Things fall apart in Tanzania: on media manipulation and hypocrisy – By Edward Clay

Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera testified against Mr Reginald Mengi during the libel case he brought against Sarah Hermitage in London.

A Tanzanian journalist, who won an award for journalists of exceptional potential enabling him to work for British newspapers in 2009, gave evidence for the defendant in November 2012 in a libel trial in London brought by a Tanzanian media magnate, Reginald Mengi. Mr Mengi lost his libel suit, and hefty costs.

Erick Kabendera, now aged 33, worked on The Times and Independent under arrangements of the David Astor Journalism Awards Trust in 2009.

His home in Tanzania has been burgled three times in recent months, and Tanzanian officials have interrogated his elderly parents about their right to be Tanzanian citizens; officials said their son was under scrutiny for selling secrets to European powers and should be more ‘humble’.

Mr R Mengi is executive chairman of IPP Limited, well-connected and very prominent in Tanzania. He presents himself as a philanthropist and opponent of corruption. His flagship newspaper is The Guardian of Tanzania, for which Mr Kabendera worked in 2009 when he won his Astor award.

Mr Mengi is also a member of the Commonwealth Business Council which is committed to promoting good business practice in Commonwealth countries.

He is the older brother of Benjamin Mengi, another prominent businessman. In 2004- 5, Benjamin Mengi made a legal lease of land to two British private investors in Tanzania, Stewart Middleton and Sarah Hermitage, and then welched on the deal.

The Middletons were harassed and intimidated by officials; denied proper protection of the law, they and their staff were mistreated and their farm despoiled. They were forced to flee Tanzania in fear of their lives in 2008. Benjamin Mengi then took possession of the land.

In seeking recompense for their illegal treatment and the loss of their investment, Sarah Hermitage alleged that some of Mr R Mengi’s papers supported their mistreatment with hostile and defamatory allegations. Reginald Mengi denied during the trial of his libel suit against Hermitage that he was responsible for the editorial content of his newspapers. Erick Kabendera, his former employee, testified in support of contrary evidence, showing there was such interference.

R Mengi lost his suit. He was held to have been complicit in his brother’s corruption and intimidation; and to have brought misleading and untrue evidence before the Judge in pursuing his oppressive litigation.

***

Successive British High Commissioners to Tanzania have been sympathetic to the Middletons. In contrast, Ministers in the Coalition government have turned their backs on their travails. The then International Development Secretary , Andrew Mitchell, assured the Chairman of the Lords’ Select Committee on Economic Affairs, Lord MacGregor, in testimony to the Committee in 2011, that ministers had made repeated representations on behalf of the Middletons, and “..would continue to raise this disturbing case with the Tanzanian government whenever the appropriate opportunity arises.”

In fact, Freedom of Information enquiries of the three relevant government departments – FCO, DBIS and DfID – to test this assertion, elicited no evidence that Coalition ministers had ever raised the issues.

***

DfID’s programmes for Tanzania over the five years to 2015 include spending £34 million on helping civil society and the media to hold the government to account; and a further £20 million to improve the ability of institutions like the judiciary and police to fight corruption.

IPP Media reported on 7 February that the Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete, said on his country’s National Law Day that people should safeguard and promote justice by helping the law enforcement agencies. IPP Media reported him to have added:

“…[they] should always learn how to use legal institutions such as courts to secure their rights and stop taking law into their own hands, even if a person was suspected to have committed an offense.”

It was announced this week that the government had started distributing Tanzania’s new ID cards for citizens. That makes more sinister the interrogation of Kabendera’s parents about their citizenship.

Last September, a TV journalist was killed during clashes between opposition party supporters and police. In January 2013, another journalist was found murdered in unexplained circumstances.

The government has also delayed for further consultation a freedom of information bill.

Evidence given in R Mengi’s lost libel case showed that editors were instructed not to comment on President Kikwete without clearance from management.

Will British ministers express their concern and demand a full, independent and open enquiry into the persecution of Erick Kabendera and his family?

He acted bravely in giving evidence for the defence in a British court.

In the process will they also protest over the treatment suffered by two British citizens in Tanzania at the hands of prominent businessmen, supported by the media organs of one of them, and the misbehaviour of State institutions which should have protected their rights?

If British ministers ignore abuse of the rights of British citizens in another country, they condone abuses of the rights of citizens of that country. Meanwhile, the returns on DfID’s investments in civil society, media and the rule of law in Tanzania seem doubtful.

Sir Edward Clay is former British High Commissioner to Kenya, Uganda and non-resident Ambassador to Rwanda and Burundi.

