Car dealership’s woes turn focus on social media and business

second-hand vehicles

Imported second-hand vehicles.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

When Joseph Kairu Wambui, alias Khalif Kairo, walked out of an automobile importation company, Imports By Kairo Limited Company, on October 1, 2022, and started his own firm, the exit was expected to be smooth and seamless.

His new venture was named Kai & Karo Ltd, making it a competitor of his former employer.

Mr Wambui’s social media posts on his new outfit, however, ruffled his former employer who has dragged him to court on a gruelling online defamation suit.

Mr Kimani and his car importation company say Mr Wambui was a salesman and that “he did not make any monetary contribution towards the growth of the company”.

According to Mr Kimani, after parting ways Mr Wambui defamed him on social media and discredited his company, leading to reduced sales and cancellation of orders by clients.

In the suit filed at the High Court in Nairobi, Mr Kimani says Mr Wambui made false and damaging utterances against him and Imports By Kairo Limited in a post on his social media accounts.

He says the posts were full of false, libelous, and malicious claims. He is seeking various forms of damages.

Since all of the customers whose orders were to be placed were cancelling the orders and demanding a refund, Mr Kimani says his company was running the risk of going out of business.

New customers

This, he claims, was because there were no new customers as they had been led to believe that Mr Wambui was the overall manager of the company.

The businessman adds that since Mr Wambui had opened a new company, the customers had been made to believe that Imports by Kairo Ltd was no longer in business or was unable to conduct business. Mr Kimani is also fighting to reclaim his company’s social media accounts from his former salesman.

“It is for this reason that he has resorted to damaging the company’s reputation as he does not stand to lose anything, he, however, stands to gain customers and clients from Imports by Kairo Ltd who lost trust in the commercial viability of the Imports by Kairo Ltd,” say the plaintiffs.

Regarding damage and loss, Mr Kimani states that the volumes of sales decreased drastically and that his auditors were concerned.

He says the auditors informed him there were discrepancies and abnormalities in the volume of sales and that books did not look good with a debt of Sh3 million.

Mr Kimani has obtained a temporary order stopping Mr Wambui from spreading the posts or circulating or continuing to circulate the “defamatory” material against the plaintiffs.

The businessman also wanted the court to order Mr Wambui not to engage in any competing business under the name Kai & Karo or any other name, pending the hearing and determination of the suit.

The court, however, failed to grant the order. The court also failed to grant an order restraining Mr Wambui from using the company’s social media account known as “Imports by Kairo” on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

In response, Mr Wambui states that his entity (Kai & Karo Limited) was a creation of four directors and its existence has nothing to do with the imminent downfall of Imports by Kairo Ltd.

He says being only a salesman, as consistently stated by Mr Kimani, the position did not preclude him in any way from operating a company in direct or incidental competition with the Imports by Kairo Ltd.

Mr Wambui adds that the statements made and that were said to be defamatory were a matter of general advice to young people who wished to partner with others to do business.

Social media

He had several partners in the course of earning a livelihood and it was instructive that “there had been a few pitfalls here and there”.

When he made his exit from Imports by Kairo Ltd public through social media, he says he had no control over the responses that would be elicited.

He believes that Mr Kimani had “a right to follow up on the individual members of the group that bullied him and made negative comments and took sanctions against him, including reporting to the police”.

While issuing the interim injunction order, Justice Joseph Sergon found that Mr Kimani has a strong case.

The judge added that there was no evidence placed before the court by Mr Wambui dissociating himself with Imports by Kairo Ltd.

“I am of the view that one’s reputation is invaluable and once tarnished, cannot adequately be compensated by way of damages,” said Justice Sergon.

“The applicants stand to suffer a greater inconvenience if the injunction is not granted in comparison to the inconvenience that would befall the respondents were the same to be allowed,” he added.

In the suit, Mr Kimani and his company also sought orders directing Mr Wambui to relinquish login details of the company’s social media accounts details known as “Imports by Kairo”.

The legal dispute shines focus on the impact of social media on business in Kenya.

Most entrepreneurs are relying on social media platforms to create and grow demand for their products, push their sales, and generate insights.

Other businesses are attributing their fall to social media posts, although it has been a tough test for the offended to get evidence.

The ongoing tussle between Mr Kimani and Mr Wambui also highlights the impact of social media in the business world and sheds light on the control of a social media account created in the name of a company.

The gist of the dispute is alleged online defamation after a business fallout that tests the relationship between partners or workers with the owner after separation.