Why it has taken Uganda so long to embrace Kiswahili

Fenty Beauty will launch in Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Botswana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia on May 27.
Fenty Beauty will launch in Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Botswana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia on May 27.
Image: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

Hi Quartz Africa readers,

Some years back, in my previous life as a strategy consultant at an international development firm, I traveled to all three islands of Comoros, to assess a national education project. Meetings mostly took place in a mix of Shikomori—their local language—and French. It was exciting to realize that I could somewhat understand Shikomori, given it shares almost 20% of words with Swahili.

In the recent past, Uganda has begun to embrace Swahili as a language to be taught in schools. With over 200 million speakers and being used in close to a third of African countries, Swahili is the most widely spoken African language. The “pearl of Africa”—as Uganda is commonly called—had the rare experience of being the only country in the East African Community that doesn’t speak Swahili en masse. Understanding why is a fascinating history lesson, but also a reminder of how political language can be.

“There is an old east African joke that Kiswahili was born in Zanzibar, grew up in mainland Tanzania, fell sick in Kenya, died in Uganda, and was buried in Democratic Republic of Congo,” Edna Namara, a Kampala based reporter and educator writes.

The resurrection of Swahili in Uganda will force the country to relive a terrible past of a tyrannical military regime. The hope is that as Africa begins to question the importance of colonial borders, Swahili and other African languages can become a bridge for African unity. —Ciku Kimeria, Africa editor

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Decoupling banks and payment options

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Union54, Zambia’s first Y-combinator backed startup, was founded in 2021 by Perseus Mlambo and Alessandra Martini—an entrepreneur couple—as a fintech spinoff from Zazu, a challenger bank they set up about six years prior. Challenger banks are niche specialists that offer distinct tech-backed financial services not available at major or legacy banks.

The couple’s initial venture, Zazu, relied on legacy banks to create debit cards for its users, and often faced lengthy delays and other challenges emblematic of dominant legacy banks’ failure to expand financial inclusion. Only 10% of Zambians use debit cards, despite their importance in plugging into global markets.

Union54 found a simpler way: software that enables other fintechs and companies to generate their own cards in physical or virtual format. “Our approach is unique in that for the first time ever all of these fintechs that have done really well in their home countries can do an integration with Union54; they can wake up and offer their customers a debit card.”

Learn more about the potential of decoupling of banks and payment options in Africa with the most recent edition of the Quartz Africa Member Brief. To get the Member Brief directly in your inbox, sign up for a free trial of Quartz Africa membership.

Stories this week

Nigeria ushers in an era of open banking. Nigeria’s central bank issued guidelines for how banks, startups, and retailers can share customer data to expand the variety of financial services in the country, Alexander Onukwue reports.

Meta’s enthusiastic projections for the metaverse in Africa. A report commissioned by Meta indicates that the metaverse will inject $40 billion (1.8% of GDP) into Africa’s economy in 10 years. Faustine Ngila expounds on the hurdles that Africa must clear to cash in on these billions.

Chart showing Meta's metaverse predictions by region. This includes how much the metaverse will contribute to GDP as a percentage and in absolute figures too.

Kenya’s race for esports dominance. Not content to be the African country with the most Olympic medals, Kenya is determined to take home all three gaming prizes at the inaugural Commonwealth esports championships, writes Martin Siele.

Nigerian airlines can’t stop pushing up prices. Alexander Onukwue explores the reasons behind why, for the second time this year, major airlines in Nigeria have raised prices for in-country flights.

Rihanna’s Fenty is coming to Africa. From its inception, Fenty Beauty has been hailed for its inclusivity in an industry suffering from eurocentric beauty ideals. Seth Onyango reports that Rihanna refers to her expansion into eight African countries as the “natural next step.”

Same-day shipping in Africa? Jumia’s got you.

In its latest earnings call this week, African ecommerce company Jumia reported revenue of $47.6 million in the first three months of 2022, 44% more than in the same period last year. The company said it had 3.1 million active customers and fulfilled 9.3 million orders, each figure at least 29% higher than the same period last year.

Growth in these metrics can be linked to Jumia’s selling more and more of what it calls “everyday” products in fashion, food delivery, and fast-moving consumer goods, as well as the increased adoption of JumiaPay, its payments processing service.

