alexa Miguna can run but cannot hide; the law on libel has gone international - Daily Nation

Miguna can run but cannot hide; the law on libel has gone international

Friday July 20 2012

By PETER MWAURA

The one thing that most people remember, and find hilarious is Miguna Miguna’s “Come Baby, Come” histrionics.

“All I can tell you is this,” he told people gathered for his book launch in Nairobi last Saturday, “every leader here, I can take to The Hague. Mark my words. I’ve it right here. And I am saying, Come Baby, Come.”

The Hague is his synonym for the International Criminal Court. He also regaled the audience by repeating the Come Baby, Come refrain in reference to those threatening to sue him over the revelations in his book, Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya.

“A stupid idiot is saying in town they can take me to court. Come Baby, Come,” pumping his fists in a flourish only a Miguna Miguna can muster.

Come Baby Come is a song by Rapper K7, one of the hottest songs of the early 1990s, while the word baby is not only a derogatory synonym for an immature person but also a slang for a young woman, sweetheart or lover, often used to express affection.

“Miguna has just killed romance and love,” lamented one of the hundreds of bloggers and citizen journalists who commented on the theatrics. And when, two days later, he was reported to have flown back to Canada with his family where he lived in exile for 20 years, the babyish talk went viral.

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People thought he was running in fear of his life or being quizzed by the police, or was trying to hide from people seeking to sue him for mentioning them unfavourably in his memoirs.

It didn’t seem to matter to them that Mr Miguna said he was leaving for “a well deserved holiday and whirlwind global publicity tour” for his book, which has shaken Kenyan politics and politicians.

On the day of his departure, Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko ordered the police to interrogate him on the information he says he has he has about the 2007-2008 post-election violence, and which he has threatened to use to land some leaders in The Hague.

Mr Tobiko indicated that he could face charges of being an accessory to a crime if he withheld information about the post-election violence.

Bloggers had a field day with comments that were cynical, mocking, and satirical. Sample: Come Baby, Come has just become Gone Baby, Gone… Run Baby, Run…

Our people say you can out-run what is chasing AFTER you but you cannot out-run what is IN you... You better run Baby, better run, outrun my gun… Coward Baby… Run you will, hide you won’t… Baby Come Back...

Veteran journalist Joe Kadhi, a former managing editor of the Daily Nation, summed up what was probably in everybody’s mind. He twittered:

“It looks like Miguna is avoiding facing the many libel cases that are sure to follow his provocative book. But the most potent defence for defamatory libel is justification. If he is in a position to prove that his story is true in substance and in fact then he does not need to run away! But is he sure of his facts? That is the big question.”

But if you think you have been libelled in Peeling Back the Mask, and you want your pound of flesh, all is not lost. The law of libel has become internationalised.

You can sue for defamation in Canada (if Mr Miguna is going to be domiciled there or if any Canadian bookshop sells even one copy of the book), or in England (where the publisher is domiciled). In fact, you might be better off suing in Toronto or London.

The two jurisdictions have libel laws based on the English tradition. They have refrained from adopting the American Sullivan rule that protects critics of public figures.

The English libel law strongly favours the plaintiff. The English courts place the burden of proving the truth of the challenged statement on the defendant and tend to award damages — money paid to compensate for the defamation — that are likely to be higher than those offered by some Kenyan judges.

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