African Great Lakes
Encyclopedia
The African Great Lakes are a series of lakes and the Rift Valley lakes
Rift Valley lakes
The Rift Valley lakes are a group of lakes in the Great Rift Valley formed by the East African Rift which runs through the whole eastern side of the African continent from north to south...

 in and around the geographic Great Rift Valley
Great Rift Valley
The Great Rift Valley is a name given in the late 19th century by British explorer John Walter Gregory to the continuous geographic trench, approximately in length, that runs from northern Syria in Southwest Asia to central Mozambique in South East Africa...

 formed by the action of the tectonic East African Rift
East African Rift
The East African Rift is an active continental rift zone in eastern Africa that appears to be a developing divergent tectonic plate boundary. It is part of the larger Great Rift Valley. The rift is a narrow zone in which the African Plate is in the process of splitting into two new tectonic plates...

 on the continent of Africa. They include Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria is one of the African Great Lakes. The lake was named for Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, by John Hanning Speke, the first European to discover this lake....

, the second largest fresh water
Fresh Water
Fresh Water is the debut album by Australian rock and blues singer Alison McCallum, released in 1972. Rare for an Australian artist at the time, it came in a gatefold sleeve...

 lake in the world in terms of surface area, and Lake Tanganyika
Lake Tanganyika
Lake Tanganyika is an African Great Lake. It is estimated to be the second largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, and the second deepest, after Lake Baikal in Siberia; it is also the world's longest freshwater lake...

, the world's second largest in volume as well as the second deepest. The term Greater Lakes is also used, less commonly, for some of them.

The African Great Lakes are divided among three different catchment
Drainage basin
A drainage basin is an extent or an area of land where surface water from rain and melting snow or ice converges to a single point, usually the exit of the basin, where the waters join another waterbody, such as a river, lake, reservoir, estuary, wetland, sea, or ocean...

s (river basins), and a number, such as Lake Turkana
Lake Turkana
Lake Turkana , formerly known as Lake Rudolf, is a lake in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, with its far northern end crossing into Ethiopia. It is the world's largest permanent desert lake and the world's largest alkaline lake...

, have internal drainage systems. The following, in order of size from largest to smallest, are included on most lists of the African Great Lakes:
  • Lake Victoria
    Lake Victoria
    Lake Victoria is one of the African Great Lakes. The lake was named for Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, by John Hanning Speke, the first European to discover this lake....

  • Lake Tanganyika
    Lake Tanganyika
    Lake Tanganyika is an African Great Lake. It is estimated to be the second largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, and the second deepest, after Lake Baikal in Siberia; it is also the world's longest freshwater lake...

  • Lake Malawi
    Lake Malawi
    Lake Malawi , is an African Great Lake and the southernmost lake in the Great Rift Valley system of East Africa. This lake, the third largest in Africa and the eighth largest lake in the world, is located between Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania...

  • Lake Turkana
    Lake Turkana
    Lake Turkana , formerly known as Lake Rudolf, is a lake in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, with its far northern end crossing into Ethiopia. It is the world's largest permanent desert lake and the world's largest alkaline lake...

  • Lake Albert
  • Lake Kivu
    Lake Kivu
    Lake Kivu is one of the African Great Lakes. It lies on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, and is in the Albertine Rift, a part of the Great Rift Valley. Lake Kivu empties into the Ruzizi River, which flows southwards into Lake Tanganyika...

  • Lake Edward
    Lake Edward
    Lake Edward or Edward Nyanza is the smallest of the African Great Lakes. It is located in the western Great Rift Valley, on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, with its northern shore a few kilometres south of the Equator...



Some call only Lake Victoria, Lake Albert, and Lake Edward the Great Lakes, as they are the only three that empty into the White Nile
White Nile
The White Nile is a river of Africa, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile from Egypt, the other being the Blue Nile. In the strict meaning, "White Nile" refers to the river formed at Lake No at the confluence of the Bahr al Jabal and Bahr el Ghazal rivers...

. Lake Kyoga
Lake Kyoga
Lake Kyoga is a large shallow lake complex of Uganda, about in area and at an elevation of 914 m. The Victoria Nile flows through the lake on its way from Lake Victoria to Lake Albert. The main inflow from Lake Victoria is regulated by the Nalubaale Power Station in Jinja. Another source of water...

 is part of Great Lakes system, but is not itself considered a Great Lake, based on size alone. Lake Tanganyika and Lake Kivu both empty into the Congo River
Congo River
The Congo River is a river in Africa, and is the deepest river in the world, with measured depths in excess of . It is the second largest river in the world by volume of water discharged, though it has only one-fifth the volume of the world's largest river, the Amazon...

 system, while Lake Malawi is drained by the Shire River
Shire River
The Shire is a river in Malawi and Mozambique. The river has been known as the Shir√© or Chire River. It is the outlet of Lake Malawi and flows into the Zambezi. Its length is 402 km; including Lake Malawi and the Ruhuhu, its headstream, it has a length of about 1200 km...

 into the Zambezi
Zambezi
The Zambezi is the fourth-longest river in Africa, and the largest flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. The area of its basin is , slightly less than half that of the Nile...