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9 thoughts on “Things fall apart in Tanzania: on media manipulation and hypocrisy – By Edward Clay

  1. The gross violation of human and civil rights in Tanzania has been ignored by the outside world for a long time. The only thing one hears about Tanzania from international governments and media is praise and accolades. It is so unfortunate and hypocritical as when minor violations happen in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan etc. they are being condemned and deplored right, left and centre, though these pale in magnitude to those occurring in Tanzania on daily basis.
    Some of us have gone so far as to start believing in conspiracy theories! For, it is unfathomable that the amount of killings, rape, destruction of property, let alone many injustices visited by members of the opposition…. which are committed with utter impunity by the state organs….could be hidden from the international eyes and conscious. Daily living for an ordinary Tanzanian is full of risks, scare, cruelty and brutal suppression of his freedom, liberty and well-being by non other than the police, intelligence goons and politicians.
    Actually, in a fairer world, many Tanzanian leaders would be before ICC by now even before Charles Taylor; answering for the murders of innocent Masai villagers, journalists, opposition activists and even thousands of elephants, lions etc. No court in Tanzania will ever touch them. They are inebriated in their impunity!

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  3. Sir Edward clay is wrong and should not throw names carelessly
    By Paul Kamau Mwangi

    SIR EDWARD CLAY PUBLICLY CONTRADICTED: “THERE IS NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER WHICH SHOWS THAT HE [MR. MENGI] HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH THESE EVENTS” SAYS KABENDERA.

    Sir Edward Clay who is a former British High Commissioner to Kenya, Uganda and non-resident Ambassador to Rwanda and Burundi has now waded into the waters of Tanzanian politics in a piece published on February 14, 2013 by African Argument entitled “Things Fall Apart in Tanzania and “On Media Manipulation and Hypocrisy”. (Link: http://africanarguments.org/2013/02/14/things-fall-apart-in-tanzania-on-media-manipulation-and-hypocrisy-%E2%80%93-by-edward-clay/).

    The article that gives grossly erroneous representation has also been published by allafrica.com, giving it more credence.

    Sir Clay’s article starts by explaining that “Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera testified against Mr. Reginald Mengi during the libel case he brought against Sarah Hermitage in London” and then continues to say that “Mr. Kabendera’s home in Tanzania has been burgled three times in recent months and his elderly parents interrogated about their citizenship”.
    By placing Dr. Mengi’s case and Mr. Kabendera’s woes side by side, Sir Edward creates the impression that the two are linked through cause and effect. The device is simple but the innuendo is nevertheless very clear; Dr. Mengi did it!

    Personally, I am not convinced that being asked questions for 8 hours (the maximum number of hours allowable under Tanzanian law), signing a witness statement and then being allowed to leave constitutes persecution. No detention? No torture? No further questioning? Surely the existence of an investigation is not in itself prima facie evidence of persecution. Case in point even President Barack Obama’s citizenship was investigated.
    However, until such time as I am properly informed of all the facts I am prepared to give Mr. Kabendera’s persecution theory the benefit of doubt.
    What I am concerned about is Sir Edward’s linkage of Dr. Mengi with Mr. Kabendera’s persecution.

    On February 22 2013, barely a week after Sir Edward’s article, Mr. Kabendera issued a signed press statement in which he categorically states that contrary to statements by some people (a possible reference to Sir Edward perhaps) there is no evidence whatsoever that Reginald Mengi is involved with what is happening to him and his parents.

    In his own words Mr. Kabendera says “Dear members of the media: some people have been speculating that prominent businessman Reginald Mengi is involved in the persecution of me and my parents. They have tried to connect him because this persecution has occurred after I gave evidence in November last year in a civil case for libel which Mr. Mengi opened against Ms. Sarah Hermitage in a Court in the United Kingdom. I gave evidence on behalf of Sarah Hermitage and Mr. Mengi lost the case. However, I would like to say that there is no evidence whatsoever which shows that Mr. Mengi had anything to do with these events”.

    The Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR) also released a statement saying it is “cautious not to link the incident with Kabendera’s decision to testify against local newspaper owner Reginald Mengi, in which Mr Mengi lost the case of defamation in London against a British couple who fled Tanzania.

    (http://fairreporters.net/2013/02/25/alert-tanzania-media-freedom-wanes-as-investigative-journalist-harassed/)
    Therefore Sir Edward’s feeble attempt to tie Dr. Mengi to Mr. Kabendera’s persecution has been soundly discredited.

    It now seems Sir Edward never had all the facts before pointing the finger at Dr. Mengi and calling on the British Government to launch investigation.
    Apparently he relied on information from Ms. Sarah Hermitage who is unfortunately not very objective when it comes to the subject of Dr. Mengi or the Tanzanian Government. This lack of objectivity is something which an online business magazine called the African Executive recently discovered, after it was forced to apologise and retract an article which Ms. Hermitage had written about Dr. Mengi because it was “inaccurate and unbalanced” (http://www.africanexecutive.com/modules/magazine/articles.php?article=7080&magazine=427)

    Nonetheless, this is no excuse because as a former Senior Civil Servant with a wide experience of East Africa affairs Sir Edward should have been more objective and at the very least spoken to Mr. Kabendera.
    As Africans we have become accustomed to the negative portrayal of our continent and its people by those in the first world. Unfortunately we have grown used to quick-fire judgments frequently based on tenuous evidence.

    Unfortunately, Sir Edward’s article is another matter altogether since his career as a former envoy to East African countries (a fact which he has prominently displayed in his article) creates the perception that he is speaking with authority about something on which he is well informed. We now know that this is not the case.

