In 1906, the Rwenzori Mountains had 43 named glaciers on six mountains covering 7.5 square kilometres, or about half the total glacier area in Africa. According to local legend, they were the dwelling place of the spirit god – Kitasamba – whose frozen sperm (the snow) fertilizes the land. Kitasamba means the ‘great one who does not climb, because there is no bigger one to climb to’.
Today, only three mountains with an ice area of about 1.2 square kilometres remain, with Mount Speke, or Duwoni, now having only one small glacier left. Scientific studies by renowned glaciologists such as Dr Richard Taylor of University College London have shown that glacier melt in the Rwenzori is due to warmer temperatures, rather than lack of rainfall or snowfall. This is no surprise, because Rwenzori in the local Bakonjo language means “rainmaker” – the 4000mm annual rainfall in the Rwenzori being among the highest in the world. The melting glaciers here represent a loss of cultural identity for the local people, and a clear sign of global climate change, more than a loss of water supply for local people. My interview with mountain guide Nzedekia Bagheni, whose grandfather accompanied the Duke of Abrazzi to the summit, shows that the snow and ice that a grandfather first reached only 100 years ago may be gone in his grandson’s lifetime.