In 2017, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) launched a research project under the ENACT programme.

The objective of the research was to examine the heroin trade in the East and Southern African coastal region. The study was undertaken to assess how criminal networks and political elites were enmeshed in an integrated criminal economy across the region. After completing extensive field research in countries along the East African coastline, a report was published under the ENACT in June 2018, titled ‘The heroin coast: A political economy along the eastern African seaboard’.

The report found that the heroin trafficking route in coastal East Africa was having a highly detrimental impact on democratic processes, including high-level corruption. The local heroin economy was also causing a public health problem.

In June 2020, Mr John Harun Mwau, a high-profile Kenyan business tycoon, former politician and assistant Minister served summons on the GI-TOC’s co-authors of the report, claiming damages for defamation, and demanding a retraction of the report and an apology.

The crux of Mwau’s case is that the report makes him out to be linked to drug trafficking. The GI-TOC maintains that, among others, the wording in the report that Mwau claims is defamatory constitutes fair comment on matters of intense public interest. Corroborating the GI-TOC’s argument on the grounds of fair comment, it is pertinent that between 2004 and 2020, the Kenyan and international media published at least 139 news articles associating Mwau with drug trafficking. Furthermore, in June 2011, President Obama, in terms of a US statute, publicly linked Mwau to drug trafficking by including his name in a list of international ‘narcotic kingpins’. Mwau’s business holdings in the US, reportedly valued at millions of dollars, were frozen in June 2011. Almost ten years later, Mwau’s name remains on the ‘kingpin list’.

The GI-TOC instructed a Kenyan lawyer to defend the case and brought an interlocutory application to the High Court for the removal of the interested parties cited by Mwau, before proceeding with the main defamation case. The three interested parties were the Attorney General, Inspector General and National Police Service of Kenya. Justice Said Chitembwe dismissed the application on 11 March 2021.  The GI-TOC has decided to appeal this ruling and will thereafter continue with its defence against Mwau’s claims.