Acholi: Talking Politics in Northern Uganda

Many Ugandans follow politics with keen interest, and President Yoweri Musevei’s 34-year tenure notwithstanding, politics is a frequent topic of in-depth conversation and spirited debate among friends and acquaintances, and my conversations with my mentor are no exception. Below I have provided a number of words and phrases crucial to discussing politics with Acholi speakers in northern Uganda, along with some explanations of the contexts in which they might arise and their cultural implications, as I understand them.

Cungu iwibiye: Politics. The literal definition of the term is ‘standing on an anthill’ (cungu: to stand; iwi: on top; biye: anthill), hinting at the its origins in the authoritarian, top-down politics of the colonial period.

Gamente: Government.

Lacungu (pl. lucungu): Representative or candidate (lit. ‘one who stands’). The verb cungu can also refer to the act of running for office.

  • Sample sentence: Abicungu i yer me tedero ma obitimme i mwaka ma bino: I will run in the next year’s local election.

Yer: election; derived from the verb yero (to choose).

Loyo: To win.

Poto: To lose.

Cik: Law, order or command.

Ot moko cik: Parliament (lit. ‘house of fixing laws’).

Lamok cik (pl. lumok cik): Lawmaker/Member of Parliament.

Pencik: Constitution.

Bolo kwir: To vote.

Lacwak (pl. lucwak): Supporter; from the verb cwako (to support).

Wonkom: Chairperson. This usually refers to holders of local offices within Uganda’s decentralized political system, such as district sub-county chairmen.

Lakub (pl. lukub) : Commissioner.

Latela (pl. lutela): Leader.

Latela tekwaro: Traditional leader.

Rwot (pl. rwodi): Chief.

  • Chiefs and traditional leaders were recognized by the Ugandan government in the 1995 constitution, and many play an important role in political life in their respective regions.
  • Sample sentence: Rwot obiyubo laro ngom weng i cab-kaunti man: The chief will solve all of the land conflicts in this sub-county.

Lamii tam (pl. lumii tam): Adviser.

Preciden/Ladit Lobo: President.

Minicta: Minister.

Lapilida (pl. lupilida): Lawyer.

Kot: Court.

Langol kop (pl. lungol kop): Judge.

Pido: Case.

  • As of late, legal terms have figured prominently in political discussions in northern Uganda, as people closely monitor both the controversy surrounding the removal of constitutional amendments to prolong President Museveni’s stay in power and the trial of Dominic Ongwen, an Acholi and former commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group, at the International Criminal Court.
  • Sample sentence: Ngo manyen i lok me pido ikom Dominic Ongwen? Atamo ni pe omyero gicwale inyim ICC; omyero ecung inyim kot kany wek langol kop me Uganda twero miye pwud: What’s new in the case against Dominic Ongwen? I think that they shouldn’t have sent him before the ICC; he should stand before a court here so that a Ugandan judge can give him his sentence.

Camcana: Corruption. The literal translation is ‘eating my suffering’ (camo: to eat; can: suffering/misfortune; –a: possessive suffix).

Lok angeya: Media/news.

Lacoyo lok angeya: Journalist.

Gajeti: Newspaper.

Dul ma pe jenge ikom gamente: Non-governmental organization.

Dongo lobo: Development.

Twero pa dano: Human rights.

Winye: Agreement.

Tuuru gamente: To overthrow the government.

Weko ker: To leave power.

Mony: Army/war.

Adwii: Rebel(s).

Abili: Police.

Lugwok kuc: Security personnel. From gwoko (to protect) and kuc (peace).

Dano ma pe rwatte ki gamente: Dissident/opposition member.

Alokaloka me tela: Change in leadership.


Note: To express certain terms, Acholi speakers use altered versions of English words. For instance, ‘democracy’ becomes demokraci, ‘sub-county’ becomes cab-kaunti and ‘district’ becomes dictrik.


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