Foreign land grabs along the Nile

The River Nile is the world’s longest river. It runs through 11 African countries: Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, DRC, Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Egypt. And over 257 million people living within the Nile Basin depend on the river to support their livelihoods.

The Nile River basin covers an area of 3.18 million km², almost 10 percent of the African continent. Data from Land Matrix – an independent global land monitoring initiative – coupled with investigations showed that foreign investors acquired 16.9 million hectares of fertile land irrigated by the Nile River from 445 deals. These deals displaced communities and exported the profits, revelations that inspired the investigation, funded by the Pulitzer Centre in the US.


The investors were from countries that included Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Norway, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK, and the US. And they were using the land to grow food crops, as well as agricultural commodities such as alfalfa, flowers, tobacco, biofuels, livestock farming and logging trees.

Frederick Mugira and Anika McGinnis. Image: Supplied

Fredrick Mugira and Annika McGinnis co-founded, a geojournalism platform that uses data-based multimedia storytelling to uncover critical stories abut water in the Nile River basin.


Mugira is a Ugandan multiple award-winning water and climate change journalist. He is a Pulitzer Centre’s Rainforest Journalism Fund grantee for the Congo Basin, the Sucked Dry project co-leader together with McGinnis, and Director of Water Journalists Africa, a network of over 700 journalists in 50 African countries who report on water.


McGinnis is a multimedia journalist and media development specialist from the US. She is also a Pulitzer Centre grantee.  


The InfoNile partners were part of a year-long cross-border data journalism investigation. It involved over a dozen journalists, researchers, drone videographers and data wranglers who generated in-depth multimedia story packages. These incorporated scientific research, data visualisations, video and photography that exposed large-scale foreign land deals in the Nile River basin.


InfoNile collaborated with Code For Africa, African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR) and IHE Delft Partnership Programme for Water and Development, to access and interview some of the world’s top land and water researchers. They further created data visualisations and maps to go with each of the 12 stories reported by the journalists.

The first article was on Pulitzer News on 29 December 2018. Other versions, which differed mostly visually, were published on sites such as New Vision in Kenya and the AfroNile website in 2020.

“We did not only expose the effects of land grabs on communities, we also bridged gaps between Nile Basin scientists, researchers, journalists and the general public,” said Mugira.“And in the end, we increased mutual awareness and understanding of the various dimensions to land and water issues of this significant river basin.”


The cross-border investigation generated positive impact. Journalists working on the project reported that the stories had sparked government investigations, said Mugira.


“We were also informed by some of the journalists of efforts by the respective governments or other actors – such as constructing roads, schools and hospitals – to support the communities who suffered from land deals, displacement, and the loss of their economic opportunities,” he said.

The full story
The outline of the Sucked Dry project