Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 5, No 2 (2011)

KiSwahili: the lingua franca of Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda

Calisto Mudzingwa
Issued Date: 15 Jul 2012


This study examines the complex linguistic situation in Nakivale Refugee Settlement (Nakivale), and demonstrates that, for practical and pragmatic reasons, KiSwahili is emerging as the lingua franca, which needs to be actively promoted by the authorities. Nakivale is located in southwestern Uganda. The refugee settlement was started in 1959, and is of a more permanent nature. An estimated 80,000 people (refugees and Ugandans) reside in Nakivale, in the same settlement, sharing, among other things, health facilities, water, land, administrative services and educational facilities. The huge diversity of nationalities (nine, excluding one Liberian) translates into massive linguistic complexity, making communication across nationalities a nightmare. Lack of a common language breeds mistrust, tension, animosity and at times outright hostility. It is natural that a lingua franca is emerging in Nakivale; it is logical, practical and pragmatic that the lingua franca is KiSwahili. This paper recommends that the Government of Uganda, particularly the administrators of the settlement, together with humanitarian workers actively promote KiSwahili, by, for example, teaching it in schools in Nakivale and creating informal KiSwahili classes for adults. It is envisaged that a common language would bring harmony, stability and meaningful social interaction among the refugees.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/sols.v5i2.347


Ali, H. O., and Juma, A. (2010) Swahili language and culture. Retrieved 7 September 2010 from

Allen, J. de V. (1992) Swahili origins: Swahili culture and the Shungwaya phenomenon. London: J Currey.

Appleyard, D. (1998) Language death: the case of Qwarenya (Ethiopia). In M. Brenzinger (ed.) Endangered languages in Africa 143–162. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.

Bagenda, E., Naggaga, A. and Smith, E. (2003) Land problems in Nakivale settlement and the implications for refugee protection in Uganda. Refugee Law Project Working Paper No. 8.

Chimerah, R. (1998) KiSwahili: past, present and future horizons. Nairobi: Nairobi University Press.

CIA Factbook (2010) Somalia. Retrieved 7 September 2010 from library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/so.html.

Ferguson, C. A. (1996) Sociolinguistics perspectives: papers on language in society. 1959-1994. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gingyera-Pinycwa, A. G. G. (1998) Uganda and the problem of refugees. Kampala: Makerere University Press.

GTZ. (27 April 2010) Interview with GTZ. Nakivale Refugee Settlement, Uganda.

Holmes, J. (1992) An introduction to sociolinguistics. New York: Longman.

Human Rights Watch (2010) Kenya: Police abuse Somali refugees. Retrieved 7 September 2010 from

Kiapi, A. (1998) The legal status of refugees in Uganda: a critical study of legislative instruments. In A. G. G. Gingyera-Pinycwa (ed.) Uganda and the problem of refugees. Kampala: Makerere University Press.

Lomo, Z., Naggaga, A. and Hovil, L. (2001) The phenomenon of forced migration in Uganda: an overview of policy and practice in an historical context. Refugee Law Project Working Paper No. 1.

Mekacha, R. D. K. (1993) Sociolinguistic impact of KiSwahili on ethnic community languages in Tanzania: A case study of Ekinat. Bayreuth: Bayreuth University.

Mous, M. (2003) Loss of linguistic diversity in Africa. In M. Janse and S. Tol (eds) Language death and language maintenance: theoretical, practical and descriptive approaches 157–170. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Norwegian Council for Africa. (2005) Uganda: Refugee policies a victim of their own successes? Retrieved 22 June 2010 from

Nurse, D. and Spear, T. (1984) Swahili: reconstructing the history and language of an African society, 800–1500. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

RDO (2010) Interview with Regional Desk Officer. Mbarara, Uganda, 26 April.

Refugee Law Project. (2003) Land problems in Nakivale settlement and the implications for refugee protection in Uganda. Retrieved from working_papers/RLP.WP08.pdf.

Stockwell, P. (2007) Sociolinguistics: a resource book for students. (2nd edition).New York: Routledge.

UNHCR. (2010) The 1951 Refugee Convention. Retrieved 7 September 2010 from

UNHCR. (2004) Groundbreaking refugee rights bill tabled in Uganda. UNHCR: The refugee Agency. Retrieved 22 June 2010 from

Wardhaugh, R. (2006) An introduction to sociolinguistics (5th edition). Oxford: Blackwell.

Zelealem, L. (1998) Some structural signs of obsolescence in K’emant. In M. Brenzinger (ed.) Endangered languages in Africa 163–185. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy