Silverdale Farm case reaches Commonwealth Secretariat

By Henry D Gombya

Reginald Abraham Mengi, a Tanzanian industrialist and media tycoon whose brother Benjamin is using his connections to hound British investors out of Tanzania.

Two British investors who lost their farm in Tanzania to a corrupt Tanzanian businessman who used his family’s connections to the Tanzanian government to hound them out of the country and take their farm, have taken their case to the Commonwealth Secretary General Mr Kamalesh Sharma asking him why the Secretariat had failed to hold the government of President Jakaya Kikwete to account for abuses of law and human rights perpetuated against British investors in Tanzania.

In a letter to Mr Sharma, a copy of which The London Evening Post has seen, Ms Sarah Hermitage, who together with her husband Stewart Middleton owned a lease to Silverdale and Mbono Farms in Hai District, Kilimanjaro Region, told the Secretary General that Tanzania had failed to live up to its promises to uphold Commonwealth ideals. She said that at this month’s Commonwealth Business Forum in Perth, Australia, the Tanzanian leader will try and portray his country as a haven for foreign investment. “Tanzania is not a safe country for foreign direct investment, no matter how strong the rhetoric to the contrary. It is a country that has failed to uphold the constitution and the legal rights of bona-fide investors and citizens in Tanzania and has facilitated the brutal demise of their investment interests in the country,” Ms Hermitage’s letter said.

In 2004 the British couple invested in the above farm which was by that time almost derelict, after purchasing a 45-year lease from a Tanzanian businessman Benjamin Mengi, brother of Tanzania’s media mogul, Reginald Mengi. Within six months of the purchase, the farm was employing 150 Tanzanians turning it into a productive farm that went on to grow and export more than eight tons of green beans that they exported  to Europe weekly. The success of the farm was obviously noticed by Mr Mengi who turned around and asked that the British couple return the lease. He claimed that they had failed to pay for it despite having signed receipt of the payments for the lease. Reginald Mengi has since denied he has anything to do with his brother’s business.

What followed was a four-year campaign of violence and harassment against the British couple leading to Mr Mengi telling them in front of senior Tanzanian police officers: “You are white and I am black and the police are in my hands. I will drive you out of Tanzania, cut into pieces [and] in a coffin.” Tanzanian authorities then refused to register the couple’s lease, refused to recognise their Deed of Assignment, constantly arrested their key members of operational staff and finally had Stewart Middleton thrown into prison on trumped-up charges.

Ms Hermitage told the Commonwealth Secretary General in her letter that despite four years of effort by the British Government through Her Majesty’s High Commission in Dar es Salaam and despite promises from President Kikwete that the rule of law would be upheld, nothing had been done about Mr Mengi’s ‘criminal conduct’. “We fled the country in 2008 and lost our entire investment. Mr Mengi then invaded the farms, broke into our house and stole what remained of our property,” she said. “The lease to the farms in now being offered up to another investor and we are being treated as if we never existed in Tanzania,” she added.

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