4 Countries Where Swahili Is the Official Language in 2024

Mark Dodoma,capital of TANZANIA on the world map with a red pin. Selective focus on the city or country name. Africa Region.travel and news event concepts.
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Written by Katie Melynn Wood

Published: March 1, 2024

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There are plenty of places around the world where residents speak multiple languages. However, many countries choose to designate an official language (or two), which helps foster communication across various aspects of life. Some African nations have an unofficial language that is used by the majority of the population while others are divided into smaller subregions based on language or dialect. These are the countries that have Swahili as a recognized official language in 2024.

What type of language is Swahili?

Swahili is a Bantu language with influences from Arabic, English, other African languages, and Portuguese as well. Arabic heavily influenced the linguistic development of Swahili. It is also known as Kiswahili in most of the places where it is spoken. Swahili developed as trade increased around the East African coast, which introduced Arabic to the region. Up until Swahili was officially recognized and standardized in the 1920s, its use was mostly concentrated around the coast of East Africa. However, the language was already widespread throughout all of East Africa and allowed different groups to communicate effectively with one another.

The East African Community, a multi-national government organization in East Africa, includes many countries that speak Swahili. Some have Swahili as an official language while others use it as a secondary language. The East African Kiswahili Commission, which was founded in 2015, is an initiative that focuses on tracking the development of the language across member nations and the world. They also help promote education and preservation of the language.

Tanzania

Dar Es Salaam is home to some of the best beaches in Tanzania

Swahili is spoken in many parts of Tanzania, including the coastal city of Dar es Salaam.

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Swahili is the first language of many residents of Tanzania. It is widely spoken and recognized as an official language in that country. Swahili was used in trade, government, and education for decades. When Tanganyika, which would later join with Zanzibar to form Tanzania, gained its independence in 1961, the government adopted Swahili as the country’s official language. Almost all Tanzanians speak Swahili and their dialect and usage are considered standard. It is the first language for the majority of Tanzanians, especially those who live in cities.

Kenya

Kenya Prairies, gray-haired tourist

Kenya is a tourist hot spot in Africa thanks to its amazing wildlife areas and Mount Kilimanjaro.

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Kenyans also speak Swahili and it became the country’s official language in 2010. It was used as the national language much earlier, however. Kiswahili was recognized as a national language in 1964. All students at the primary and secondary levels in Kenya study Swahili in school. English is also an official language in Kenya. It is used primarily with the government as well as large, international business deals. English is also commonly used to communicate with tourists visiting Kenya.

Uganda

Gorillas in the Bwindi

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda is known for its population of mountain gorillas.

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Uganda added Swahili as an official language in 2022. The language used most in Uganda is Luganda, another Bantu language spoken in East Africa. English is used most in schools and government. This is largely due to the influence of British colonization in the country’s history. Luganda, English, and Swahili are the official languages and are all spoken widely or taught in schools. Many other African languages, as well as some other world languages, are spoken by various groups and in different regions.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the second largest country in Africa.

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French is the official language of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the largest countries in Africa. But we thought it was worth mentioning this country on our list because Swahili is a national language spoken in the area. DRC was a Belgian colony up until the 1960s, which is why French is the official language and still the most widely used. But even as a Belgian colony, Swahili was taught and spoken in schools, along with three other African languages that are also national languages, Kikongo, Lingala, and Tshiluba. This was unusual for the time and helped preserve Swahili in the region.

Burundi

Burundi

Burundi is a small country but a major exporter of coffee in Africa.

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Swahili is not an official language in Burundi but it is an official language of the East African Community, of which Burundi is a member. It is also spoken in many parts of Burundi. Kirundi, French, and English are the official languages of Burundi. It shares a border with Tanzania, where Swahili is widely spoken.

Rwanda

Panoramic top view of Lake Kivu, majestic landscape, Rwanda, image unfocused

Rwanda has a lot of hills and mountains compared to many other countries in Africa.

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Another member nation of the East African Community, Rwanda uses Swahili to communicate with other countries as well as within its borders, even though it is not an official language. Kinyarwanda, English, and French are the official languages of Rwanda but Swahili is also used throughout the area. Rwanda is just north of Burundi and also shares a border with Swahili-speaking Tanzania.

Comoros

Sunset boats in holiday paradise resort on Grand Comore island, Comoros. Beautiful sunset light of sun in the sea. Villas on the beach with private beach. Moroni Comoros, Itsandra beach resort hotel

Comoros is a very small country comprised entirely of islands in the Indian Ocean.

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The island nation includes three islands in the Indian Ocean near the Mozambique Channel. The official language of Comoros is Shikomor. Some linguists consider Shikomor a dialect of Swahili. It shares many of the same characteristics. It actually refers to four languages that are spoken on the islands in this region.


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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

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