A British citizen blogged about a Tanzanian media magnate involved in throwing her and her husband off their Tanzanian farm. He sued for libel in a British court. Dominic Burbidge explains.
In 2000, Sarah Hermitage and Stewart Middleton settled in Tanzania, buying a 550 acre farm on which they employed about 150 Tanzanian staff. The British couple purchased the land from Benjamin Mengi, who later claimed he had not been paid in full. Following legal disputes, the staff of the farm suffered assault, arrest and imprisonment from local authorities, and the property of the farm was damaged. Alongside this treatment, The Guardian and Nipashe – two Tanzanian newspapers belonging to the IPP Media group run by Benjamin’s brother, Reginald Mengi – conducted a defamatory campaign against the British couple.
In 2008 the couple left Tanzania, fearing for their safety, and Hermitage blogged about her experiences, discouraging others from investing in Tanzania. In particular, Hermitage wrote five blog posts and two emails which accused Reginald Mengi of influencing the output of newspapers under IPP media. In response, Reginald Mengi sued for libel in a British court, arguing that he “was not responsible, not accountable and not answerable” for the newspapers’ editorial content. In an important decision, the judge found in favour of Hermitage, concluding 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.” Reginald Mengi was ordered to pay over 1 million pounds for the cost of the lawsuit.