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Ruhinda North MP Drags Voter to Court for Defamation

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Through his lawyers M/S Ortus Advocates, the legislator says Kankiriho with intentions to defame, ridicule and demean his person, published and distributed defamatory text messages in a WhatsApp group belonging to members of Mitooma district.
10 Mar 2020 15:20
Hon Thomas Tayebwa (Internet Photo)
The Ruhinda North Member of Parliament, Thomas Tayebwa has dragged his voter Julius Kankiriho Rwakifari to high court in Mbarara for alleged defamation and slander on their Whatsapp Group. The case was entered as mediation cause number 35 of 2020.  

Through his lawyers M/S Ortus Advocates, the legislator says Kankiriho with intentions to defame, ridicule and demean his person, published and distributed defamatory text messages in a WhatsApp group belonging to members of Mitooma district. 

According to Tayebwa, the incident occurred on January 16, 2020 in “OUR DISTRICT MITOOMA” Whatsapp Group.  He says the message that was maliciously calculated to injure and lower his reputation as a Member of Parliament was received by several persons. 

“We are in possession of very many other documents showing our dear HON TAYEBWA Thomas using his office at Makerere University as Finance Committee chairman trying to dubiously convert some Makerere land into his name in this dangerous allegation of land grabbing in Makerere University,” Kankiriho reportedly posted on the WhatsApp group, on January 16.   

Adding that, “…our man is implicated in many dubious deals of land in Makerere University and there is a lot of evidence against him. So let him clear his image. Tayebwa is on this forum, man let him clear his name here [because] he knows the stories better than anybody here.”          

Tayebwa argues that the contents of the statements and messages by Kankiriho in their entirety meant that he was “a crook of the highest order and land grabber; a fraudulent and corrupt businessman; an insensitive person whose only interest in life was in enriching himself.” 

He also notes that the statements by his voter indicates that he; “is an untrustworthy person unworthy of high office of the Member of Parliament, unethical and unscrupulous in his dealings with public resources and engages in criminal and illegal activities.”   

Several members on the Whatsapp group including Patience Kyomugisha demanded to have the documents as claimed by Kankiriho. They warned Kankiriho to stop making lame allegations is lack proof of the documents. On the same day, Tayebwa posted on the same Whatsapp group asking Kankiriho to share the documents. 

“…Kankiriho [you] need to be cautious with your statements. Whereas [you] you have been using defamatory language on other people and they keep quiet, me I will not tolerate you brother. And by the way, apart from the documents authored by your friends and their ghost agents, I want you to share any credible document on this platform, or [you] withdraw [your] statement. These documents you claim to have are about me, so I beg you to share them here. Otherwise you are a young man whose future shouldn’t be tarnished by useless statements,” reads Tayebwa’s Whatsapp message.     

Tayebwa’s lawyer claims that despite serving Kankiriho a notice of intention to sue and asking him to make a written apology, he remained adamant. Tayebwa had asked Kankiriho to provide an unreserved and unconditional retraction in writing and facilitate publication of the apology and retraction to all people that received and viewed his post through Whatsapp.   

He now wants court to declare that Kankiriho’s statements were defamatory and issue an order restraining him from further publishing or causing to be published the same words. He also wants court to award him general damages as well as cost of the suit. Kankiriho has denied the accusations through his lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde of the Centre for Legal Aid. He also notes Tayebwa doesn’t refute the content as false but simply wants to gag whoever speaks about it.           

In a written statement drafted by Ssemakadde, Kankiriho argues that basing on documents in the public domain; Tayebwa is a long-term member of Makerere University Council where he once chaired the Finance, Planning and Investments Committee.  He further says Tayebwa is the biological brother of Advocate Alexander Kibandama of M/s Ortus Advocates (and formerly of ENS Advocates), the investment advisor for Mak Holdings Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Makerere University.  

“There are numerous transactions orchestrated by the two wheeler-dealer brothers in respect of the finances, property, investments and other holdings of Makerere University which are not entirely on board,” reads in part, Kankiriho’s defense.    

According Kankiriho, Tayebwa’s self-description as a legislator and “eminent businessman of very substantial standing” is false and misleading. “That description is liable to open, robust and critical discussion, debate and interrogation by the ‘constituents’ of Ruhinda North Constituency, the general Mitooma District community (of which the defendant is a member), and the public at large including his colleagues in the business community. Especially as the country approaches the general parliamentary elections for the 11th Parliament of Uganda,” he argues.     

According to Kankiriho, his comments on “OUR DISTRICT MITOOMA” WhatsApp group doesn’t cause any reputational damage to the legislator, arguing that such damage must have existed long before his alleged messages appeared on the WhatsApp group.  

“Firstly, the defendant (Kankiriho) merely alerted the plaintiff (Tayebwa) to damaging reports in the public domain and urged him to break the silence and clear his name. Secondly, content concerning his reputational damage is not limited to the defendant’s alleged WhatsApp messages in the group, but is freely available elsewhere on the internet, in the newspapers of wide circulations and records of numerous state agencies. 

Thirdly, content concerning the plaintiff’s reputation has circulated the internet for as long as he has been a member of Parliament and of the Makerere University Council, while the defendant’s messages on the Whatsapp group appeared on or about 16, January 2020,” reads in part, Kankiriho’s defense.  

One of the documents the defense intends to use is a January 13, 2020 letter to Professor Barnabas Nawangwe by Sarah Acan Otim who wrote about concerned staff.  Acan was responding to the Vice Chancellor’s email to staff on January 5, 2020   clarifying a story that was published by one of the dailies indicating there was loss of land at Makerere. The letter that was copied to the Education and Sports Minister, the Inspectorate of Government (IG), the State House Anti-Corruption unit details how Makerere university officials were aiding the land loss.  

“You spent university money on a benchmarking tour in other Universities including in Malasyia. On 16 June 2014, you chose to register Makerere University Company Holdings Limited under management and you (Professor Nawangwe) signed on behalf of the University,” says Acan.  

Adding that; “Through the rouge previous Council 2014-2018, Mak Holdings Ltd was shielded to actualize the land grabbing agenda of the cabal. Under unclear circumstances, Hon. Tayebwa’s Brother, Mr. Kibandama Alexander was appointed the investment advisor of Mak Holdings and started soliciting for company’s giveaway of Makerere University land.”  

In the same document, Acan alleges that Plot 40 Katanga land located around the roundabout below the City Mortuary was being processed for take away by Hon. Thomas Tayebwa and Bruce Kabaasa through Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).  

“There are several tenants on this land with Car washing bays and recently garages. The tenants pay money to Mr. Kabaasa Balaba Bruce from the days he was chairperson Makerere University Convocation.  …there are records in the Directorate of Legal Affairs showing rental agreements with car washing and revenue section of Bursars office equally have no record of receipt of the money to show rental fees from these car washing bays,” says Acan, in a document that Kankiriho referred to in the WhatsApp group.