Mwanza & Lake Victoria

*For a full report on the fishing industry in Lake Victoria including the sex-for-fish system, HIV/AIDS infection rates, life in the beach communities and the potential the sector has for alleviating poverty in the region, see this week’s Evening Echo.

Lake Victoria

TOUCHING down on the Precision Air flight from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza, the first thing that strikes you is how green and rocky the land is below.

Tanzania’s second city is nicknamed Rock City in reference to the gigantic granite rocks jutting out of Lake Victoria and dotting the hills surrounding the city.

Its most famous landmark is Bismarck Rock near the Kamanga Ferry Terminal, although another visiting point for the few discerning travellers that visit Mwanza is the burial place of Dr John Hanning Speke – the first European explorer to reach the Mwanza Gulf.

Located on the southern shore of Lake Victoria, Mwanza is the economic heart of the Lake region and is an important crossroads with rail connections to Tanzania’s major cities, easy access to Kenya and Uganda and a busy port serving the lake’s many islands.

Bismarck Rock, Mwanza

Lacking the bustle of Dar es Salaam or the tourist hype of Arusha or Zanzibar, Mwanza has its own share of charms to offer.

Chief among them is the fresh fish brought ashore daily. Although virtually all Nile Perch is exported to the European Union and Middle East, tilapia in particular is widely available.

Shared among Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, Lake Victoria is a source of employment, livelihood, recreation and tourism, but years of over-fishing and mass exportation of often illegally-traded, unprocessed fish to the European Union, Middle East and Russia have seen stocks slashed and processing factories shutting down, threatening the lives of the 40 million people living in the lake basin.

Igombe Beach, Lake Victoria

The exports have led to fish scarcity and price hikes on the local market, forcing people to look elsewhere to sustain their families including the firewood market, which in turn is having a detrimental effect on the local environment.

A shocking and disturbing part of the industry is one where women are forced to use sex to guarantee that fishermen will sell them their catches.

The ‘Jaboya’ trade system, compounded with a number of other factors such as attitudes to risk and remote locations, has led to a frightening increase in the rate of infection of HIV/AIDS among fishing communities.

Despite the ominous outlook for the industry, the people in this lake-side city, were among the happiest and friendliest we met on our trip. 

An Ireland fan in Isamilo, Mwanza

Women in Isamilo, Mwanza

Boys in Isamilo, Mwanza

While in Mwanza, we stayed in Treehouse, a guesthouse owned and operated by Streetwise Africa. The charity runs a centre for the city’s street children with profits from the guesthouse. Unfortunatley, the centre was closed during our visit due to a lack of funds.

Managed by Winnie Wilson, Treehouse is an airy and welcoming guesthouse in the hills of Isamilo. Overlooking Lake Victoria, it is a beautiful place to stay while also directly helping Mwanza’s most vulnerable.

Treehouse Guesthouse, Isamilo, Mwanza

As Winnie explains, Streetwise was founded by Canadian Suzanne Oliff five years ago. When funds are available, it hosts an outreach centre under mango trees near the lake where street children aged between six and 13 gather to learn to read and write or simply play games.

Winnie Wilson, manager of Treehouse

Just next door to Treehouse is the Mwanza house belonging to the Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles (OLA).

Prior to us arriving in Tanzania, Sr Regina Opuku, a lecturer at St Augustine University in Mwanza had helped set up interviews and kindly took us wherever we needed to go. Along with Sr Perpetua from Ghana and Sr Mary from Newry, Sr Regina welcomed us into their home, fed us lunch, which to our surprise featured ‘Irish potatoes’ and offered us accommodation.

Members of Our Lady of the Apostles in Mwanza with Sr Regina Opuku on right

Sunset over Lake Victoria from the OLA house in Mwanza (Pic Helen Walsh)



  1. My birthplace!!

    Great to see an Irish connection and to see it looking so well:)

    Love Michele!!!:)

  2. I lived in Isamilo, in the late ’60s, and was an Oxfam sponsored forester with Idara ya Misitu

  3. Much congrats for putting Mwanza into the world tourist map!
    Hope your work will pave the way for more visitors to reach Mwanza, the rock city!
    I would like to take this opportunity to introduce to you all my newly launched cultural tourism program, “Real Cultural Tourism Program” (RCTP).
    However, this program has added the value to the rock city!

    Below is RCTP’s detailed profile;

    Introducing to you traditional life styles in the Lake zone!
    RCTP is located in Mwanza city. Mwanza, popularly known as Rock City is the second largest city in Tanzania after Dar es salaam. It is situated on the southern shore of Lake Victoria hosting the rocky hills that forms unique and good looking features. It is a narrow peninsular providing a wonderful view of the Lake Victoria.

    Dominated by rocky outcrops, the famous landmark being the Bismarck ‘s Rock, Mwanza is the place where the earliest 18th century’s explorers visited in their attempt to trace the source of River Nile and ultimately it was named Lake Victoria by John Speke.

    Interesting enough, Mwanza is the historical and cultural core of Tanzania. It is accommodating the Tanzania’s largest ethnic group, the Sukuma and its neighbors Haya, Nyambo, Kerewe, Zinza, Jita, Zanaki, and Kulya ethnic groups in the Lake zone.

    Due to this gift of nature, Real Cultural Tourism Program (RCTP) is disclosing Mwanza and its historical-cultural heritage to the eyes of both national and international community.

    Come to Mwanza and explore, experience, and enjoy traditional living styles in the Lake zone!

    RCTP offers the following;
     Traditional food, drinks, dance (ngoma), and descent wears in a shared lunch/dinner.
     Traditional fishing with local fishermen.
     Lake cruise( with normal boats and local dhows)
     Village staying tour.
     Cultural safari to;
    . Bujora sukuma museum.
    . Kageye historical site.
    . Historical Bukumbi and Busisi ferry.
    . Impressive history of Mwanza inner city.
    . Ancient and cultural Bukoba.
    . Historical Karagwe.
    . Ukerewe Island, and
    . Butiama Mwl. J.K.Nyerere’s Museum

    Opt RCTP and experience the difference through cultural heritage in the Lake zone.

    For further information contact;

    Nyakato Area,
    P.O.Box 2735,

    Mobile; +255 764 940 765
    +255 717 072 625

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