Uganda Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

At the crossroads of Eastern Africa, Uganda has numerous ethnic groups and as many linguistic groups. In this lesson, we'll look at the importance of both.

Diverse Country at a Crossroads

Few countries have been the sort of ethnic crossroads that Uganda has been throughout its history. Even before the state of Uganda existed, the territories that it occupied would be a melting pot for many different groups. The Bantu moved from western Africa into East and South Africa through Uganda, while merchants from the Ethiopian highlands and the Great Lakes region met here. Simply put, there were a whole lot of ethnic groups meeting in Uganda. Given all that, it is of no surprise that there is no single large ethnic group in the country. Instead, there are several smaller ones. Regardless, in this lesson we will learn about the ethnic groups of Uganda. We'll start by looking at the major ethnic groups of the country, then see how given so many groups that language started to play an important role. Finally, we'll look at one ethnic group that was kicked out and still came back.

Flag of Uganda
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Major Ethnic Groups

Like I said, there are several small ethnic groups in the country. As a general note, much of the population is huddled around the southern part of the country, especially on the shores of Lake Victoria. As a result, all three of the largest ethnic groups are found from this area. The largest are the Baganda, who make up a little over 17% of the total population of Uganda. Historically speaking, this group has had substantial political power, and have even influenced the name of the country. Not surprisingly, they are dominant in the large cities of Entebbe and Kampala.

To the east of the Baganda people are the Basoga. They make up 8% of the population and are given considerable autonomy. They hold one of the local constitutional monarchies, and while useful mainly for traditional law, are one of the richest regions of the country. To the west of Entebbe and Kampala are the Nkole people. They make up 9% of the total population of Uganda.

Expulsion and Return

Following Uganda's independence, infamous dictator Idi Amin named himself dictator for life. In an attempt to unify Uganda's various ethnic groups, he made one of the most economically successful groups a public enemy. Amin expelled thousands of South Asian Ugandans, despite the fact that many of them had lived in the country for generations. In doing so, he removed some of the richest people in the country. However, what makes this worth mentioning is not that Amin did it, but that after he was removed from office in 1979, thousands of South Asian Ugandans returned to the country and continued to play a large role in its economy.

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