Lake Tanganyika was first discovered in 1858 by the explorers Richard Burton and John Speke while they were looking for the River Nile’s source spring. Instead they stumbled upon the second oldest lake in the world and the deepest in Africa.
With an average depth of 530 meters (1740 ft.), this lake holds the largest quantity of fresh water on the continent. The lake is so deep that the bottom layers can be considered as “fossil water” which remained undisturbed and untouched for millions of years. The lowest point is at 1433 metres (4,700 feet), which is an astounding 642 meters below sea level. The bottom 1 200 meters of the lake remain ‘dead’ – either too high in hydrogen sulphide or too low in oxygen to support life.
Close to the surface live around 300 species of fish, two thirds of which are endemic to Lake Tanganyika. They provide the main source of food for over one million people living in towns and villages all around the lake. Fishing takes place only at night by using artificial light in order to draw these fish to the surface. Hippopotamuses and crocodiles are also abound, and the bird life is varied.
The lake itself has a total length of about 673 kilometers (418 miles) and an average width of 50 kilometers (31 miles). Burundi with 8 percent, Congo with 45, Tanzania with 41 and Zambia with 6 share the borders within Tanganyika.
Many of the numerous peoples (predominantly Bantu-speaking) living on the lake’s eastern borders trace their origins to areas in the Congo River basin. The Ha tribespeople who live at the northern end of the lake today have an oral tradition that they have always lived in the region they call Buha. Therefore, they may have been among the first Bantu groups to arrive from Central Africa, about two thousand years ago.
It is the fifth largest lake in the world, even if after 1962 the water level has been droping by about 45 centimeters (17.7 inches) per year. The water flows in the River Congo and from there to the Atlantic Ocean.