Rusumo Falls is a waterfall located on the Kagera river on the border between Rwanda and Tanzania, part of the most distant headwaters of the river Nile. The falls are approximately 15 m (49 ft) high and 40 m (130 ft) wide and have formed on Precambrian schists and quartzophyllites.
Although the falls themselves are not of significant height in comparison to other waterfalls, they have played an important part in the history of Rwanda because they form the only bridging point on the river in that area.
The falls were the scene of the first arrival of Europeans in Rwanda in 1894, when the German count Gustav Adolf von Götzen came across from Tanzania (Rwanda had been considered part of German East Africa since 1885 but no German had yet entered the country). He continued from there to the palace of the Mwami at Nyanza, and onward to the shores of Lake Kivu.
The Belgians also entered Rwanda via the falls, when they took over the country during World War I in 1916. The bridge at Rusumo was the only feasible crossing of the river at the time, and the Germans had entrenched themselves on the Rwandan side. By taking up positions in the surrounding hills, the Belgians were able to remove these guards using mounted artillery opening up the route by which they invaded the rest of the country.
The falls gained international fame during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, as thousands of dead bodies flowed underneath the Rusomo Bridge while a simultaneous stream of refugees crossed over it, fleeing into Tanzania to escape the slaughter. This was one of the first mass outflows of the Great Lakes refugee crisis. The Kagera drains water from all areas of Rwanda except the far west, and consequently carried all the corpses which had been discarded into rivers nationwide. This led to a state of emergency being declared in areas around the shore of Lake Victoria in Uganda, where these bodies eventually washed up.
- Philip Briggs & Janice Booth (2001) Rwanda: The Bradt Travel Guide p197. Bradt Travel Guides Ltd. and The Globe Pequot Press Inc. ISBN 1-84162-034-3