When the Daily Mail reported that Uganda is the most ethnically diverse country on the earth, I wasn’t surprised. Having grown up in Kampala where all tribes converge, I witnessed first-hand how people from different ethnicities correlate without hatred. I got exposed to the secrets of Uganda’s heterogeneity through engagements with friends from different tribes and from my extensive tours around the country. Such experiences made me proud of how extraordinary my country is.
A myriad of ethnicities
We are made up of 55 indigenous tribes and according to the CIA World Fact Book, the dominant ones are Baganda, Banyankole, Basoga, Bakiga, Iteso, Langi, Bagisu, Acholi, and Lugbara. Others remain mysterious and are almost extinct, i.e, the Batwa pygmies, So (Tepeth), Ik, Mvuba, and Jie. Some are agropastoralists with their own traditions that sets them apart but have lived alongside each other for centuries before colonialism. Over the last century, groups from outside Uganda have found a safe haven here like Indians, Sudanese Nubians, Somalis, Chinese, Ethiopians, Rwandese and Europeans all of whom have fully integrated into the normal Ugandan life. By having such a diverse community within its small territory, Uganda has proudly gained worldwide recognition.
A land of cultural contrasts
All tribes are culturally distinct as far as dressing, cuisines, norms, and dialects are concerned. Some tribes share a few cultural similarities like accents and beliefs and this has promoted co-existence. Northern tribes speak Nilotic languages while in the west and central they speak Bantu languages. Dominant ones include Acholi, Lugisu, Luganda, Runyankore and Lusoga which are the chief dialects in their respective five regions of Uganda. Most languages are closely related due to the similarity in words and accent, for example, the Runyakitara based on four closely related dialects of western Uganda which are Runyoro, Rukiga, Runyankore and Rutooro.
Notable among Uganda’s cultural contrasts are the dressing styles. Long time ago, the barkcloth and animal skins were the main clothing items but for now, modern attires like the Gomesi and Kanzu are used during traditional events. Each tribe is also distinguished by its major economic activity, i.e, the Baganda who are well-known Matooke cultivators, the Bakiga for their potatoes and millet, the Ankole people are cattle herders with their famous Ankole Long Horn cattle, while in the north they mostly grow sorghum, cassava, coffee, cotton, etc. Such economic activities have promoted interethnic trade and cooperation for centuries.
What has been the secret to the country’s oneness despite having so many tribes within a small territory? Without colonialism, one would assume that each tribe would be a sovereign country of its own. Not only did colonialism force the 55 tribes into one nation, but modernity also contributed a lot to the union. At the present, it might be difficult to identify if one belongs to a certain tribe due to the high level of assimilation that’s taking place. Intermarriages and migrations from one region to another for work and studies have taken place and this has improved relations.
Recently, the BBC produced a documentary detailing why Uganda is the world’s most hospitable country for refugees. Some of our neighbours are heavily involved in endless wars that have ravaged the Great Lakes region for some time now. Due to the hospitable nature of Ugandans, many refugees have openly been welcomed from South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and as far as Sudan, Poland, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and the Central African Republic. They have been fully integrated into Ugandan life with free basic life provisions like land, education, health care, food and clothing. Such policies have portrayed Uganda as the ethnic hotspot where everyone yearning for peace finds a home.
It is without a doubt that our culture of friendliness and tolerance has earned us a lot of admiration from all corners of the globe. We have proved to the world that despite being plagued by extreme poverty, diseases and wars, still we can co-exist with each other in a humane way. It is on the basis of this pattern that we hope for a united mankind to promote what’s good and positive for everyone.