How Swahili Grew to Be the Most Spoken African Language

How Swahili Grew to Be the Most Spoken African Language

What is the Most Common Language Spoken in Africa? 

Swahili has grown from an ancient island language of the Bantu dialect to become the most spoken African language. It is one of the most irregular languages in the world, with a user base of more than 200 million people.

Migrants from landlock Africa, vendors from Asia, Arab and European settlers, European and Indian colonizers, imperial rulers, and people from diverse post-colonial countries have all used Swahili and incorporated it for their personal purposes for over two millennia of Swahili’s growth as well as adaptation. They’ve brought it with them to the west wherever they’ve gone.

The Swahili-speaking zone in Africa now covers 1/3 of the entire continent from north to the south and reaches the opposite shore, including the continent’s heart.

The Origins of the Most Spoken Language in Africa

Swahili historical areas are located on the Indian Ocean coast of East Africa. A 2,500-km stretch of coastline stretching from Somalia, Mogadishu, Sofala, and Mozambique, with offshore archipelagos as far as the Seychelles and Comoros.

This seaside district has long been a crossroads for international trade and people travel. People from various disciplines and from many further places, including Indonesia, The African Big Lakes region, the US, Persia, and Europe, all crossed paths. Merchants and city dwellers mixed with hunter-gatherers, farmers, and pastoralists.

Muslims, Portuguese Catholics, British Anglicans, and Hindus met Africans who were dedicated to their forefathers and the gods of their homeland. Since ancient times, workers [including enslaved people, laborers, and porters], rulers, soldiers, and ambassadors have been mixed. Anyone who traveled to the Eastern African coast had the option of learning Swahili, the most spoken African language and thousands did learn.

African Unity

Notable intellectuals, liberation fighters, human rights activists, scholarly professional organizations, political leaders, performers, and healthcare workers are among the Swahili lovers and advocates. Not forgetting the typical professional artists, writers, and poets.

Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate, has been at the forefront. Since the 1960s, the Nigerian poet, writer, and dramatist have advocated for Swahili to be used as Africa’s trans-continental language. In July 2004, the AU [African Union], sometimes known as the “United Nations of Africa,” cultivated the same sense of continental solidarity by appointing Swahili as its primary language. Joaquim Alberto Chissano (then-President of Mozambique) presented this motion to the AU. He spoke in perfect Swahili, which he had learned in Tanzania while expelled from the Portuguese territory.

The AU did not choose Swahili as the continent’s official language by accident. Swahili has a considerably longer historical background of bridging divisions amongst peoples across Africa and in the diaspora.

The sense of belonging, the determination that Africa is just one, will not go away. Languages are fundamental to everybody’s feeling of belonging and the ability to convey what’s on their minds. Considering that the bulk of populations of its participating nations speaks approximately two thousand dialects [nearly 1\3 of all human dialects], several hundred of them have well over a million speakers, the African Union’s decision was entirely unexpected.

How did Swahili become the African most spoken language across so many different ethnic groups, each with its unique language, history, and customs?

A Language of Liberation

Swahili was used as a form of international political collaboration in the years leading to the liberation of Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya at the beginning of the 1960s. It allowed liberation fighters from all over the region to convey their common goals despite the fact that their local languages differed significantly.

For several Africans, the growth of Swahili was a sign of true personal and cultural freedom from colonizing European settlers and their command-and-control languages. Tanzania’s government employs Swahili the most widely spoken language in Africa for all government business and, most notably, in primary education, making it unique amongst Africa’s independent states. Evidently, the Swahili phrase ”Uhuru’ [freedom], which arose from the struggle for independence, entered the worldwide language of political representation.

Soon after liberation, East Africa’s top political offices started to use and promote Swahili as Africa’s most spoken language. Tanzanian President Julius Kambarage Nyerere [1962 to 85] and Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta [1964 to 78] both championed Swahili as essential to the region’s economic and political interests as well as security and freedom. Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin Dada Oumee [1971 to 79], who employed Swahili for his secret police and army operations throughout his authoritarian rule, proved the political importance of language in a less happy way.

Tanzania represented one of just two African countries to assign a local African dialect as the state’s official means of communication under Nyerere’s leadership [Ethiopia did the same, with Amharic]. Nyerere personally rewrote two plays of William Shakespeare into Swahili for the purpose of demonstrating Swahili’s capacity to withstand the expressive burden of great works of literature.

Socialist Overtones

Julius even turned the word Swahili to be a synonym for Tanzanian nationality. Later, when extolling the nation’s ordinary women and men, this title took on socialist overtones. It stands in sharp contrast to Westerners and European-oriented aristocratic Africans who had gained wealth swiftly and dubiously by extension.

Eventually, the phrase was expanded to include poor people of all races, both non-African and African heritage. Several pupils from Tanzania and Kenya referred to the poverty-stricken white community of California, East Palo Alto, as ”Uswahilini”, a.k.a. “Swahili land,” during my time as a professor at the University of Stanford in the 1990s. In contrast to ”Uzunguni”, which means “country of the ”mzungu” i.e[white individual].

It was a source of pride for Nyerere to be referred to as a Swahili. The word was loaded with social overtones of the poor yet worthy as well as even noble as a result of his influence. As a result, a Pan African famous identity emerged, independent of Africa’s fifty-plus nation-states’ elite-controlled national governments.

I had no clue at the time that the Swahili name had been utilized for well over a millennium as a conceptual unifying force for solidarity beyond communal lines, competitive cities, and citizens of various backgrounds.

