding language to execute their day-to-day activities in business. Across borders within the region, the key opportunities are for the population of over 300 million people in countries like Kenya and Tanzania, whose national language is Kiswahili; the language diversifies further in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kiswahili is so popular, along with border points, where most business hubs breed.

In December 2021, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed Swahili among the 10 most widely spoken languages in the world, with more than 200 million speakers.

The opportunity in numbers lies with the inelastic demand for goods and services and the business community has to come up with strategic ways of doing business, which has forced people to learn the language on demand for survival instincts.

According to Mark Omoding, a Digital Marketing Strategist, it is a fact that though most Kenyans portray exemplary skills in written English, they are way below average in spoken English and would quickly go for Swahili if given the opportunity. “If you are in Kenya, I invite you to walk along the river road where Indian business tycoons have dominated the automobile spares business. Most of them have lived in Kenya for long enough to converse in Swahili. Oh, and their businesses are doing great. The trend is similar in Kisumu, Eldoret, Bungoma, Mombasa, Meru, and all other major towns in Kenya. so, Swahili is very important for Business in East Africa,” he said

He added that in Tanzania, Swahili has dominated so knowing Swahili will be a big plus for your business.

In Uganda, Swahili is not as popular, making it a non-factor in your business. However, in Malaba, Tororo, and Busia, among other border areas with neighbors and some catchy areas within Kampala, Swahili is used due to frequent interaction with visitors from neighboring countries and security forces; it is official language.

Uganda, Rwanda, and South Sudan teach Swahili in their curriculum and Swahili can have a major positive impact on your business. As the region integrates into creating a continental market, one needs to know which language is popular in the market.

The 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union, which was held in Niamey on July 7, 2019, was a momentous occasion for Africa, as it saw the successful launch of the operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which was founded in 2018, with trade commencing as of January 1, 2021, with Swahili among the priority languages along with Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and others.

Our Translation Services in the East African Community (EAC) cover English and Kiswahili as the two most popular languages in East Africa, comprising mainly the Bantu, Nilotic, Hamites, Cushite, and Tutsi ethnic groups.

Apart from Kiswahili, Rwandans and Burundians are already fluent in French. These same views suggest that, in order to effectively tap into regional, continental, and global markets, EAC should consider having English, Swahili, and French as official languages and promote their teaching in all schools across the EAC Partner States. This will enable EAC to exploit the language advantage in various economic blocs as a medium of communication, service delivery, and economic development, among others.

Uganda is among those few countries that don’t have a common stand on national language. However, Luganda, English, and Kiswahili take center stage and cross regions. As a result, people in different regions of this country speak their own desired languages, such as Acholi, Alur, Ateso, Karamanjong, Lango, Lugbar, Lugwere, Lusoga, Luo, Rukiga, Runyankore, and Rutooro, among the 55 languages.

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