■Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera is complaining about what he calls ‘harassment’ of his elderly parents by the country’s immigration and security officials. In November, he gave testimony in the High Court in London in the Reginald Mengi libel case (AC Vol 53 No 25). Mengi sued Sarah Hermitage, whom his brother Benjamin Mengi had forced from her farm in Tanzania in 2008, for libel and lost (AC Vol 48 No 11). He was ordered to pay £1.2 million (US$1.94 mn.) in costs. The judge dismissed Reginald Mengi’s claims that his newspapers were editorially independent, stating that his daily papers were complicit in Benjamin’s campaign against Hermitage and her husband, Stewart Middleton. Public officials had also participated in the harassment of Hermitage and Middleton. Kabendera, who had once worked for Mengi, told the court that Mengi’s newspapers were not, as he claimed, editorially independent. Kabendera says that on 5 February, immigration officials called on his 76-year old father’s home in Bushagara village, in Kagera region, to ‘investigate’ claims that Erick was not a Tanzanian citizen.
His father was ordered to report to the Regional Immigration Office the next day,where he found Kabendera’s mother, from whom he is separated, under arrest. The pair were then interrogated for eight hours about their son.
Kabendera’s mother later told him that one of the officials had told her Erick had been ‘selling state secrets to European powers’ and another than it was a very sensitive case. The interrogation of the journalist’s parents came six weeks after his home in Dar es Salaam had been broken into on three occasions and severely damaged. Hermitage praised Kabendera’s willingness to testify, saying most other Tanzanians had feared retaliation. Kabendera says his family name can be confused with names of Rwandan origin, which he speculates may have led some to think deportation would have been easy to arrange.
www.africa-confidential.com 15 February 2013 - Vol 54 - N° 4