10 Ugandan Words and Phrases to Enrich Your Trip to Uganda

Luganda is the most spoken language in Uganda. Every little corner in the country vibrates with the language’s dialect and yet the world knows so little about it. However, Luganda can be an intimidating language to learn, with sounds that don’t come naturally to a native English-speaking palate. Luganda has its own set of quirks, but travelers will find that learning some basic phrases packs benefits disproportionate to the effort—plus, it’s an excellent way to return the famous Uganda hospitality you’ll experience on your African safari

In the alphabet of Luganda, there is no letter Q or X, but have ŋ and ny. ŋ as in singing and ny as in lasagna. Syllable Ki is pronounced ‘chi’. Luganda has five vowels: a, e, i, o, u. pronounced the same as in Spanish:

  • A – ah (Like the “a” in “father”)
  • E – eh (Like the “a” in “say”)
  • I – ee (Like the “ee” in “see”)
  • O – oh (Like the “o” in “cot”)
  • U – oo (Like the “oo” in “doom”)

Here are 10 phrases you can use to enrich your time in Uganda, whether you’re stepping into the golden realms of the African savannah or combing the streets of Kampala in search of the city’s most attractive cultural center.

Oli otya (pr: oliotya) : How are you?

This is an all-purpose greeting that can be shortened to simply “chi kati,” meaning “how are you,” and it is near universally well received. Starting your conversation with a local greeting is respectful and friendly, even if you immediately switch to English. The appropriate response is “gyendi”“I’m okay.”

Ssebo/nnyabo: Sir/madam

Greetings are very important in Luganda. They are used often to begin a conversation with someone. In a formal setting, it is important to use titles of address. To a man, you say ‘ssebo’ and to a woman you say ‘nnyabo.’

Wasuze otya nno: Good morning 

Kampala crackles with energy well into the night: Outdoor cafés seem to spring from the sidewalk the moment the sun sets, and citizens of all ages spend hours socializing over African coffee, Nile beer, katogo, and selfies. After each busy night, the sun rises and shortly thereafter, the buzzing sounds of matatu taxi conductors resonate through the streets. It’s morning in Kampala, and a moment of busy-ness settles over the city before the heat of the day sets in. You might tell your neighbor “Wasuze otya nno,” or “good morning,” on your way to breakfast and hear a sleepy “bulungi,” or “very well,” in response.

Weebale: Thank you 

Experienced travelers know it’s essential to learn how to say “thank you” wherever they visit, and this small politeness goes a long way in Uganda. Luckily, the word is a relatively easy one, and perfectly appropriate to use whenever you wish to express gratitude, whether you’re ordering a fresh mango juice or checking out at the counter. You will almost certainly hear a happy “kale”—“you’re welcome”—in return. And to make it effective, add “nyo”, meaning “very much”. “Webale nyo!”, ny as in lasagna.

Grey crowned crane or Crested Crane (Balearica regulorum)

Basic Facts About Uganda Every Traveller Should Know.

Uganda Facts

Munyenye: Stars 

The Uganda wildlife parks are some of the best places to stargaze on the planet. The darkness in these places enables the Milky Way to shine and sparkle in the heavens above, with thousands and millions of twinkling stars in between. Because these places are less polluted with light, the night skies in these areas are phenomenal. The skies come alive every night!.

Owange: Excuse me

Because of the difference in dialect, many times someone will say something you can’t pick up easily for the first time and you’ll often ask for excuses to catch up. Owange, could you say that again. 

Amazzi: Water 

Uganda’s total land area is 241,559 sq km. About 37,000 sq km of this area is occupied by open water while the rest is land. The longest river in the world collects most of its waters from Uganda and the neighboring countries before it begins its odious journey to Egypt. Because of the tropical climate, it can show down anytime in Uganda. In three of the most popular savannah parks, you’ll most probably take a boat safari on the Nile, lake or a channel to catch sight of the big and small savannah animals. It may be a kind-of difficult to avoid amazzi on your trip to Uganda.

Mukwano: My love or my friend

I was in a dusty spice shop in Kasese trying to find change in my wallet to pay for my plantain snack, and the fast-talking seller was adding pieces to my bag faster than I could say “owange.” The price was mounting quickly and I couldn’t get his attention until, in a move I only had the privilege to get away with as a foreigner in this part of Uganda, I dropped “mukwano,” a term of endearment widely used for all manner of sweet talking. Mothers use it with their kids, close friends use it with each other, and it’s ubiquitous in Ugandan pop music. In my case, the shopkeeper broke into a huge smile, told me she had underestimated me, and gave me a better price for my snacks—plus she threw in a free piece of plantain.

Know the best time to plan a Uganda trip

Best time for a trip to Uganda

Nkooye: I’m tired

Going on an African safari can be tiring especially if you’re driving on unpaved tracks in the park or driving long distances between destinations, the African savannah is vast and takes hours to cover or find the animals you expect to see. Tell your driver or guide “nkooye” and find a breather.

Tugende: Let’s go

For many travelers, a safari guide is usually a great choice on their trip to Uganda. When exploring with one of these experts, each new sighting is contextualized and interpreted with skill, sensitivity, and critical thought around what they mean for Uganda and for the world at large. As you’ll learn more on your journey through the country, you don’t need as much explanation to situate anything you see, but each morning will still start with an overview of what you see, ending with a wave and a quick “tugende”“let’s go”—from your guide. You’ll later associate the phrase with the giddy anticipation of new experiences.

Mukwano, Tugende!

Mukwano, if you’re planning your next trip to Uganda, these are not many words to grasp even on your 8 hour flight to Entebbe. By the time you land, you’ll have mastered the secret passwords that are the Ugandan words and phrases to make your trip to Uganda a fantastic one. Talk to a safari consultant from our most trusted local operator, Nkuringo Safaris, to help you put together a custom-made safari trip that suits your style of travel. Send an email to info@nkuringosafaris.com