African Great Lakes

The African Great Lakes (Swahili: Maziwa Makuu) are a series of lakes constituting the part of the Rift Valley lakes in and around the East African Rift. They include Lake Victoria, the second-largestfresh water lake in the world by area, Lake Tanganyika, the world’s second-largest freshwater lake by volume and depth, and Lake Malawi, the world’s eighth-largest fresh water lake by area.[1] Collectively, they contain 31,000 km3 (7400 cu mi) of water, which is more than either Lake Baikal or the North American Great Lakes. This total constitutes about 25% of the planet’s unfrozen surface fresh water. The large rift lakes of Africa are the ancient home of great biodiversity, and 10% of the world’s fish species live in this region.

Series of lakes in the Rift Valley
African Great Lakes

Satellite view of the African Great Lakes region and its coastline.
Coordinates

8°00′00″S35°00′00″E

Primary outflows White Nile river, Congo river, Shire river
Basin countries Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, and Uganda
Water volume 31,000 cubic kilometres (7,400 cu mi)
The African Great Lakes system, in blue.
Map of larger region including the East African Rift and the entire so-called Great Rift Valley

Riparian countries in the African Great Lakes region include Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, and Uganda.[2]

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The following are included on most lists of the African Great Lakes, grouped by drainage basin. The exact number of lakes considered part of the African Great Lakes varies by list, and may include smaller lakes in the rift valleys, especially if they are part of the same drainage basin as the larger lakes, such as Lake Kyoga.

The Great Lakes region (rarely: Greater Lakes region) consists of ten riparian countries: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.[2] The adjective interlacustrine (“between lakes”) can refer to the region,[3] or more specifically, the nations or area bounded by the lakes.[4]

The Swahili language is the most commonly spoken language in the African Great Lakes region.[5] It also serves as a national or official language of five nations in the region: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Because of its high population—estimated to be 107 million people—and the agricultural surplus in the region, the area became organized into a number of small states. The most powerful of these monarchies were Buganda, Bunyoro, Rwanda, and Burundi. Unusual for sub-Saharan Africa, the traditional borders were largely maintained by the colonial powers. However, the national borders were often drawn to divide monarchies that the colonials did not favor or to keep preferred groups in relative dominance over groups perceived as less euro-centric.

Being the long-sought source of the Nile, 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 epidemics affecting both humans and livestock. While seen as a region with great potential after independence, the region has in recent decades been marred by civil war and conflict, which only Tanzania has escaped. According to the UNHCR, Tanzania hosted the most Congolese refugees of the region. The worst affected areas have been left in great poverty.[6]

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