How Uganda came to be called ”Uganda”?

1/7 Even before we get entangled into the weeds of street names, names of schools and names of large slums, the fact is, that of all colonially imposed names, the most inappropriate and rather silly is “Uganda”, the name of our country.
2/7 As you know, on all their journeys to the interior of East Africa, colonialists went around with Swahilli speaking askaris and translators.  Unlike the Bantu languages, Swahilli lacks the “B..” noun class.  In the Ugandan Bantu dialects, the names of the territories occupied by key ethnic groups are prefixed with “Bu”, hence, Bunyoro the home of Banyoro, Buganda that of Baganda; Bukonzo, Bugisu, Budama, etc.

Buganda is still looked at by the British as more powerful than other kingdoms Uganda

3/7 For all those names, the Swahilli drop the B, and refer to place names as Unyoro, Ugisu, Ukonzo and…Uganda.  For the people inhabiting those place, the “Bu” prefix is shaved off completely…leaving you with Unyoro, the home of the Nyoro; Ukonzo the home of the Konzo, Uganda (Buganda) the home of the Ganda (Baganda).  For other places, you will hear of Ungeleza, Umarekani, Uchina, Urengo (Portugal).  If the Swahilli decide to use any prefix on the people, they will employ “Wa-“.
4/7 You also know that, originally, the interest of the British in the place now daftly called “Uganda” was to have Buganda (Uganda in Swahilli) as the protectorate or colony, not other adjoining areas.  Hence, you will hear of the 9th June 1894 dispatch from the Earl of Kimberley (British Foreign Office) to the Consul General of East Africa (Arthur Hardinge) regarding the formation of the ‘Uganda’ (meaning Buganda) protectorate: “This protectorate ( Uganda ) will extend only over the territory which is included in Uganda proper (i.e., Buganda ), bounded by Koki, Ankoli (sic) and Usoga (sic)..”. You may also have heard about Commissioner Hesketh Bell’s policy slogan: My policy is going to be ‘Uganda for the Baganda”

5/7 So, even after they changed their mind and went in for a larger territory, they maintained the name of the staging post…Uganda (or Buganda).  Even when the country has come to embrace Acholi, Lango, Banyoro, Banyankore (of Nkore..not “Ankole”), it is still called “Uganda” Swahilli for Buganda.  Very silly indeed!
6/7 We are so enslaved that, because the British mispronounced the Swahilli word, we also adopted the same silly mispronounciation: “Yuganda” (as in Yugoslavia)..where a word starts with letter U, in English it (mis)pronounced as Yu.  For countries like Uruguay, they were already firmly established that the name of the country could not be distorted.
7/7 If we are to castigate the inappropriateness of names, we have  to start with “Uganda”, the mispronounced misnomer….and by the way, if the colonialists had invaded through Bukonzo, or Bushenyi, or Bugisu, would we have been happy for the country to be called Ukonzo or Ushenyi, Or Ugisu? If not, then, why “Uganda”, the land of the Ganda?  Are Acholis, Banyoro, Bamba…all those…are they Ganda to belong to the land of the Ganda, or Buganda or Uganda in Swahilli?
Lance Corporal (Rtd) Otto Patrick


5 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. sybil,

    Start with this en-Ganda in Runyoro means clan…When you think about it, it kinda makes sense don’t you think?

  2. michael harkin,

    Hi Corporal Otto
    I was born and educated in England but have worked as an engineer in 18 African countries,including Uganda and Tanzania,for the last 30years.My late wife was Ugandan(black),as is my daughter(black).
    My daughter is still going through the Ugandan education system,but i am back in England at the moment for work reasons
    I speak pretty good Swahili and some Luganda.Thus i was very interested in your “B class noun” explanation of the word – Uganda.I have never heard this explanation before.
    There is a complete lack of text books for non Ugandans on Luganda noun classes,so non Ugandans,especialy non Swahili speakers will not have been aware of this grammatical mistake in the word Uganda.Even as a Swahili speaker,i assumed that since a lot of Luganda is similair to Swahili,then the Luganda – langauge,Buganda – people, Uganda -country ,was the correct grammatical rule.
    Perhaps you should instigate a production of the above said missing text book on Lugnada noun classes.I know that lots of Bazungu live in Uganda all their lives and never learn a word of the local langauges,but these are still the old style Bazungu who came to Africa originaly,blinded by their topito all things African.The new style,modern Bazungu,like me ,will learn as much about your culture,langauge etc as i can grab.But it is still quite nice for me to get the look of complete suprise and disbelief from a local when i initialy speak to them in perfect Luganda.


