Tony Mochama: How sexual harassment claim ruined my social life and career
If you thought tweets are harmless, writer and journalist Tony Mochama will prove you wrong.
His wife of three years left him because of a Twitter storm started by two women.
Ms Wambui Mwangi and Ms Shailja Patel were tweeting furiously in the week starting September 21, 2014.
Their message was that Mr Mochama, popularly known as Smitta, had sexually assaulted Ms Patel at an event held at Ms Mwangi’s house that Saturday.
As the tweets swirled with their attendant retweets, while sharp opinions flew around under the hashtag #StopTonyMochama, the writer’s life suddenly turned upside down.
His employers wanted answers. His phone buzzed every minute as friends called to hear what he had to say, and he lost count of the number of times he protested his innocence. His wife could not stomach the humiliation.
“My wife left me three weeks into the storm of the scandal, partially out of pressure… and out of community embarrassment,” Mr Mochama told the Sunday Nation.
He has since remarried. The journalist revisited the events of 2014 in an email conversation from Venice, Italy, where he is on a month-long sojourn to write a novela.
Typing with his typical verve and wit, Mr Mochama said the allegations made him lose scholarships, guest lectures, business opportunities, friends and more.
He was too glad to share the story because the defamation case around it, where he had sued Ms Mwangi and Ms Patel, was finalised on Monday.
Principal magistrate Addah Obura ordered the two women to pay Mr Mochama Sh8 million in general damages, Sh1 million in exemplary damages and to send him a written apology in 14 days.
She also issued a mandatory injunction against the two, restraining them from ever posting defamatory statements about the writer.
“It is the apology that I’m most looking forward to,” Mr Mochama said on Friday.
So, what other impact did the allegations have on his life?
“Kwani? Trust stopped distributing my books, over the loud protests of Binyavanga (Wainaina),” said Mr Mochama, the author of Princess Adhis and The Naija Coca Broda and What if I’m a Literary Gangster? among others.
“Storymoja disassociated itself with me, yet we had had a great seven-year relationship.”
He was also dropped from being a moderator for AMKA Creative Workshops for the rest of that year since it involves working with young women.
The worst, Mr Mochama says, was the chances he lost by way of facilitating literary workshops globally.
He had previously presided over workshops on urban African literature in Montreal (2010), London (2011), Portugal (2012), Italy (2013) and in Germany in early 2014. Those dried up suddenly.
“Following the accusations, I was dropped like a hot potato,” he said.
But things began looking up as the case concluded this year.
He attended a workshop in Windhoek, Namibia, in June and has been invited to another in Cape Town in October.
That was not the case when he went to court 15 months ago to clear his name.
“I have been shunned by local literary people and groups, even at social gatherings,” he said.
He filed the suit through his lawyer, Felix Mutua, as the police saw no reason to press charges.
Mr Mochama’s employer – the Standard Group – saw no reason to fire him. Two HR bosses, both female, handled the matter and, despite pressure from Twitter, decided there were no grounds to take such an action.
In court, Mr Mochama reproduced some of the tweets posted during the campaign. One of them was directed at his employer.
“What happens when one of your journalists sexually assaults a woman? Women need to know,” it read.