Someday, East Africa will be a continent on its own

RWANDA’S geologists say in millions of years to come, even the snake-like part of Lake Kivu will have become a vast sea where eyes stop in the water’s horizons.


RWANDA’S geologists say in millions of years to come, even the snake-like part of Lake Kivu will have become a vast sea where eyes stop in the water’s horizons.

Both ancient legends and present-day science claim that the valley in which Lake Kivu sits is unique from the rest we know. It is part of a massive trench called the East African Rift Valley.

Using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, Rwanda’s geologists have it that the land in this valley is jolting apart and the valley widening.

One of the legends about the valley and Lake Kivu tells of a dramatic battle ground in which a woman who was queen mother from Rwanda’s diehard opponent and agrarian chiefdom in the Congo, gave birth to the valley.

When she was being pursued by a certain Rwandan king, she sought to fight back with magic making the expanse of land behind her sink, such that waters could surge over the land and inevitably have Rwanda’s king and kingdom perish beneath the water.

The Deus ex Machina in this legend is Rwanda’s king who used his royal sword to cut the land so that the growing valley and the surging waters could stop by the cut mark.

Today, the king’s claimed cut marks are the hills that encase the valley and Lake Kivu. Although this story has been distorted probably by the great span of time since its inception, it gives an impression of something that might have happened as science has it.

Alain Joseph Ntege, the Director of Geological Surveying and Exploration at Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board says, the valley is part of a massive valley that was caused by the faulting (cracking) of the plate on which the continent sat 35 million years ago (a plate is an alleged layer of rock slab beneath the earth on which land or sea is said to sit).

“Since then, it has been tearing the plate down through Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania on one side and Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi on the other side, then meeting in Malawi to Mozambique,” he says.

Ntege’s explanation is that it is the splitting plate that made the land above to sink to make the rift valley which host waters bodies including lakes Albert, Kivu, Tanganyika and also gave way for magma to form volcanic mountains in Rwanda’s north.

Ntege says they have been studying the behaviour of this rift valley, including using GPS technology, and found that land on the side of Rwanda is moving away.

“The GPS devices fixed on Rubavu Hill and others on the other side of the Congo detect that the land on Rwanda’s side drifts away at a speed of 2-3mm a year,” he explains.

The human finger nail grows at a speed of 3mm a month which means the speed at which the land is moving apart is too slow to be significant even in a generation.

It is upon this background that Ntege takes us into a discourse of his assurance of “no heavy earthquakes can come from the fault beneath the East African Rift Valley” as experienced in other places like in the USA’s San Andreas Fault.

“Earthquakes happen in fault lines but the East African Rift Valley is tearing the land apart which is not the case in the notorious San Andreas Fault where two land masses collide passing each other,” he explains.

According to him, heavy earthquakes in the fault of East African Rift Valley happened millions of years. But the rift valley will change the continent forever.

Mathematically, at 2-3mm a year, it takes over 300 years for the land on Rwanda’s side of Kivu to drift a metre apart and over 300,000 years to drift the distance of a kilometre as the distance between Kigali Convention Centre and Gisementi roundabout.

Someday in the distant future, what we see as the Rift Valley will have become a vast lake or sea, just as the queen mother in the legend had wished and perhaps, the DR Congo of then will take Rwanda and Uganda’s part in the East African Community of then.

Ntege observes that “the whole of East Africa, Somalia and the Eastern part of Ethiopia together with Mozambique in south eastern Africa will be on a separate continent from Africa”.

If the present theory is right, as geologists claim, what happened to India drifting from East Africa 50 million years ago, will happen to the present East Africa.

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