Reginald Mengi, a Tanzanian media tycoon who is a friend and backer of President Jakaya Kikwete, has been ordered to pay £1.2 million (US$1.94 mn.) towards the legal costs of British investor Sarah Hermitage, after he lost his libel action against her in London’s High Court on 30 November. Justice David Bean found Hermitage justified in her published comments about Mengi being complicit in a four-year campaign of intimidation by his younger brother Benjamin Mengi to drive Hermitage and her husband Stewart Middleton off their farm near Moshi in 2005 and 2006 (AC Vol 48 No 11).
Hermitage began a blog in 2009, after the couple’s return to Britain, and accused the billionaire of responsibility for a series of articles attacking her husband in his IPP Resources newspapers. IPP’s coverage of the dispute with Benjamin, an influential businessman who just months after selling the lease of Silverdale and Mbono farms took aggressive measures to reclaim it, portrayed Benjamin as a ‘patriotic investor’ and reported a string of false allegations against Stewart Middleton. Reginald Mengi, who denied having an active role in his media companies, sued for libel.
Justice Bean concluded ‘the campaign in the Guardian and Nipashe [an IPP Kiswahili paper] facilitated Benjamin’s corruption of local officials and intimidation of the Middletons and thus helped Benjamin to destroy their investments and grab their property; and that Mr. Mengi, since he either encouraged or knowingly permitted the campaign, was in that sense complicit in Benjamin’s corruption and intimidation.’
The judge described Hermitage’s response to IPP’s campaign as ‘reasonable, proportionate and relevant’ and, given the seriousness of the attack, ‘measured, even restrained’.The judge scorned Reginald Mengi’s claims to have a ‘hands-off approach’ to his publications, noting ‘the hollowness of the pretence that the editorial teams at Mr. Mengi’s newspapers exercise robust independence at all times’. He cited a 2008 memo in which the Guardian Managing Director instructed all editors to seek his approval before publishing ‘controversial or any otherwise sensitive stories on President Jakaya Kikwete’, calling it ‘a momentary glimpse of the truth’.The verdict received scant coverage in Tanzania and none in British newspapers.
On 9 December, Mengi received some solace when Kikwete awarded him the ‘Environmental Medal of the First Class’.
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