The influence of language ecology on the identity and political participation of the inland Swahili communities in the Luo region of Kenya

Benson Oduor Ojwang

Kaimosi Friends University College, P.O. Box 385, KAIMOSI, KENYA


This article evaluates the influences of the language ecology of the Swahili speakers who settled in the Kenyan hinterland on their identity, coexistence, and political prospects. These inland Swahili communities in Luo Nyanza have suffered an identity crisis under various political regimes. They have also faced an unstable and asymmetrical coexistence with their host communities. Their attempts at active political participation and social integration have been hampered by their different social, cultural, religious and linguistic heritage. This has led to exclusion and labeling which has jeopardized their chances of communal advancement and self-determination thereby reinforcing local discriminatory attitudes that perceive them as immigrants expected to be subservient to their hosts. Although some have been assimilated through the school system, employment, intermarriage and community leadership, the majority remain in social seclusion only resorting to their religion, Islam, and fighting for official and social recognition from the limiting confines of their informal settlements. It is significant to examine the discourse that these Swahili communities use to negotiate for their political space, how they perceive their historical and present identity and how they navigate their myriad challenges to enhance their existential prospects. 

Keywords: Identity, language ecology, political participation, social integration


Dodd, C.H. (1995). Dynamics of intercultural communication. Madison: Brown Communications, Inc.

Eckert, P. (1999). Linguistic Variation as Social Practice. Oxford: Blackwell.

Fairclough, N. (2001). Language and Power. Harlow: Pearsons Education Limited.

Hansen, H.B. (1991b). “Precolonial Immigrants and Colonial Servants: The Nubians.” In Uganda revisisted, African Affairs, 6(2): 420-448.

Jenkins, B. (2006). “People Profile: The Swahili People” (Accessed on April 2, 2008.)

Joanna, T. (2004). ‘Language and Identity.’ In Thomas, L. and Wareing, S. (Eds.) Language, Society and Power, (pp.135-149) London and New York: Routledge.

Karega, M. (2006). “Language Policy in Kenya.” In Kembo S, Mwangi S, and Ogechi N (Eds.). Language Planning for Development in Africa (pp.46-58) Eldoret, Kenya: Moi University Press. 

Kiesling F.J. (2007). “Power and the language of men.” In: A Cultural Approch to Interpersonal Communication: Essential Readings. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Kokole, O. (1985). “The Nubians of East Africa: Muslim Club or African ‘tribe’? The View from within. Muslim Minority Affairs 90: 559-580.

Kroskrity, P. (2000) “Identity.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 9(1-2): 111-114.

Lippi-Green, R. (1989). “Social Network integration and language change in a rural alpine village.” Language in Society, 18:213-234.

Memon, P. (1976). “Colonial marketing and urban development in the African reserves.” Journal of East African Research and Development 6(2).

Milroy, L. (1987). Language and social networks. Oxford: Blackwell.

Monaghan, I.G. (2007). A Cultural Approach to Interpersonal Communication: Essential Readings. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Ndege, P. (1992). “Internal Trade in Kenya 1895-1963.” In: An Economic History of Kenya, (Eds.). Ochieng, W. and Maxon, R. Nairobi: EAEP.

Ojwang, B.O. (2018). “Change or Continuity? Sociolinguistic Trends in Nubi Ethnolinguistic Identity in Kenya and Uganda.” In: When “Home” means more than one country: The discursive (Re)construction of identities in transnational migrantcommunities. Orwenjo O.D. and Asiru H.T (Eds.). Muenchen: Lincom. pp. 59-84.

Ojwang, B.O. (2011). “Political and sociolinguistic obstacles to the expanded functions of Kiswahili in Kenya.” Language Matters: Studies in the Languages of Africa, 42(2): 231-247.

Ojwang, B.O. (2008). “Prospects of Kiswahili as a Regional Language in a Socio-culturally Heterogeneous East   Africa.”   Journal   of International and Intercultural Communication 1(4): 327-347.

Omenya, G. O. (2016). “A global history of Asians’ presence in Kisumu District of Kenya’s Nyanza Province.” The East African Review 12 (2): 28-29.

Rukya, H. (2016). “Language as an index of identity, power, solidarity and sentiment in the multicultural community of Wollo.” Journal of Socialomics. 5(3) : 1-5.

Republic of Kenya (1964). “Kenya education commission report part 1.” Nairobi, Kenya: Government Printer. 

Reusch, R. (1953). “How the Swahili people came into being.” Tanganyika Notes and Records, 3 (4) pp.16-25. 

Simala, K. (2006). “Kiswahili in East African Community.” In Kembo S, Mwangi S, and Ogechi N (Eds.). Language Planning for Development in Africa (pp. 46-57) Eldoret, Kenya: Moi University Press.