Running along the eastern part of the African continent, the Rift Valley is a prominent geological feature. Originally thought to extend from Jordan to Mozambique, geologists now note that the full Rift Valley is comprised of several smaller Rifts – including what is now considered the East Africa Rift, extending from the Afar Depression in Ethiopia to Mozambique.
Unlike traditional valleys created by rivers or other forms of erosion, Rift Valleys are created by shifts in the tectonic plates of the earth’s crust. As the crust splits apart, narrow valleys form at the break points. Along the East African Rift Valley, the African plate is effectively breaking in half. Eventually, the Somali plate will break off the rest of the continent, surviving as an island with a new ocean basin separating the two landmasses.
Because of the large amounts of volcanic and tectonic activity in the Rift Valley, the region generates a great deal of natural power. Throughout the Valley, people are developing tools to harness geothermal energy from natural sources through steam wells and other innovative procedures.
The Rift Valley is also responsible for creating most of Africa’s great lakes in the Great Lakes Region (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda), including Lake Victoria, Lake Kivu in Rwanda, Lake Abaya in Ethiopia, Lake Turkana in Kenya and Lake Malawi, among many others.
The Valley is also responsible for creating a number of well-known volcanoes, including Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Beyond its geological significance, the Rift Valley has become a cultural term referring to the East African region.