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DEFAMATION

'Fiction writer' Githongo no whistle-blower

Sound decision cannot be taken lightly, should serve as a lesson to all,, especially politicians

In Summary

• Recently there has been debate on a ruling that put former anti-corruption czar John Githongo on the spot.

•The High Court ordered Githongo to pay Sh27 million for defaming former Internal Security minister Chris Murungaru.

Githongo ruling on Anglo Leasing
Githongo ruling on Anglo Leasing
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A short story is told of a thief and an innkeeper. The thief hired a room with the idea of stealing something to pay for it. But he found nothing to steal and made up a story about how he turns into a wolf after yawning and howling three times.

After the second howl, the thief scared the innkeeper who ran away, with the con getting the opportunity to also escape. The short story teaches us that not every tale is to be believed.

Over the recent past, there has been a debate on a ruling that put former anti-corruption czar John Githongo on the spot. Those in the recently resurgent civil society, which Githongo has always identified with, have condemned the court over the ruling against him in the 13-year-old case.

In a nutshell, the court ordered Githongo to pay Sh27 million for defaming former Internal Security minister Chris Murungaru. The judge said Githongo had no evidence for the allegations touching on Murungaru in the multi-billion shilling Anglo Leasing scandal.

Githongo had argued in court that Murungaru has no reputation to protect in Kenya because he was already tainted. But the court said it is unfortunate that the defendant failed to either tender evidence or summon witnesses to establish that the plaintiff had no reputation to protect.

The judge went on to conclude that it was apparent from the evidence presented before the court that Githongo intended to have the publication [of his book It's Our Turn To Eat] to be extensive, intense and global in nature.

“It would appear the defendant wanted to inflict maximum damage on the plaintiff,” he said.

The ruling against Githongo is one that cannot be taken lightly and should serve as a lesson to all Kenyans, especially politicians, who ride on propaganda. Some, such as Githongo have christened themselves whistle-blowers, yet theirs is a work of fiction made up for whatever reason.

Whistle-blowers are protected under the law, but as the judge pointed out in the Githongo case, this immunity cannot apply when one deliberately causes publication of what they are blowing the whistle on. 

It was revealed in court that Githongo personally gave his story to Michela Wrong and even read the manuscript of the book titled It’s Our Turn to Eat, and approved it for publication.

The judge said Githongo went on to grant interviews to the media where he made the same claims against Murungaru. And with these actions, Githongo lost the defences of qualified privilege and public interest.

In other words, Githongo was exposed as a man on a mission rather than a whistle-blower who was interested in justice for the public. And we are witnessing the same kind of antics as the war on corruption continues to gain steam.

Some Kenyans know best how to use propaganda and innuendo to try and eliminate their political competition. And to do this, they end up creating all manner of narratives laced with lies and innuendos that they cannot prove.

The Githongo ruling reminds me of the lies that were exposed at the ICC, when President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto were facing trial. The collapse of the cases showed that lies could never stand in the face of the truth.

The High Court ruling is clear writing on the wall that fiction writers cannot disguise themselves as whistle-blowers and get away with it. The ruling raised the bar on the threshold of whistle-blowing where the accuser must provide tangible evidence.

The ruling is a great addition to our legal precedents as it insulates the public from being sold lies as the truth. It also serves as a warning to those who use innuendo and propaganda to push political agendas.

In fact, the ruling comes at a very good time when the country is fighting hard to deal with corruption. It ensures that all the allegations made are backed up with facts and evidence instead of being used to settle political scores.