  3. Mike,

    There is a good Luganda grammar text book…a bit dated but good enough still…266 pages, available on line; title and link:

    Crabtree, William Arthur (1902), Elements of Luganda Grammar: Together with Exercises and Vocabulary (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge),

    On the same website, you will find several Swahili books, including those wonderful dictionaries..Swahili to English and English to Swahili. For Swahili grammar, you can download this one:

    Burt, F (1910), Swahili Grammar and Vocabulary (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge),

    That website also has many classics covering Uganda’s early colonial history.

    Good reading.

    L/Cpl Otto

  4. Mayiko Makula,

    And in the same way the Bible says, that every thing in can be purified in prayer. Mohammedans say that if it is only pork that is available and you were going to die of hunger, just eat, God prefers life to death in case you were going to starve to death, enjoy this astagafry after purifying it in prayer.

    Paul’s writings that is often misunderstood is 1 Timothy 4:3-5, where he speaks of false teachers “forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

    Debate over ceremonial cleansing
    Another often misunderstood passage is Mark 7:18-19. Here Jesus said, “Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” The subject here was unwashed hands (verse 2), not which meats could be eaten. The purification of food referred to the way the body’s digestive process eliminates minor impurities such as those that might be present from eating with unwashed hands.

    The Pharisees, like Jesus and His disciples, ate only meat specified as clean in the Pentateuch. They objected, however, to the fact that Jesus and His disciples did not go through the Pharisees’ customary ritual of meticulously washing up to the elbows before eating.

    Jesus, whose hands were sufficiently clean for eating even if not sufficiently clean to meet the Pharisees’ humanly devised standards, explained that the human body was designed to handle any minute particles of dust or dirt that happened to enter it because of ritually unclean hands. He further suggested that, if the Pharisees were serious about wanting to obey God, they needed to revise their priorities. Cleansing one’s thoughts is eminently more spiritually important than washing one’s hands (verses 20-23).

    Questionable interpretations

    The New International Version of the Bible renders the latter part of verse 19: “(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean’).” The New American Standard Bible similarly offers: “([Thus He] declared all foods clean.)” These translations stand in stark contrast to the King James and New King James versions, which indicate that the bodily digestive process purifies food as opposed to Jesus making a pronouncement reversing God’s laws on which meats to eat. Which view is correct?

    The answer is in your conscience but has nothing to do with pure on impure foods as long as the foods are not allergic or poisonous to you. Enjoy your foods as the Chinese enjoy eating dogs, the Congolese caterpillars, Americans rattle snakes/crabs,shrimp, Lugwar birds, Baganda Nswa/nsenene. I know so many Mohammedans who eat pork and drink on a daily basis more than those who consider themselves of no limitations conserning these foods so what is the fuss?

    Mayiko Makula…Omugave

  5. Mr corporal.. its very much important for you to know that Baganda were more civilised and hospitable people from the beginning and hence it was very much important for the country to be refered to as Uganda.. Its so much amazing that Michael an English man has a great reasoning capacity over this whole issue of your discovery… to go more further from him, Bantu people dominate the region that it East African region and the language that was seen as unifying was swahili, so if a white man who is more interested in your country than you could easily descern that there is similarities between luganda and swihili and thence was more appropriate to adopt the region and use its name for the country, you must check your analysis because you seem to instigate people against each other.
    It is a fact whether you like it or not that Baganda are still seen a major section of people in the country and thats why your bid of changing the country’s name to THE REPUBLIC OF WEST NILE WAS FUTILE because it is impossible and un comely. You just need to bear with the fact that Baganda are more hospitable and civilised even up to date.

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