On the road… again!

Afghanistan to Zambia

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek

 

Sources Of The Nile River

Every 4th grade school child has heard about the Nile River.  Most young ones know that it is in Africa; older students learn that it is the longest river in the world, at 4160 miles in length.  It can be mapped from its arbitrary source at the outlet of Lake Victoria in Uganda; then it flows north through Sudan where it is locally referred to as the White Nile; until it is joined by a major branch  and morphs into the Blue Nile at Khartoum, Sudan.  Then it meanders more placidly through into Egypt before discharging into the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria.

The narrow string of gushing water that is recognizable as a river spills out of Lake Victoria near the town of Jinja that boasts of being the source of the Nile.  If one were to approach that outflow and look down into the water of Lake Victoria, you can see where the discharge current begins, just a few feet inside the border of the lake. Lake Victoria itself, however; is fed by hundreds of springs, rivulets and unnamed creeks originating in other countries. And that is where the controversy about the true source(s) of the Nile really is (are).  As it turns out, the issue is a semantic argument.  Folks in Jinja can show you the discharge current where the river takes shape; but people who live around Lake Victoria can explain why the many sources of the Nile River are elsewhere.

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The Nile River Flows Out Of Lake Victoria

The issue is not merely a question of semantics.  Since Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, is composed of fresh water; its discharge into the Nile River is balanced by fresh water from springs and minor streams from the countries surrounding the lake.  Kenya supplies more than 80% of the fresh water that feeds Lake Victoria; but Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda also feed the lake with fresh water.  Hence, there are more than a hundred sources of fresh water supplying Lake Victoria.  As a result, the Nile River implicitly has more than a hundred sources.  As a named river, however; it begins at Jinja in Uganda. 

As an administrative entity, Lake Victoria is also broken down into sectors that recognize territorial claims on its resources by the member states that surround the lake.  In terms of surface area of water claimed by the member states, Uganda has the largest share, followed in order by Tanzania and Kenya; with token representation by Burundi and Rwanda.  That is not to say that disputes do not occur.  During the tribal genocide in Rwanda and Burundi during the 1990s, dead bodies floated downstream in local rivers and ended up in Lake Victoria. The events were reported in local newspapers but not widely covered in the international press.

In happier times, the member states cooperate in joint-administration of the fisheries and other resources of Lake Victoria, including the monitoring of pollution and effluents that discharge into the lake and thus affect water quality.  That issue is the downside of the story regarding the sources of the Nile River.  If toxic effluents and pollutants enter Lake Victoria from the highlands of the member states; then the Nile River begins its journey north laden with unwanted contaminants.  Nonetheless, the member states lay some claim to being the source of the Nile.  That is not the end of the story, however.  A significant volume of the waters of the Blue Nile downstream of Khartoum is derived from Ethiopia, hence; maintaining the traditional flow also involves the geopolitics in yet another country that does not itself lay claim to having upland sources.

The Footloose Forester has seen small signs at minor trickles of water in both Rwanda and Burundi announcing, “Source de Nile.”  Not the only source, to be sure, but a reminder that the majestic Nile River traces its origin from modest beginnings in the highlands of East and Central Africa.