Tony Mochama.

On 20 September 2014, while the Storymoja Hay Festival was ongoing, a group of writers met in the Nairobi home of postcolonial theory and political history professor Wambui Mwangi, to discuss the operation of the newly founded African Poetry Book Fund (APBF). Among those in attendance were the APBF founder Kwame Dawes, the poet Shailja Patel, author of Migritude, and the Miles Morland Scholarship-winning journalist Tony Mochama, then secretary of PEN Kenya.

Two days later, Mwangi tweeted that Mochama had sexually assaulted someone.


A press release from Patel’s lawyer Ann Njogu, published on 25 September 2014 on Pambazuka News, stated that “Mr. Tony Mochama committed an indecent act upon the person of poet and activist Shailja Patel,” and that “Today at 12 noon, Ms. Patel filed a police report at Spring Valley Police Station,” having “stated that she would seek restorative community justice rather than engaging the judicial system.”

“Each time a man sexually harasses or assaults a woman with no consequences, he is emboldened to repeat and escalate that behaviour,” Patel stated. “It becomes a pattern. Sexual predators are not born; they are the product of patriarchies and rape cultures that teach men they are entitled to the bodies of all women. When a man invades a woman’s body space without her invitation, touches, grabs and gropes her without her consent, he violates her sovereignty of person. He evicts her from her own body. Our bodies are our first homes. If we are not safe in our bodies, we are always homeless. Let us stand with all victims and survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Let us create a society where sexual violence is unknown.”

The accusation caused sharp splits in the Kenyan literary and activist scenes, with the late Binyavanga Wainaina taking Mochama’s side at a point, which caused even greater divisions.

The activist Wanjeri Nderu, who was present at the event, maintained that there was never an assault.

As more accusations of racism, rape apology and agenda flew across divides, the hashtag #StopTonyMochama trended on Twitter.

Mochama then sued Patel and Mwangi for defamation. “By suing them for defamation, I am not trying to ‘silence’ anyone. I am exercising the only lawful remedy open to me as a human being, a Kenyan,” Mochama stated. “If anything, they should embrace this suit with open arms as I am providing them with an avenue to be heard and their tall tale to be thoroughly and logically examined by a court of law.”

The case blew up again 2016, with more accusations traded.

And yesterday, 5 August, almost five years on, a Kenyan court, presided over by Magistrate Addah Obura, awarded Mochama Sh 9 million ($87,070) in damages, directing Patel and Mwangi to tender a written apology within 14 days. She ruled, Mpasho reports, that there was no concrete evidence of the assault and, terming the use of #StopTonyMochama as defamatory, barred Patel and Mwangi from further statements, or involvement in publications, against Mochama.

“I find that the publication was malicious on a balance of probability and I am not satisfied that they established justification or fair comment. There was proof of injury to Mochama’s reputation. The award is fair and reasonable,” Magistrate Obura said. “I have considered the legal position and re-looked the tweets as well as the threads on Mochama’s documents. The truth of these tweets concerning Mochama has not been established.”

Commenting on the outcome of the case, Mochama told The Standard: “These are people who wanted to use my colour and dreads to destroy my reputation, by branding me a rapist just because I keep dreadlocks. It was a racial case. I am also happy they will apologise to me after all the shenanigans, it is fulfilling. I said I would not allow people to finish me with feministic and none-existing claims, I said even if it was taking a lifetime, I was ready to pursue justice at all cost.” Stating that “the two women tried to push for an out of court settlement after realising they had no case against him but he stood firm,” he added: “I wanted to prove to my family, friends and all Kenyans that I was a good man and not a beast as I had been branded.”

There have been reactions of Kenyan social media.

At the time of writing, there has been no reaction to the decision yet by Shailja Patel and Wambui Mwangi. We will keep you updated.