Journalism and the environment

10. Drought and appropriation of the waters of the Nile: testimony of Ugandan journalist Fredrick Mugira /

It is not uncommon for journalists to form a group to conduct an in-depth investigation.

The group InfoNile conducted a cross-border investigation into the drying up of the Nile and the appropriation of its water resources.

Their work revealed that foreign investors were acquiring huge swathes of land in the region, and even displacing whole communities It provides interesting insight into how to go about working together on this type of story, as we will see with the this cross-border group’s co-founder, Ugandan journalist Frederick Mugira.

Fredrick Mugira – Co-founder of InfoNile – Uganda

We have an obligation to make sure that we write stories that help conserve the environment. So we can expose those who are destroying it, we can bring to the limelight those who are working to conserve it. So I think that’s the work of journalists now.

In November 2016, Fredrick Mugira, co-founded InfoNile, a collaborative platform for cross-border geo-journalists.

More than 400 journalists from 11 different countries collaborate on environmental topics and specifically on water issues in the Nile basin.

Fredrick Mugira – Co-founder of InfoNile – Uganda

We thought it was very important for us to tell the story of the River Nile, in a combined form. It’s not right, for example, to tell a story of one transboundary resource in fragmented stories. So what we do is we focus on one issue, for example, climate change or land grabbing, and then we give journalism grants to journalists in the region to work on these stories.

I’ll give an example of a story that we recently worked on, called “Sucked Dry”. We were eight journalists in the Nile Basin. We had a journalist from Ethiopia, we had a journalist from Sudan, Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya. So we’re looking at how… foreign companies are coming to the Nile Basin to grab land, and what they use it for. And then they take their profits and products back to the Middle East.

In carrying out this survey with Code of Africa, InfoNile worked in particular with Land Matrix.

Fredrick Mugira – Co-founder of InfoNile – Uganda

Land Matrix is an international organisation that tracks land grabs all over the world. So we worked with the office in South Africa, and we were able to track the cases, the numbers of land grabbing in the Nile basin, who is grabbing, the amount of land they are grabbing, where they are situated.

These are things that we, as journalists, would not do, because we wouldn’t go to these regions to find out and to document. As journalists, we are not able to have all skills.

Code for Africa… was able to come in and help us visualise this data.

I strongly believe that the impact of the story is affected by the way the story is told. If you tell the story in a better way, with, for example, visualisations, videos, it is bound to have a big impact in the audience and in communities you are targeting, rather than just writing text.

This geojournalism platform uses datajournalism to map data dealing with water issues in the Nile Basin.

Fredrick Mugira – Co-founder of InfoNile – Uganda

In a new form, using geotechniques, we tell these stories using location data generated by scientists. So when they work on these stories, they produce their local stories in their countries.  So later, they give us an international version of their local stories, and then we bring them together to form one project.

What we did, for example, in “Sucked Dry”, is we were able to map these stories depending on where the reporter is and where the story is based. If it’s Kenya, so we did a map of the Nile basin and we were able to map these stories.

This investigation revealed that over 10 million hectares of lands are held by investors in 11 countries that form the Nile Basin.

Today, unregulated water extraction is the greatest environmental threat to this river, a critical issue for the whole of Africa.

Fredrick Mugira – Co-founder of InfoNile – Uganda

We are looking at a time when there are water conflicts between the Nile basin countries. We want to pay attention to who is extracting how much. For example, if it is not redirected extraction of water, (if it is not redirected,) it would affect the waters of the Nile.

When you talk about the story of water, it does not only mean the story of the River Nile. Foreign companies come to Africa, to the Nile Basin not to grab land, but the resources within the land. And this resource, now, in the Nile basin is water. So this is why I strongly believe that the story about water is very important now to be told, now and tomorrow.  

InfoNile received aid from the Pulitzer Fund in carrying our this investigation.

Fredrick Mugira is convinced environmental investigation also promotes cross-border peace along the Nile by informing people.

Fredrick Mugira – Co-founder of InfoNile – Uganda

It has science in there, it has history, it has everything, biology. When you are interested in writing about environment, it’s also very important to specialise in one particular field in environment.

And it rewards (it is rewarding).

You become an expert in this field, you are able to save your county, your nation, your region, by, you know, helping to tell people about conservation, by advocating for conservation of these resources, so it needs an educated mind.

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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