SPEAK THEM RIGHT: THE LANGUAGES OF BUSINESS IN THE NILE VALLEY REGIONS OF AFRICA

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“when in Rome, do as the Romans do”

Business, which is essentially about organization, requires the support of a number of other factors to flourish in any region of the world. Apart from stable and conducive economic, social, political, cultural, legal and technological environments; it needs the language for the parties to understand and transact its activities.

In Africa, just as any other continent of the world, one needs to have more than the “language of business” Having skills and experience in financial management will not get you through, and it is more complicated than this. You require, not only the competencies in verbal, but also written knowledge of languages. Literacy in languages is paramount.

The above requirements may sound so simple, but practically, to carry out business in Africa, one needs to bear in mind that you will be confronted with numerous choices of languages, both local and international. This is because Africa is not only considered to be the continents with numerous ethnic groups, but it is also multi-lingual. Consequently, there are numerous languages spoken in Africa.

In the great lakes and Nile valley regions of Africa for example, there are many languages spoken, not only for local usage, but also for business transactions. For example, the Swahili language, which is both local and international, is spoken by various ethnic groups that inhabit several large stretches of land, beginning from the Indian Ocean coastline to southern Somalia down to northern Mozambique, including the Comoros Islands. This language, although spoken by about 10 million people, is native to many countries, in and around East Africa; also stretching up to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which has it as the national official language. Consequently then, to carry out any meaningful business transactions, particularly in Kenya, Tanzania and DRC, you require Swahili. English may also be used, since most of the great lakes countries of east Africa were colonized by Britain, but Swahili is a must for you.

Similarly, to conduct business in Uganda, spoken knowledge of English is useful. The country has been credited as the best English speakers in Africa. My god, even the Queen of England needs to be careful when she goes for business in Uganda! However, good knowledge of English may not carry you through.

There are other languages you need in your packing bags, such as Luganda and Lwo(Acoli). According to Wikipedia, Luganda, which is a Ganda language of the Bantu ethnic group; is spoken by over 8 million people in the African Great Lakes region, particularly in central Uganda, including the capital Kampala. It is a language that belongs to the Bantu branch of the Niger–Congo language family.

In the case of Lwo, which is both a language and an ethnic group from the Nilotics; it is spoken in many countries as stated above. It is estimated that this language is spoken by over 10m people. This sounds credible since Luo verbalization stretches from northern Tanzania, to eastern Kenya, northern Uganda, eastern DRC, South Sudan up to Ethiopia. This means therefore, that having basic knowledge of Luo is necessary to carry out business in these countries. For example, knowing simple greetings like: “kop ango or iri maber”(how are you?); “man wele adi” (how much does this cost?) and so on, are vital to transact business both in the Nile valley and great lakes regions of Africa.

Before you move down the Nile valley, one crucial language for conducting business in central Africa, particularly in DRC, apart from French, is Lingala. Lingala, just like Luganda, is a Bantu language used by over 8 million people in the region. It is particularly spoken in the northern parts of Congo Brazzaville and DRC, formerly Zaire.

This is a language that rivals French to some extent, especially with the locally bred people of DRC, knowing that there are over 240 of them. You will also like this language, not only for business transaction, as the Chinese are now doing; but also if you are a music lover and African Soukous may excite in this regard.

However, for those who find Lingala as troublesome as Mandarin, you may resort to French, when trying to make some money in DRC, Rwanda and Burundi. After all, French is the official language of the DRC, but in the military, Lingala wins.

French, was introduced in DRC by Belgians, and as a result, it has seminaries with Belgian French. It is language spoken by almost 50% of the 34 million people, and this depends on where one lives. Tshiluba and Kikongo are widely spoken in the South Western part of the country.

In South Sudan, the story is rather different. While in the great-lakes region, English, French and some local languages such as Swahili, Luganda and Lingala may have dominated the business lingua franca; here the Luo and Arabic seem to lead the pact. The Luos are the dominant people in South Sudan, both linguistically and politically. The Acoli, Nuer, Dinka, Shilluk, Anyuak languages and many more are widely spoken. Therefore, to conduct business in the country, have some kind of Luo in your verbalization, although some kind of Arabic, with its locational variants, could as well give you support. If you are in Juba, there is Juba Arabic, not the Egyptian or middle eastern Arabic, where Persian linguistic conflict arises. The South Sudanese Arabic is dialectically different. This means you need to go local sometimes, otherwise, your business may suffer from lack of pidgin-ism.

For some kind of original Arabic; take your business to Egypt, because Egyptian Arabic, locally known colloquially as Masri, is widely spoken in the country. It is a Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family, that originated from the Nile Delta in Lower Egypt. Having originated in lower Egypt, language may have some native African tongues of Ancient time.

The Egyptian Arabic is not only widely spoken in Egypt, with a population of over 90 million, but also in the Arab world. For this matter, it is estimated that the language is spoken by over 300 million Arabic speakers worldwide. This language is vital for business not only in Egypt, along the Nile valley, but also the world over.

For one who is looking for business opportunities in Ethiopia, knowledge of the languages spoken there is vital as well. Although several languages including English are spoken in Ethiopia; in fact over 75, the two important ones to consider for business purposes are Oromo(Omotic) and Amharic. Amharic is one of the Ethiopian Semitic languages, a subset of the Afroasiatic languages and is the official one in the country.

As stated earlier, Ethiopia is also inhabited by the Luo, or Nilotic peoples including Anyuaks, who reside also in South Sudan. They speak the Nilotic languages of the Acoli, Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk in South Sudan. Although these people are is in the minority in Ethiopia, it is worth knowing how to speak for business purposes.

You might have therefore noted in this article that, as the Nile flows from the great- lakes region of Africa to Egypt, variety of languages go with it. These languages are key for anyone who wishes to do business in these regions of the world. You need speaking knowledge of Swahili, Luganda, Lingala, Lwo, French, English, Arabic and Amharic amongst others. So, as the phrase goes: ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ is same with business languages of the great-lakes and Nile valley regions of Africa. Be literate and more importantly, speak these languages fluently and enhance your business opportunities and growth. It is the way to go.

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Okumu p'Okech Luryan

Okumu p'Okech Luryan, Managing Partner, Noh-Vald Consultancy.
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