. Lake Turkana has no outlet.

Two other lakes close to Lake Tanganyika do not appear on the lists despite being larger than Edward and Kivu: Lake Rukwa
Lake Rukwa
Lake Rukwa is a lake in southwestern Tanzania. The alkaline Lake Rukwa lies midway between Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa at an elevation of about 800 metres, in a parallel branch of the rift system. The lake has seen large fluctuations in its size over the years, due to varying inflow of streams...

 and Lake Mweru
Lake Mweru
Lake Mweru is a freshwater lake on the longest arm of Africa's second-longest river, the Congo. Located on the border between Zambia and Democratic Republic of the Congo, it makes up 110 km of the total length of the Congo, lying between its Luapula River and Luvua River segments.Mweru...

.

Because the term is a loose one, it is often preferable to use other categorizations such as African Rift Valley Lakes or East African Lakes.

African Great Lakes region

The African Great Lake region is likewise somewhat loose. It is used in a narrow sense for the area lying between northern Lake Tanganyika, western Lake Victoria, and lakes Kivu, Edward and Albert. This comprises Burundi
Burundi
Burundi , officially the Republic of Burundi , is a landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. Its capital is Bujumbura...

, Rwanda
Rwanda
Rwanda or , officially the Republic of Rwanda , is a country in central and eastern Africa with a population of approximately 11.4 million . Rwanda is located a few degrees south of the Equator, and is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo...

, north-eastern DR Congo, Uganda
Uganda
Uganda , officially the Republic of Uganda, is a landlocked country in East Africa. Uganda is also known as the "Pearl of Africa". It is bordered on the east by Kenya, on the north by South Sudan, on the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the southwest by Rwanda, and on the south by...

 and north-western Kenya
Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

 and Tanzania
Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

. It is used in a wider sense to extend to all of Kenya
Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

 and Tanzania
Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

, but not usually as far south as Zambia
Zambia
Zambia , officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west....

, Malawi
Malawi
The Republic of Malawi is a landlocked country in southeast Africa that was formerly known as Nyasaland. It is bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast, and Mozambique on the east, south and west. The country is separated from Tanzania and Mozambique by Lake Malawi. Its size...

 and Mozambique
Mozambique
Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique , is a country in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest...

 nor as far north as Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

, though these four countries border one of the Great Lakes.

Because of the density of population and the agricultural surplus in the region the area became highly organized into a number of small states. The most powerful of these monarchies were Rwanda
Rwanda
Rwanda or , officially the Republic of Rwanda , is a country in central and eastern Africa with a population of approximately 11.4 million . Rwanda is located a few degrees south of the Equator, and is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo...

, Burundi
Burundi
Burundi , officially the Republic of Burundi , is a landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. Its capital is Bujumbura...

, Buganda
Buganda
Buganda is a subnational kingdom within Uganda. The kingdom of the Ganda people, Buganda is the largest of the traditional kingdoms in present-day Uganda, comprising all of Uganda's Central Region, including the Ugandan capital Kampala, with the exception of the disputed eastern Kayunga District...

, and Bunyoro
Bunyoro
Bunyoro is a kingdom in Western Uganda. It was one of the most powerful kingdoms in East Africa from the 16th to the 19th century. It is ruled by the Omukama of Bunyoro...

. Unusual for sub-Saharan Africa, the traditional borders were largely maintained by the colonial powers.

Being the long sought after source of the Nile
Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

, the region had long been of interest to Europeans. The first Europeans to arrive in the region in any numbers were missionaries who had limited success in converting the locals, but did open the region to later colonization. The increased contact with the rest of the world led to a series of devastating epidemic
Epidemic
In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...

s affecting both humans and livestock. These decreased the region's population dramatically, by up to 60% in some areas. The region did not return to its precolonial population until the 1950s. While seen as a region with great potential after independence, the region has in recent decades been marred by civil war and conflict, from which only Tanzania
Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

 has largely escaped. The worst affected areas have been left in great poverty.

See also

  • 2008 Rwanda earthquake
  • 2005 Lake Tanganyika earthquake
    2005 Lake Tanganyika earthquake
    The 2005 Lake Tanganyika earthquake occurred along the East African Great Rift Valley, and struck at 12:19:55 on 5 December 2005 with its focus approximately below the surface of Lake Tanganyika...

  • List of lakes
  • List of world's largest lakes
  • Rift Valley lakes
    Rift Valley lakes
    The Rift Valley lakes are a group of lakes in the Great Rift Valley formed by the East African Rift which runs through the whole eastern side of the African continent from north to south...

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