Africa’s Largest Lake: Facts and Figures

Which is the Largest Lake in Africa?

Africa has many lakes but the largest lake in Africa is Lake Victoria, located on east central Africa, along the equator. It is not only the largest lake in Africa but also the second largest fresh lake in the world, following Lake Superior in North America. It is Africa’s largest lake by area, and it is the largest tropical lake in the world and can be found on the borders of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Lake Victoria occupies a shallow depression in Africa and has a maximum depth of 84 m (276 ft) and an average depth of 40 m (130 ft). Its catchment area covers 184,000 square kilometers (71,040 sq mi). The lake has a shoreline of 4,828 km (3,000 mi), with islands constituting 3.7% of this length, and is divided among three countries: Kenya (6% or 4,100 km2 or 1,600 sq mi), Uganda (45% or 31,000 km2 or 12,000 sq mi) and Tanzania (49% or 33,700 km2 or 13,000 sq mi). The lake is a total of 26,600 square miles.


Discovery of the Lake

The lake was first sighted by a European in 1858 when the British explorer John Hanning Speke, in search of the source of the Nile, reached  its southern shore while on his journey with Richard Francis Burton to explore central Africa and locate the Great Lakes. Believing he had found the source of the Nile on seeing this “vast expanse of open water” for the first time. Lake Victoria was named by John Hanning Speke, a British explorer and the first European to see and put down documentaries on the lake (1858). He named it lake Victoria, in honor of Queen Victoria of England. Lake Victoria is also called Victoria Nyanza. It is the chief reservoir of the Nile. The lake was formed when westward-flowing rivers were dammed by an upthrown crustal block. It is about 400,000 years old.

About the Lake

Lake Victoria receives almost all (80%) of its water from direct precipitation(rain water), while the other 20 percent comes from small rivers flowing into the lake. The lake has two major affluents entering it westwards. They are, the Kagera and the Katonga Rivers. The Kagera river is the largest and most important affluent of Lake Victoria. The lake’s only outlet is the Victoria Nile, which exits from the northern coast.


The land around Lake Victoria is densely populated, mostly by Bantu-speaking people, and the lake plays an important economic role in the lives of the people there. For tourists, sport fishing for Nile perch is a major attraction, as is bird-watching. Lake Victoria has more than 200 species of fish, of which the Tilapia is the most economically important. However, there are serious fears that the ecological health of this lake is at stake because of adverse environmental factors such as pollution, water hyacinths, and over fishing, which are affecting it negatively. The increasing population of inhabitants at the shores of this lake is not helping matters as they dump wastes (including raw sewage, domestic and industrial wastes), into the lake. It is this release of large amounts of untreated waste water (sewage), agricultural and industrial runoff directly into Lake Victoria over the past 30 years, that has greatly increased the nutrient levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the lake “triggering massive growth of exotic water hyacinth. The water hyacinths affect the lake negatively by reducing the amount of sunlight required by aquatics in the lake for their survival. As for over-fishing, this is as a result of the increasing demands for fish in Africa which is proportional to the increasing population.

It is worthy to note that on May 21st 1996 the ferry MV Bukoba sank in the lake. Approximately one thousand people lost their lives making it one of the worst maritime disasters in Africa’s history.