With over 200 million speakers, the Swahili language is one of Africa’s most widely spoken languages, especially in Eastern Africa. This Bantu language serves as the official language of a few countries and is one of the main languages spoken in other countries. But wait…How many Swahili-speaking countries are in Africa? What made the Swahili language so popular? And how can you learn Swahili? These questions will be duly answered. So, without further ado, let’s deep dive into this list of Swahili-speaking countries in Africa.
Swahili Language: History, Language Family And Adaptation
The Swahili language originates from the Bantu languages spoken widely in the coastal regions of East Africa in the last centuries. During the Colonial period, the Arabs came around for trade and used the Swahili language for trade amongst the Bantu, teaching them the Islam religion in the Swahili language. Due to this influence, the Swahili language was initially written in the Arabic alphabet. But after many years and the Germans took over, they made Swahili an official language and changed the Arabic alphabet into the Latin one, which is still being used today.
Now, Swahili speakers can be found in several countries in East Africa and have even become an official language in two countries. Let’s take a look at some countries that currently speak Swahili.
When you think of a Swahili-speaking country, the first country that comes to mind is Tanzania. Tanzania has the highest number of Swahili speakers, with more than 80% of the country speaking Swahili. The Swahili language is the official language of Tanzania, and it was initiated in 1964 when Tanganyika and Zanzibar united as a nation. It was a way to unify the language of the people.
As the country’s Lingua franca, Swahili is actively taught in primary and secondary schools and is spoken widely throughout Tanzania. There are different dialects of Swahili, but you don’t have to worry because they are quite understandable.
The second country on the list of Swahili-speaking countries in Africa is Kenya. Kiswahili is the national language of Kenya and is mandated to be taught in primary and secondary schools. Unlike Tanzania, Swahili serves more as a secondary language when communicating with other tribes. Kenya has different ethnic groups with unique languages. Therefore, to ensure communication, Swahili serves as the unifying language among the people.
There are over 24 million speakers in Uganda, and the majority dwell in the city of Kampala. In 2022, the Ugandan government officiated Swahili as one of the official languages alongside French and English and has mandated that the Swahili language be taught in primary and secondary schools, promoting Swahili.
Although there are other widely spoken languages in Uganda, like the Frech language, Swahili also takes its place and is spoken by most people.
The Democratic Republic Of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo is another country that has Swahili as one of its numerous languages. Basically, it is surrounded by Swahili-speaking neighboring countries like Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and a lot more.
Although Swahili is not an official language and there are over 200 languages spoken in DRC, Swahili tops these languages, and it is estimated that 10 million people speak Swahili. The concentration of Swahili speakers is mostly found in North Kivu and the capital city of DRC, Kinshasa.
Swahili is a minority language in Somalia and is not widely spoken. However, you will find a few citizens speaking Swahili who are primarily citizens who had lived in Kenya and came back home to settle down; or other Swahili speakers from other countries trading in Somalia. You will find the majority of Swahili speakers in Banjunbi islands and Brava town.
There are more than three million Swahili speakers in Rwanda, and although it isn’t the most popular language, it is spoken between different ethnic tribes. You will find different concentrations of Swahili speakers depending on where you go in Rwanda.
Swahili is recognized as an official minority language in Mozambique and is commonly spoken in the Nothern part of Mozambique. Portuguese and English are the major spoken languages, but a minority speak Swahili, mostly for business and trade.
Last but not least is Comoros Island. The locals speak Comorian, a language considered to be a Swahili dialect is Comoros. Some scholars believe that Comorian is an independent language, while others believe that it is a Swahili dialect. Either way, Comorian sounds similar to Swahili.
It is no doubt that the Swahili language is widely spoken in the East African community, which makes it one of the most important languages to learn in Africa, especially if you are traveling to Kenya or Tanzania. In fact, the African Union adopted Swahili as one of the official languages.
Want to learn more than just the countries that speak Swahili? You can learn the Swahili language! If you are wondering how to start learning Swahili, then check out the Ling App!
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