Ujamaa and Kwanza

Maulana R. Karenga [author and activist] linked the black liberation movement to Swahili in 1966, making Swahili the most commonly spoken language in Africa to be the national language and founding the Kwanzaa festival. Kwanzaa comes from the unique Swahili phrase ”ku-anza”, which means ”first” or “to begin”. The intent of the holiday was to honor the ”first fruits” or matunda-ya kwanza. Kwanzaa, as per Karenga, represents the traditional African harvest festivals.

Celebrants were urged to acquire Swahili identities and use Swahili names of respect to address each other. Kwanzaa honors seven pillars or principles based on Julius’s philosophy of ujamaa [which stands for unity through mutual contributions]. Self-motivation [kujichagulia], responsibility and collective work [ujima], cooperative economy [ujamaa], common purpose [nia], faith [imani], and individual creativity [kuumba].

Under the Swahili phrase ujamaa, Nyerere was also looked at as a symbol of “community sisterhood and brotherhood.” That term has become so popular that it has since been used by African Americans and Australian Aborigines as well as people all across the world, from England to New Guinea. [Papua]. Not to forget the ongoing celebrations in the shape of ujamaa houses on numerous United states college campuses.

Africa Most Spoken Language Today

Swahili is now the most spoken African language and dialect outside of the continent of Africa. Swahili has a global presence in broadcasting radios and online that no other sub-Saharan nation’s dialect can match.

Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, and Swaziland all transmit Swahili on a regular basis. No other Nation’s language is heard from foreign media houses as frequently or as extensively as Swahili.

Swahili vocabulary and speech have appeared in hundreds of films and television programs, including Disney’s Lion King, Star Trek, Lara Croft [Tomb Raider], and Out of Africa, dating back to Trader Horn [1931].

Several Swahili phrases appeared in Disney’s Lion King; the most well-known of which were the character names Simba [lion], Pumbaa [be dazed], and Rafiki [friend]. Asante Sana [meaning thank you so very much] and the enticing ”No-Worry” ideology called ”Hakuna Matata”, which was repeated all through the film, were Swahili terms.

Even though Swahili is the most widely spoken African language, it does not have the same number of participants, income, or political influence as global languages like English, Mandarin, or Spanish. However, Swahili has proven to be the only dialect with more 2nd-language users than native speakers, with over two hundred million speakers.

The people who became known as Waswahili [ The Swahili individuals] carved out a part for themselves via engaging themselves in the business of a maritime society at a crucial trade gateway. They were so essential in the commerce that new entrepreneurs had little or no choice but to learn Swahili as a trade and diplomatic language. And the Swahili community grew more assertive as succeeding generations of Swahili 2nd-language speakers abandoned their native tongues to become full-fledged Swahilis.

Understanding this topic requires a close examination of the Swahili population’s responses to obstacles. At how they acquired their wealth and coped with their losses. And, perhaps most importantly, how they refined their talents in balancing resistance and confrontation with flexibility and invention as they engaged with people who spoke other languages.

Most Spoken Language in South Africa

You might be wondering, what is the most spoken language in South Africa? Compared to the rest of the continent, Swahili is not the most spoken language in South Africa. 

South Africa language most spoken is Zulu. There are 11 official languages, but Zulu is South Africa most spoken language. 

According to a census, approximately 22.7% of the population identified isiZulu as their first language, making it the most spoken language in South Africa 2020.

The Most Widely Spoken Languages in Africa

Africa is one of the most linguistically diverse regions in the world, with an estimated 1500-2000 different languages spoken across the continent. These languages belong to four main language families: Afroasiatic, Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, and Khoisan.

The African languages most spoken include Arabic, Oromo, Somali, and more!

Top Ten Most Spoken Language in Africa

Even though there are multiple languages in Africa, only a few are the most spoken languages in Africa. 

Below is a list of the top 10 most spoken languages in Africa:

  1. Swahili
  2. Arabic
  3. Hausa
  4. Amharic
  5. Oromo
  6. Yoruba
  7. Igbo
  8. French
  9. Somali
  10. Berber

Keep in mind this is a list of the top 10 most spoken languages in Africa 2020. Some information may change with the years.

The Most Spoken Languages in Africa by Region

The most widely spoken language in Africa differs by different regions. 

The most spoken language in southern Africa is IsiZulu.

The most spoken language in west Africa is Hausa.

The most spoken language in east Africa is Swahili.

The most spoken language in north Africa is Arabic.


Is Arabic the most spoken language in Africa?

Arabic is one of the most spoken African languages, holding the second place just after Swahili.

Is Swahili the most spoken language in Africa?

Yes, Swahili is the most common language spoken in Africa.

Is English the most spoken language in Africa?

No, English is not the most popular language spoken in Africa.

What is the most widely spoken language in Africa?


What is the most commonly spoken language in South Africa?

The most widely spoken language in South Africa is Zulu. 

What’s the most spoken African language in the world? 

Swahili most spoken language in africa 2022.

What is the second most spoken language in africa?

The second most widely spoken African language is Arabic.

What is the most spoken language in Africa 2020?

The most spoken language in Africa in 2020 is likely to be Arabic.

What is the most spoken language in Africa 2021?

In 2021, the most language spoken in Africa was Swahili.

What is the most widely spoken language in South Africa? 

The most widely spoken language in South Africa is isiZulu.

What is the most spoken African language?


What is the most commonly spoken language in Africa?


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