By Gitahi Ngunyi
Adolf Hitler was once quoted saying “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” A cross section of Kenyans seem to have bought the lie that Vimal Shah is the untouchable, tax-evading, sadistic enemy of the people!
According to a source that has been a part of the smear campaign from the beginning, Money & Markets can now exclusively report that since 2015, there has been a concerted smear campaign by actors associated with Tatu City targeting Vimal Shah with the sole intention of damaging his reputation using an elaborate network of bloggers, internet trolls and brown-envelope journalists.
The story of the origins of Tatu City, the management’s fallout, and the subsequent drama in the Kenyan Parliament has been covered extensively by online and mainstream media. What you didn’t know is that for the most part, the stories you have read had been meticulously scripted to paint Vimal Shah as the power-hungry villain to conceal the identity of the real perpetrators of one of Kenya’s most dramatic land-grabbing heists. This is the story about a deliberate effort to cover-up the heist by smearing the good name of one of Kenya’s most celebrated entrepreneurs.
Conceived as a $3.85 Billion joint venture between former Central Bank Governor Nahashon Nyaga, BIDCO Africa Chairman Vimal Shah and Billionaire Businessman Stephen Jennings, the Tatu City dream quickly turned into a hostile takeover with a boardroom tussle ending up with the exit of Nahashon Nyaga and Vimal Shah from the project. The intricate details of this land-grab maneuverer have been detailed out in this article as well as in submissions to the Parliamentary committee investigating Tatu City for tax evasion. Amidst the brewing controversy, Tatu City then engaged the services of a local PR company and a renowned corporate communications expert from the prestigious Cornell University, to help sanitize their actions and rally public support. What followed was a full-frontal multi-media assault to vilify and discredit Vimal Shah in the eyes of the Kenyan public.
In 2015 Stephen Jennings was hosted on MindSpeak, an executive public relations platform managed by Alykhan Satchu. The credibility of MindSpeak platform is a story for another day. The forum was to give the Tatu City project prominent visibility.
At MindsSpeak, Jennings, a New Zealand citizen who ran away from Russia after the collapse of his investment banking business used the opportunity granted by Satchu to paint Vimal Shah and other Kenyan shareholders of Tatu City as land grabbers.
But he reserved most of his acerbic attacks for Vimal Shah who is considered as the initiator of the Tatu City project.
In a curious development, protestors appeared in London during the hearing of arbitration case between Kenyan shareholders of Tatu City and the foreign shareholders.
During the protest in October attended by citizens of countries from the horn of Africa but none from Kenya, the demonstrators carried placards with messages that included; don’t listen to Vimal Shah, No to Vimal Shah No to Bidco and We Shall Not Stand for Bidco Slaves.
The protestors were operating under the unknown aegis of East Africa Community Against Human Rights Violator and Land Grabber.
As they were holding the protests, someone was recording a video which was quickly shared on youtube. You can watch the video on this link.
At the same time blogger Cyprian Nyakundi published a 20-part series on Vimal Shah and BIDCO levelling various accusations against the businessman. A source close to Cyprian Nyakundi confirms receiving orders to malign Vimal Shah in a series of trending hashtags among them: #BidcoMegaTaxEvasion, #FallOfVimal, #VimalEatsHumblePie, #FixBidcoAfrica, #BIDCOExposed, #BIDCOAreLandGrabbers, #doyoupayyourtaxesvimal
To up the ante negatively-skewed stories of tax impropriety, mistreatment of factory workers and land grabbing claims in Uganda began emerging in press publications. One former journalist and prominent online personality recalls being approached and offered Sh500,000 ($5,000) to join the smear campaign attack on Vimal Shah.
Once published, the stories rapidly escalated to other online platforms where the perpetrators used a fake Gmail address by the name Joshua Omondi (firstname.lastname@example.org) to open a Facebook Account and a Wikipedia account to publish damaging information about Vimal Shah and BIDCO Africa. The fake Gmail address was also used to register the domain name www.no2bidco.org and Twitter Account – @No2Bidco – where fabricated stories were published until 2019 when the website was de-activated due to legal and privacy violations.
The online attack also targeted BIDCO’s business stakeholders where Joshua Omondi, under the guise of the “No2Bidco Truth Coalition”, registered a MailChimp account and managed to send out a total of 18 email newsletters to BIDCO’s bankers and business partners before MailChimp de-activated the account for violation of their terms of service.
The latest development comes in September 2019, where a meeting to plan the next wave of the attack took place in Nairobi. Present in the meeting were internet trolls represented by two of Nairobi’s popular bloggers on Tatu City’s retainer, brown-envelope editors, business writers and PR practitioners. Our sources reveal that the meeting was coordinated by a local PR firm and a long serving business writer from one of the country’s top 3 media houses, who is said to have put together the list of friendly journalists.
Cases of hatchet jobs in the Kenyan media where journalists are paid to destroy the reputations of high standing members of society are becoming rampant as the online space opens up.
But the specific case of the efforts to destroy Vimal Shah and Bidco is the most callous as it seeks to bring down a man who has built a successful business that is feeding 25,000 Kenyans through direct employment and another one million through contract farming.
What makes it even worse is the fact that the ‘caller of the tunes’ in the Vimal Shah smear campaign are foreigners who have a global reputation for practicing the most soulless capitalism that destroys workers livelihoods as it cannibalizes businesses.
The use of media to bring down high standing members of society has become a hindrance to development that the President Uhuru Kenyatta has on several occasions added his voice to condemn the practice.
In his Mashujaa Day speech Uhuru called on journalists to report fearlessly by speaking truth to power, as well as by rejecting and condemning brown-envelope journalism.