Geological studies have shown that Lake Victoria has dried up completely a few times in the past, the last time being approximately 17,300 years ago.
Africa’s largest lake and one of her most spectacular landmarks is located in East Central Africa along the Equator, bordering Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Measuring an outstanding 68,000sq. Kms, Lake Victoria is also the largest tropical lake in the world and the second largest freshwater lake in the world, after Lake Superior in North America.
Lake Victoria is estimated to be about 400,000 years old and was created by the same geological shifts that created the great African rift valleys. Victoria’s shallow basin with an average depth of 40m is in the center of the great plateau that stretches between the Western and Eastern Rift Valleys. Interestingly, geological studies have shown that the lake has dried up completely a few times in the past, the last time being approximately 17,300 years ago.
Rainfall is the primary source of water for Lake Victoria, complimented by thousands of small streams. River Kagera, which starts in Burundi and flows through Rwanda and Tanzania, also empties into Victoria. The Lake Victoria region is one of the most densely populated in Africa, by a host of bantu-speaking tribes in all three countries, and the Nilotic Luo in Kenya. The Ugandan cities of Kampala, Entebbe and Jinja lie along or near the northern coast in an area that is largely inhabited by the Baganda and Basoga tribes.
Arab Traders first recorded the lake on a map around 1160 AD as they worked the inland routes in search of slaves, gold and ivory – naming it Ukerewe. Several hundred years later in 1858, an English explorer John Hanning Speke was the first European to set eyes on the lake during a Central African expedition in search for the source of the Nile. Speke named the lake in honour of the reigning English monarch, Queen Victoria, and declared it the source of the Nile, sparking a great debate in the scientific community that rages on today. Not long after his discovery, the area that is now modern day Uganda became a subject of intense interest for several explorers that were keen to either refute or confirm Speke’s discovery.
In 1875, a Welsh-American explorer Henry Morton Stanley circumnavigated Lake Victoria, confirming Speke’s discovery when he reached the lake’s outlet on the northern shores, at Ripon Falls. Stanley made friends with the local reigning monarch, King Mutesa of the Baganda, persuading him to open Buganda to England. He eventually sent word back to England, calling for missionaries who came a few years later with soldiers and traders, to forever change the story of Uganda and that of the inhabitants of the shores of Lake Victoria.
Before her discovery by Europeans and long after that, Lake Victoria was known by several indigenous names. In Uganda the Baganda whose kingdom surrounded the lake, called it Nalubaale. The Lubaale were the over two-dozen demi-gods that were revered in the Buganda Kingdom as interceders with the supreme creator Katonda, on behalf of humans.
The Lubaale were at the centre of everyday life in Buganda influencing the outcome of everything from war, to fertility and it was believed that the lake was their home. Mukasa, the most popular of them, was the guardian of the Lake with his chief temple located on Bubembe Island in Lake Victoria.
Lake Victoria’s ecology was once characterised by immense biodiversity including over 500 species of fish that have been evolving alongside the lake over the last few thousand years; Tilapia is by far the most popular and economically important today. Several mammals that are closely associated with the lake itself, live in the Lake Victoria basin including the hippopotamus, different species otters, marsh mongoose and waterbucks. A large population of Nile Crocodiles and bird species also inhabit the lake and her wetlands.