Communication, Language, and Culture in East Africa

Set deep within the fabric of every country, nation, and culture are concepts and language that reflect their values, culture, and religion of the local residents. We have listed some distinct concepts that arise in daily communication in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.

UMEAMKAJE – How did you wake up this morning?

How do you say “Good morning” in Tanzania and Kenya?

When Tanzanians and Kenyans meet with each other in the morning, the first question they ask each other is “Umeamkaje?” an expression meaning “How did you wake up this morning?” When I lived in these countries, part of my morning routine would consist of encountering local friends, who would ask me this question every morning. To tell the truth, when I first moved to Kenya, I couldn’t understand why they simply didn’t greet me with “Good morning.” Once I learned Swahili and studied the intricacies of the language and local culture, I realized that rest at night was vital to Tanzanians and Kenyans. It impacts daily functioning, which is actually true for all of us. And that is why they ask “Umeamkaje?” a question that emphasizes the importance of waking up properly in the morning.

UNAENDELEAJE? – How are you getting on?

How do Tanzanians and Kenyans in Africa greet each other during the day?

“Unaendeleaje?” which means, “How are you getting on?” This expression is also part of the daily routine and characterizes life in East Africa. As someone who spoke Swahili every day and forged connections with the local people, I understood the deeper meaning of expressions, which reflected the simple life of the people. Ther politeness, calm, and serenity that permeate these countries taught me the importance of asking these questions, and the truth of their meanings.


An English expression used by the people of Uganda

While travelling in Uganda, I learned that Ugandans also place great importance on knowing whether people sleep well at night. But there, they ask you in English. As speakers of polished British English, Ugandans often speak in English amongst themselves, resulting in a culture of English expressions. When we actually think about the question, “How did you sleep last night?” we understand how this question is just as much a part of the culture as in Kenya and Tanzania, with an emphasis on the importance of a good night’s sleep and its impact the following day.

POLE SANA – I’m sorry to hear

Empathy and kindness in East Africa

I’m sorry that is the case. I wish I could help.

When Tanzanians and Kenyans take an interest in your wellbeing and you share a difficulty or that you had a busy, or stressful day, their response will be “Pole sana,” an expression of empathy, which means, “I’m sorry that’s the case.” This is their way of commiserating and showing understanding for your difficult situation.

MUNGI NI MWEMA – God is good

Religion and Language in East Africa

The Tanzanians, Kenyans, and Ugandans are mostly believing Christians. They range between the pious and the less devout, but they all believe that with God’s help, problems will be worked out and solved. In Tanzania, when talking about a problem in general or a specific issue one of the party is undergoing, people try to discuss a solution. Thereafter, they conclude the conversation by showing their faith in God. So when there is nothing left to say, they utter the sentence, Mungi Ni Mwena – God is good. It gives hope and ends the conversation on optimistic note, indicating that everything will work out in the end.

HABARI? – What’s new?

HABARI YA ASUBUHI? – What’s new this morning?

HABARI YA JIONI? – What’s new this evening?

HABARI YA USIKU? – What’s new tonight?

Habari is a classic question asked in Kenya and Tanzania that follows ”How are you?” depending on the time of day: morning, evening, or night. When people encounter each other in Kenya, Tanzania, or Uganda, they are always interested in your wellbeing. This is part of the East African etiquette and the warm, human connection people foster with each other; the sharing and concern for the wellbeing of all whom they meet. Tourists in these countries enjoy the warm encounters and interest taken by the local people. The heartwarming attitude to visitors radiate a feeling of home and all that it implies.

About Rachel Levy – African Tours

As someone who has lived in the countries of East Africa, I have to say that the culture of language, warm relationships, and the approach to visitors, is magical. A sparkling culture and smiling people whose interest in your wellbeing is heartwarming and gives you a sense of belonging. I possess a great love and appreciation for the culture, the refined manners, the way the people communicate with each other, and the warm bonds I share with them. To me it is home.