Even more fascinating, Jumia seems to have figured out 24 hour delivery, and it’s paying off. Alexander Onukwue shows why it matters that the company now delivers over half its orders within 24 hours.

Words like competition and competitors are mentioned less by US public companies during earnings calls than they were 15 years ago.


“So everybody was making money in crypto until I joined the party.”

Kenyans burned their fingers in the crypto rush. As global crypto markets came tumbling down, Kenyan traders flocked to buy the dip—stocking up while prices were low—expecting a market correction. Faustine Ngila interviewed some of those who invested in the bear market and are now trying to salvage their losses.


Nile, a South African agri-tech startup, raised $5.1 million from Naspers Foundry, a South Africa-focused investment vehicle of the internet group Naspers. Nile connects farmers to retailers who will buy their fresh produce. Since its founding in 2020, it has sold about 66 million pounds (in weight) of fruits and vegetables.

Topship, a Nigerian startup for freight forwarders, raised $2.5 million from Flexport, Y Combinator, Soma Capital, Starling Ventures, Olive Tree Capital, Capital X, and True Capital. The company was founded in 2020 and plays in the same industry as other Nigeria-based startups like OnePort365, MVX, and Ghana-based Jetstream.

Quartz Gems

Biological component to SIDS

A newborn baby
Safe sleep practices might not be enough.
Image: Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane

To new parents, many things are terrifying—yet few of them are as scary as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.

In the US alone, thousands of seemingly healthy infants die every year in their sleep for no clear cause, often before six months of age. Much of how and why SIDS occurs is still unknown, but a new piece of research, published last week in eBioMedicine, found clues suggesting that there might be a biological component to it.

Annalisa Merelli reports on this groundbreaking research that might offer some solace for parents who have lost their children to the syndrome.

scrabble tiles with letters oriented different ways
Image: Eric Helgas, styling by Alex Citrin-Safadi

Deconstructing dyslexia. Since dyslexia was first identified in the 1870s, psychologists, teachers, politicians, and parents have questioned its definition, its causes, and even its very existence. As a result, dyslexia is today known by enduring myths, which science is finally starting to debunk. 🎧  Learn more with this week’s episode of the Quartz Obsession podcast.

Listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher

Other things we liked

Who are the global tech changemakers outside of Silicon valley? Rest of World released a list of 100 tech leaders, innovators, inventors, and activists who are not from any of the western tech hubs. Yinka Adegoke, former Quartz Africa editor and current editor for strategic initiatives at Rest of World, introduces the list with an essay on “why founders are the lifeblood of global tech ecosystems.”

Nigeria’s central bank governor’s presidential bid ends. By not sticking to a deadline to resign from his role at the Nigerian Central bank, Governor Godwin Emefiele, effectively ended his presidential bid. Bloomberg’s William Clowes explains the confusion behind the move.

Kendrick Lamar taps into Ghanaian energy. For The Native, Dennis Ade Peter explores why Kendrick Lamar stayed in Ghana and hung out with emerging stars like Black Sherif, Amaarae, and Stonebwoy while releasing Mr Morale and the Big Steppers, his newest album.

Zimbabwe’s desperate job hunters “pay” to get paid. For Al Jazeera, Chris Muronzi reports on a sordid state of job hunting in Zimbabwe, where bribes or sex are sometimes demanded from the unemployed, as the country faces economic turmoil.

Ethiopia joins the 5G bandwagon. Africa’s second most populous country is the most recent one to announce a 5G rollout,The East African’s Tesfa Alem Tekle reports.

No more veggie imports, Botswana tells Namibia. A ban on imports from Namibia to Botswana of 16 different types of vegetables has been in place for over two years. Lazarus Akukeshe of The Namibian explains why the ban is being extended with more products added in.


Black Founders Fund Africa is open. This Google initiative is open to startups in Kenya, Botswana, Cameroon, Côte D’ivoire, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and  Zimbabwe. Selected startups will receive between $50,000 and $200,000. (May 31)

Research grants available for Africa for nature preservation. The Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer Research Grant promises support of $150,000 to a project that preserves Africa’s natural resources. (May 27)

🎵 This brief was produced while listening to “Second sermon remix” by Black Sherif feat. Burna Boy (Ghana and Nigeria)

Our best wishes for a productive and ideas-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, ideas, VR goggles, and  Nigerian flights to africa@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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