Searching the Source of the Nile

On Friday we went on an unexpected trip out of Kampala. Our country manager decided to send us to the trade show which happens twice a year in Jinja in order to gather some information about SMEs in Uganda and too find new businesses for Challenges’ programmes in the nearest future.

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Jinja is one of the main towns in Uganda of about 80,000 inhabitants, located 80 km eastwards from the capital. You must know that Uganda is mostly a rural country where more than 80% of the population lives in the countryside (World Bank, 2013). As a result, Uganda doesn’t have any city with more than 1m people. Perhaps apart from Kampala, which itself resembles more a big village than a modern agglomeration (except its busy financial and commercial centre).

20150710_150904Exploring the White Nile.

The road to Jinja is one of the best in the country but it still takes 2hrs to get there due to the horrific traffic jams in Kampala’s suburbs. Jinja is a new town. It was founded in 1907, but beforehand there had been a small fishering village on the shores of Lake Victoria. Right now it’s a second biggest economic centre of Uganda and a huge electricity generator thanks to its dam on the Nile.

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Papyrus is one of the most common plants of the Nile.

Jinja’s is primarily famous due to its strategic location. It is the very place where the Nile begins its long, 6853km route to the Mediterranean Sea. Only such a big reservoir of water like Lake Victoria can make the Nile a powerful river and a main source of life for millions of people in Africa.

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I’d like to share with you the story about the discovery of the Source of the Nile, or Mugachira, as the locals call the river. I feel really privileged to have a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be there and touch the very beginnings of the Nile because many in the past could have only dreamed about the place I was able to see… Starting from the ancients, great individuals such as Herodotus and Ptolemy believed that the source of the Nile which would be somewhere in the Mountains of the Moon, a mythical mountain range in East Africa. They had a good geographical intuition but no precision.

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John Hanning Speke. Routes taken by the expeditions of Burton and Speke (1857-1858) and Speke and Grant (1863).

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It was not before the 19th century that the Nile uncovered its mystery. The first European who laid eyes on the source of the Nile and Lake Victoria was John Hanning Speke who reached this place in February 1858. His journey from the island of Zanzibar (that time the only possible route to get to the East African interior) took about 8 months, some deaths in his expedition group and harsh disease, including Speke’s temporal blindness. In the 19th century the European expeditions into the African interior were very arduous and a death toll amongst the explorers was really high. Speke was one of the most important pioneers in the exploration of the African Great Lakes. It’s thanks to him that the biggest lake in Africa holds a name of the British monarch.

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The story of the exploration of the Nile taught me something important. I realised we take for granted so many things in our life which, in fact, were often sweat, blood and tears of previous generations. We shouldn’t forget about those explorers and inventors who, immersing with the unknown and uncertain, helped to develop and gain more knowledge about the world and deliver this message to the bigger audience.

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