The East African rift system is a product of two separate activities. An ancient process (Precambrian?) resulted in brittle crustal fracture, a deep vertical tensional feature. This defined the principal fracture pattern of the continent. It was initiated by an upward diapiric stress and propagated laterally according to the principles of elastic fracture and bifurcation. Later (Jurassic-Recent) horizontal and vertical multi-stage forces caused tectonic displacements along the ancient fractures and the present rift pattern was derived. As opposed to previous models, the present concept is compatible with many conflicting opinions of previous workers (e.g. indications of tensional versus compressional or vertical forces), and is capable of explaining many moot questions.