Photo credit: Christoph Hormann
Tectonic movements are gradually separating the Somali plate from the rest of the African continent. This geological activity is responsible for the formation of the western branch of the East African Rift known as the Albertine Rift. The crack can be seen in parts of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Although the Albertine Rift consists of the valley and the surrounding mountains, it is connected to a wider ecosystem of the environment we owe our lives to.
Landscape restructuring caused by the disintegration of the earth’s lithosphere and related geological reactions created lakes, mountains, rivers and many other geographical features.
Lakes Albert, Edward, Kivu and Tanganyika are lined up on the surface of the rift. The Rwenzori mountains soar to the crowds somewhere between Lake Albert and Lake Edward. Similarly, the volcanoes stand between Lake Edward and Lake Kivu, while Itombwe mountains occupy the western part of the slope separating Lake Kivu and Lake Tanganyika.
Nyungwe National Park is on the south-eastern side of Lake Kivu. The park’s dense vegetation covers the south-western corner of Rwanda. It is here where arguably the most important source of the Nile is traced.
Rivers Mbirurume and Mwogo flow from Nyungwe and merge to form Nyabarongo River. The latter flows towards the north for about 85 kilometers. At the confluence with Mukungwa River, it drifts eastwards for approximately 12 kilometers before taking a south-eastern direction.
Rwanda’s longest river flows into Lake Rweru and Kagera River. Kagera in turn, finds its way to Lake Victoria. Several rivers merge before the stream crosses Lake Victoria and proceeds to Lake Albert.
I always refer to the latter as Lake Mwitanzige but Ugandan authorities chose to honor Prince Albert instead. Many attractions found in Uganda or along the Ugandan borders are named after members of the British royal family, explorers and prominent figures in history of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). These include Lake Albert, Lake George, Lake Victoria, Mount Stanley, Mount Speke, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park.
Victoria Nile glides from Lake Victoria to the northern tip of Lake Albert. It exits lake Albert as Albert Nile and assumes the name White Nile somewhere in Sudan.
One little fountain in Nyungwe forest gave birth to a stream that deviates from the western branch of the rift, joins forces with other rivers along the way and returns to the western strip before advancing to the Mediterranean Sea through Sudan and Egypt.
When volcanic eruptions formed the Virunga Massif many years ago, Lake Kivu’s outlet towards the Nile was blocked. As a result, its content rose to an unprecedented level. When the water surged over the edge, it overflowed and created Rusizi River.
Volcanic turmoil experienced here erased one river from the surface of the earth and formed a new one. The new river storms towards the opposite direction and connects Lake Kivu and Lake Tanganyika. Lukuga and Lualaba channels form the link between Lake Tanganyika and Congo River.
Rusizi River spans the distance of 117 kilometers. Along the way, it forms part of the border between Rwanda and the DRC. Deep south, it borders the DRC and Burundi. There is a border post and a bridge connecting Rwanda and the DRC where the river’s source is located.
While charging southwards, Rusizi River descends from 1,463 to 771 meters above the level of the sea. Its steepest gradient can be seen within the first 40 kilometers of the course. The said river splits into several tributaries before reaching Lake Tanganyika. By doing so, it forms a delta and riparian swamps.
The Congo Nile Divide lies within the same block. This is the watershed that separates the drainage systems of the Congo and the Nile, Africa’s most iconic rivers.
Back to the Virunga chain, the eruptions formed lava tubes as well. During the violent emissions, discharged lava was pushed towards the least resistant directions. As the outer parts of the streaming molten rock eventually cooled down and hardened, inner currents continued to flow unobstructed leaving behind huge horizontal openings beneath the elevated ground. This process led to the formation of Musanze Caves and a new product in the rapidly growing tourism sector.
Volcanic action wreaked havoc for centuries and reshaped this area’s landscape. A variety of physical features decorating the surface of the earth were formed, altitude levels were altered and subways were created. From deep valleys to skyscraping summits, lava emitted from the Virunga vents moulded topographic features of all shapes and sizes.
There is more. The underground water that bubbles to the surface of the earth through porous rocks gave us the hot springs. Plans are underway to upgrade amenities around the natural spas of Nyamyumba and Bugarama located in Rubavu and Rusizi districts respectively.
The Albertine Rift is also an epicenter of bio-diversity. It is home to a significant percentage of Africa’s species of birds, mammals, amphibians and plants. Some species of animals found within the rift and plants flourishing here can’t be seen anywhere else on planet earth. The same can be said about the mountain gorillas inhabiting the slopes of the volcanoes.
Lush forests, massive mountain ranges, unique wildlife, stunning lakes and river streams falling over gorges to form picturesque waterfalls create a great opportunity for us to diversify our tourism products and offer our visitors a wide range of activities. This profusion of vast water bodies, towering mountains and unmatched diversity in flora and fauna can undoubtedly pump more money into our national coffers and lift communities out of poverty.