Yes, Afrikaans is OK on Uganda Airlines – Experts

Questions have been raised by some Ugandans after one passenger aboard a Uganda Airlines flight to South Africa from Entebbe questioned the use of a foreign language aboard. 

Caesar Okello Okumu on Friday was made uncomfortable while aboard the morning flight, when the crew started using English and Afrikaans to communicate with the passengers. 

“I was on the Uganda Airlines flight to Johannesburg this morning. I found it curious that the passengers were engaged over the speakers in English and Afrikaans. Yes, Afrikaans! What happened to Swahili or Luganda or Acholi,” he questioned. 

Okumu’s tone shows that he was not bothered about English being used, after all, because it is the main language of instruction and one of Uganda’s official languages, the other one being Swahili. 

But Thomas Obita, a security expert, says that perhaps this was necessitated by the number of the people on the flight and what languages were most likely to cater for the majority. 

This was similar to a view given by the Shakila Rahim Lamar, the Head of Corporate Affairs at Uganda Airlines.  

According to her, each airlines has a policy they use by in most cases, the language used at any one time might be influenced by a dominant nationality.    

But also, a language which is local to a person gives a feeling of personal attachment and can give a lasting person to that language’s speaker. 

Monica Rubombora, the Country Manager, Uganda Airlines says there is no problem communicating in a language that most of the passengers understand. This is the reason that usually more than one language is used in most cases. 

She says that they are currently looking at French to the officially English –speaking crew especially in flights to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.   

But Lamar says language is also a product, because it makes a passenger feels attacked. 

International standards and best practices provide that every international airline has English on their language menu, and it is usually an advantage for one seeking a career as an international cabin crewperson to be a speaker of the language. 

“Onboard an international aircraft, all communication must be in English because that is the language of aviation and potentially stops any communication issues, especially when you often have crew from many nationalities,” according to Aviation expert Patricia Green of Simpleflying.com.

However, since most communication between crew and passengers is for safety reasons, it is important for the cabin crew to communicate clearly within the team and with the passengers in case of an emergency situation. 

“It is crucial that all instructions are precise, straightforward and understood, and miscommunication and language barriers have an impact on flight safety. Therefore, effective communication is absolutely critical,” she says.

However, for Uganda Airlines, government will insist that English and Swahili be used. 

“The Ministry of works has been directed by Cabinet to ensure that the Crew of Uganda Airlines address the passengers in both English and Swahili, which are official languages of Uganda,” says Rebecca Kadaga, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Community Affairs.  

On the use of local languages, Green says a second language is expected, adding that after English, other languages are an added advantage. 

“Cabin crew who are native or fluent language speaker will be there to read passenger announcements. These are usually conducted in two languages, that of the country of departure and of the destination,” she says. 

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