UGANDA                            KENYA                       TANZANIA                           BURUNDI                           RWANDA                                  DRC






This is a section of the map of Africa showing the countries in which Swahili language is spoken. These countries include; Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Rwanda and Burundi, Somalia, and the Comoro Islands. As shown by the yellow color, in some of the countries, namely Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, the language is used in very small regions. That explains the reason for many to look at Swahili as a predominantly East African language. What has not been adequately reported is the fact that, even in the East African countries, the language is not used equally. It is most ubiquitous in Tanzania followed by Kenya.  


A number of commentators have questioned the rationale of placing Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi above the DRC in terms of Swahili speakers. That appears to be a valid point, especially if you consider the number of Swahili speakers in the respective countries. While Uganda is closest to the East African coast (home of Swahili), and has closer ties with Kenya and Tanzania (two countries that have spearheaded the development of the language), certain historical factors have impeded its growth in that country. As such, the number of its speakers, though rising steadily, is relatively small. In Rwanda and Burundi, it is mainly used in the cities, and by many returnees from long periods of stays away in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. On the other side, the eastern part of he Democratic Republic of Congo has always had a solid block of millions of Swahili speakers.  Perhaps this is so due to the view that Kingwana (the variety spoken in DRC) is slightly different from standard Swahili (Kiunguja). We know that the world over, different language varieties are used in different regions. Even the French who have all along been very keen on maintaining French purity have not managed to take care of the differences in the French spoken in North Africa, West Africa, Quebec, and France itself. It still is French. When Swahili speakers from DRC speak on the BBC and DW radio services, other Swahili speakers understand them perfectly well. They are Swahili speakers.  

The number of Swahili speakers in most of the countries mentioned above is on a steady increase, with the main reasons being, the media, commerce, education systems, and its role as a regional lingua franca. It is a language of instruction in primary education in Tanzania, and a subject of study in higher education. In Kenya, Swahili is a compulsory school subject in primary and secondary education. Six out of the seven public universities offer it as a study discipline. Swahili is also continuously gaining more ground in the education systems of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. This means a consistent increase of the number of people know and speak it well. 

We must not lose sight of the fact that Swahili is not spoken only in East and Central Africa. Due to immigration and increased travel of people to different parts of the world, Swahili speaking people are to be found in many other parts of the world. Considering that close to 100 universities in different parts of the world consistently teach Swahili every year, it is not wild to predict that the number of Swahili speakers will continue to be on the rise.

Click the links below to view the pages containing national anthems of the major Swahli speaking countries: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and DRC.


Website created by Sangai Mohochi and Michael Wairungu
Stanford University Swahili Department