MY JOURNEY to the island of Nkombo, deep in Lake Kivu, started in Kamembe town, dozens of kilometres away. The road from Kamembe, the main city of Rusizi District, to Nkombo is dusty and sometimes becomes a dark cloud of dust caused mainly by trucks transporting sand and construction stones.
En route, women and girls carrying heavy loads on their backs move in groups of two or three. This is a common practice of carrying heavy loads in this part of the country, a practice common among the Congolese nationals who live on the other side of the border.
For about three hours, the women will trek the dusty road carrying a variety of goods-including foodstuffs and cement, among others.
Some of them earn just peanuts from their services. Vestine Turinabo, a woman in her mid-thirties, said she is paid only Rwf500 to carry a 50-kilogramme cement bag from Kamembe to Nkombo.
Nkombo Island is approximately 11 Kilometres from Kamembe town and 679 metres away from the shores of Lake Kivu. The Island, which is one of the 18 sectors that make up Rusizi District, covers an area of 21 square kilometres and is inhabited by about 17,000 residents.
As I reached the shores of Lake Kivu, at a popular place called Busekanka, I boarded a canoe with three other individuals. One of them was a secondary school girl going to attend classes at one of the three schools on the Island.
The 10-minute boat ride seemed like it took forever. For a first time traveller in a canoe, thoughts of the boat sinking kept sweeping through my mind.
Matters were made worse when the school girl seated next to me exuded extreme fear despite being a regular user.
“I fear crossing this lake. I always think the canoe can sink anytime,” the girl later confesses as we reached the other end of the lake.
But we arrived safely. According to our skipper, who identified himself as Niyonsaba, it is common for visitors to exude fear.
“But we keep telling them to calm down. Indeed there are not a lot of accidents here,” he insists as we moved through the deep waters.
“There are moments when we experience heavy storms and travellers become afraid. But we assure them, ask them to keep calm and we increase speed to get to the other side quickly,” he said on our way back.
Unlike other parts of the country where agriculture is the main source of income for the population, Nkombo dwellers live a different life. Here, 80 per cent of the total population depend on fishing, according officials.
A few others live off canoes, ferrying passengers to and from the Island which stands out in the middle of Lake Kivu, not far from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
For almost every 15 or 20 minutes, canoes keep ferrying residents and visitors to the Island. Women and girls loading and offloading heavy loads is a common sight.
The movement of the boats on the lake starts as early as 4am and ends later in the day, at around 8pm, according to Niyonsaba.
Seated in the middle of Lake Kivu Nkombo Island is undoubtedly one of Rwanda’s beauties with lush green hills, a peaceful breeze blowing from the lake and a thrilling, calm and tranquil nature.
Trees and banana plantations surround the Island making Nkombo an untold image of a ‘green hill’.
Undoubtedly, the Island could become one of the appreciated tourism destinations in the country if efforts are made in transforming it and turning it into a tourism hub, local residents argue.
However, it lacks infrastructure. Apart from electricity, Nkombo lacks almost all other infrastructure that might attract visitors to the Island.
And though accessing Nkombo from Kamembe seems very easy by boats, including motorised ones, it is difficult to travel the 21 square Kms once there.
On the Island, transport on the non-tarmaced roads becomes a challenge. No single vehicle or motorcycle operates at the Island.
The only motorcycles operating there are used by the sector employees and a local health centre, according to officials.
The option is to go along with your own motorcycle rider from Kamembe. The chances of finding the only bar on the island open are also minimal.
“We lack tourism infrastructure on the island,” confesses Nkombo Sector executive secretary, Victor Sebagabo, before detailing a list of planned activities and programmes to boost tourism at the Island.
The priority, he says, is to improve on infrastructure.
A guest house, which is under construction on the shores of Lake Kivu, is the first project being implemented with the aim of bridging the existing gap.
The construction of the facility, which will have at least 30 rooms, a conference hall, restaurant and bar, is in its final stage.
“This is just the beginning and we hope much more is to come,” he said, disclosing that efforts are being made to attract potential investors after showcasing the ‘huge potential’ of the Island.
“People [visitors] come and after touring some parts of the Island go back [without spending a coin here]. We believe developing the tourism sector will bring about positive change here,” Sebagabo says, noting that it would create more employment for local residents and stimulate local initiatives, including the making of artefacts to sell to tourists.