Rwanda is a land of great diversity and beauty. Popularly known as ‘the land of a thousand hills’, Rwanda has five volcanoes, twenty-three lakes and numerous rivers, some forming the source of the great River Nile. The landscapes in this ‘green country’ are truly breathtaking.
Many a visitor to Rwanda has remarked that the physical beauty of the country is without equal on the African continent.
Spectacular volcanoes and dense tropical forests dominate the north of the country, while a series of gentle interwoven, undulating hills and valleys, calm lakes and turbulent rivers in both savannah and dense tropical vegetation dominate the rest of the country.
In the western part of the country is Lake Kivu the largest of the fresh water lakes in the Albertine (Western) rift of the Great Rift Valley.
Lake Kivu stands 1461m (4,790ft) above sea level and is Africa’s highest lake. Lake Kivu offers beautiful beaches, jutting peninsulas and an archipelago of beautiful islands.
Seated on this lake is one of Rwanda’s beauties; Nkombo island, the shape and colour of an emerald. It is among Rwanda’s hidden treasures, with lush green hills and a peaceful breeze. The scenery of the island is spectacular: traditional life-styles, fishing boats and hills.
Nkombo is the largest Rwandan island following Ijwi Island, which is on the DR Congo side of Lake Kivu. The nearest way to the island is via Cyangugu to Bukavu and then with a boat to the island.
The island is very small with a size of less than 2 square miles and densely populated. The inhabitants are subsistence farmers who give the impression of farmers surviving on a ‘tiny farm’.
From her experience on Nkombo Island, Alice Thompson narrated, “The Island shimmers in the early morning sun, boys sit on the banks weaving fishing nets made of string and twigs, and girls do their washing among the reeds. The island is astonishingly beautiful. The earth is a vibrant red; the avocado trees a deep green. There are small streets between the huts, the churches have thatching on their roofs and paths criss-cross the island, dividing the land into a patchwork of yellows and greens. The men look like giants as they swing their hoes and the women carry large water jerry cans on their heads and laugh as they chase the goats down the ravines. The islanders speak their own language and their life appears idyllic.”
It is from the appearance of the people and their whole environment that one can realize what this island has suffered.
In the past decade, Nkombo Island has witnessed the terrors of both the war in Dr Congo and the Rwandan genocide. It was a place used to hide arms and to dump bodies in the woods during these times.
Nkombo is generally, a proud island. The 17,000 inhabitants (Bashi) are part of Rwanda, but they want to prove that they are better than the mainlanders. The Nkombo population is unique and distinct and its isolation is what preserves the character of the islanders.
They have no television sets or radios and are cut off by the water, but they are better informed than many Rwandans are because their fishermen travel long distances on overcrowded boats and dugout canoes, bringing back news and stories of the outside world.
Suvein Yehenew a tourist from Norway saw something special in terms organization about the people of Nkombo during his tour. He narrated, “One day as I strolled along the lake shore, I met a group of young men who had gotten together and were trying to raise money for a project to buy a fishing boat. One boat (actually, three boats hooked together) would provide employment for 9-12 young men. They sell the fish from Lake Kivu which is by the way in high demand both in Kigali and in Bukavu.”
This small island of Nkombo has had its fare share of troubles and some islanders believe that there is hope for a better tomorrow. Some however object and say the half-mile long island does not have enough land to sustain the next generation. The lake resources too are diminishing and the fish stock is dwindling, so they know that they will have to leave one day if they want to survive.