    There is a lesson to be drawn from Sir Edward’s public farce and this is that former representatives of Her Majesty’s Government also have a duty to conduct proper enquiries before making public statements and sullying the reputations of prominent Africans.

    The diplomat choice of the title for his peace was alarmist – “Things Fall Apart in Tanzania” and African argument as a credible news organization was supposed to do independent investigations before allowing such a statement to be published.

    *Paul kamau is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi. He can be reached on paul.kamau.mwangi@gmail.com

  4. I respond to the comment from Paul Kamau Mwangi above.

    Firstly, he fails to see the irony in the mere fact that he is at liberty to make the comment and hides behind a cloak of continents by his defamatory remarks: The very same he appears to complain of.

    As to his reference to the article that was posted in the African Executive and then retracted. No attempt was made by the African Executive to verify the facts of my article before they posted it and more particularly before they took it down. I would suggest therefore that the reader is left to divide as to the reason why it was retracted and I would suggest it has little to do with the truth or other wise of the article.

    For those who missed it,this article can be read at my blog site on the following link under the title “Reginald Mengi: Failed Libel Tourist ad the Commonwealth Business Council”

    http://thesilverdalecase.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/reginald-mengi-and-commonwealth.html

    The contents of this article are precise and accurate. Should Mr Mengi have a problem with it then it is open to him to spend another £3,000,000 suing me for Libel in the London High Court. I however have no opportunity to sue him, and hold him to account for the vicious defamation he has printed online about myself and my husband. I don’t think therefore, Mr Reginald Mengi can be seen as an injured party in this respect as much as he would like to be.

    As to Sir Edward’s comments, the same applies. No innuendo is made: Simply one taken. This says more about Mr Mwangi and what he seeks to achieve than it does about Sir Edward and, much more than I could ever say.
    As to the objectivity of what Sir Edward writes. Well, I think one has to consider the following.

    In the recent High Court trial that Reginald Mengi brought against me in London, which I successfully defended with the assistance of Carter Ruck and Chambers 5RB Lord Justice Bean stated that Reginald Mengi engaged in the corrupt use of his media stating “I find that the campaign in the Guardian and Nipashe facilitated Benjamin’s corruption of local officials and intimidation of the Middletons and thus helped Benjamin to destroy their investments and grab their properties; and that Mr [Reginald] Mengi, since he either encouraged or knowingly permitted the campaign, was in that sense complicit in Benjamin’s corruption and intimidation. The allegation is thus substantially true, and justified at common law.”

    The judge concluded that Reginald Mengi appointed a team of loyal editors who lay down the party line and would publish nothing that criticized the Claimant or his family ruling that Reginald Mengi:-

    “Encouraged the campaign in his newspapers to praise his brother and denigrate the Middletons; and did so by making senior editorial staff aware, through Mr Nguma [the in-house lawyer] or otherwise, of what line the journalists on the ground were expected to take.”

    Reginald Mengi, in the course of his evidence, repeatedly stated that he “was not responsible, not accountable and not answerable” for the editorial content of IPP publications.

    The court did not believe him. Surely Mr Mengi must place some credence on LJ bean’s ruling: Why else spend £3,000,000 on bringing a case before the English courts.

    One is again reminded of the apt inclusion in the judgment in Mengi v Hermitage by Lord Justice Bean of the French rhyme:-

    Cet animal est très méchant:
    Quand on l’attaque, il se défend.

    Mr Mwangi’s failure to recognise the bravery of men like Erick Kabendera and Sir Edward Clay is an indictment on his profession and indeed his country. No doubt he had his own reasons for writing this comment.

    Whatever they were they had nothing to do with the truth.

    MACAVITY LIVES!

  5. Why is Sarah Hermitage avoiding the issues raised by Sir Edward Clay’s article?
    Dear Madam Sarah Hermitage,
    If Sir Edward Clay cannot speak for himself and it is absolutely necessary for Sarah Hermitage to act as his mouthpiece then she must address the criticisms raised in my article (“Sir Edward clay is wrong and should not throw names carelessly”) rather than avoiding them.
    I completely agree with Sarah Hermitage that Sir Edward Clay is at liberty to make comments but we are also at liberty to question whether he exercises that right responsibly especially where it touches on the reputations of others. And if the conclusion is that he was irresponsible then Sir Edward should accept the consequences and apologize.
    So we are all on the same page my criticisms stem from the fact that a few days after Sir Edward Clay published an article linking Reginald Mengi with the persecution of Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera, the latter (i.e. Mr. Kabendera) has publicly come out and in a signed press release and contradicted Sir Edward. According to Mr. Kabendera there is “no evidence whatsoever” linking Mr. Mengi to his persecution.
    Therefore my questions are (1) how does Sir Edward (or his proxy) explain this contradiction? (2) Did Sir Edward speak to Mr. Kabendera? (3) If Sir Edward did speak to Mr. Kabendera then what was he told and what is the explanation for the fact that his version is different from that of Mr. Kabendera? (4) If Sir Edward did not speak to Mr. Kabendera, then why not and was this not irresponsible of him?
    I for one eagerly await to see Sir Edward’s response to the issues that has been raised.

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