Stella Nyanzi has a radical suggestion: If a man is standing in the way of gender equality, how do women make him listen to them? By grabbing them by their genitalia. “Unless you grab and squeeze hard, they’re not listening,” Nyanzi said during a recent court hearing.

The woman wrote a Vagina poem…

What’s the worst thing that could happen to you if you write a poem about a vagina? And that too of a deceased mother of the country’s president! You probably end up in jail.

The Ugandan feminist and lecturer who has been locked up in Luzira’s Women Prison for eight months is on a trial after the government accused her of “cyber harassment and offensive communication” under the country’s Computer Misuse Act of 2011 for a poem about ‘Vagina’ which got published in September last year. In the poem, she used a graphic description of the birth of the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and his mother’s private part to criticise his “oppression, suppression and repression” in the country, which he has been ruling for over 30 years now.

A part of the poem reads as: –

“Yoweri, they say it was your birthday yesterday.

How nauseatingly disgusting a day!

I wish the acidic pus flooding Esiteri’s (Museveni’s mother) cursed vaginal canal had burnt up your unborn fetus.

Burnt you up as badly as you have corroded all morality and professionalism out of our public institutions in Uganda”

The poem communicates solemn lament and distress about Museveni’s birth, expressing that Uganda would have been saved the persecution, concealment, debasement, end of public institutions, joblessness, terrible administration and the disintegration of ethical quality in the public arena, had Yoweri not been conveyed to term.

 

Stella Nyanzi wanted the court to summon President Yoweri Museveni as one of the witnesses in the case where she is accused of insulting him and his mother.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

Some described Nyanzi’s poem as ‘loutish,’ while on the other hand, for some, it was a way of showing “radical rudeness.” Began as a form of anti-colonial dissent during the late 1940s, radical rudeness is a way of holding the powerful in society accountable through public insult. A formidable activist in Uganda, Nyanzi has been imprisoned for expressing her views previously, but she’s the one who has been continuously fighting against oppressive anti-queer laws as well as the right to speak freely.

Several international organizations condemned her detention by the Ugandan authorities. PEN International, an organization which promotes freedom of expression in literature, condemned the arrest of Nyanzi in strongest terms and called upon the Ugandan authorities to release Nyanzi since freedom of speech has been enshrined in the country’s constitution. The Human Rights Watch also condemned her arrest and described it as an “indicator that those who express critical views of the Ugandan government, especially the first family, can face its wrath.”

Nyanzi’s torrid affair with the Ugandan law enforcement agencies is not something new. She’s fighting three other legal cases: The principal case emerged from Makerere University suspending her for organizing an exposed dissent against what she depicted as “compromising the research mandate” at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) where she was a research fellow. The second case is a “cyber harassment and offensive communication” case which stems from a Facebook post in which she called President Yoweri Museveni, “a pair of buttocks.” The third is a typical case at the high court challenging the infringement of Nyanzi’s right to freedom of movement as she has been put on a restricted travel backlog.

Is Ugandan government muzzling free speech?

During the last year, two women have been arrested for using correspondingly discourteous talk to denounce the government- one of them purportedly threatened to hit the president with her private parts. Nudity has become a form of protest for Ugandan women during recent years.

Last year, Ugandan politician Bobi Wine gave an account of physical abuse he had to suffer at the hands of the Ugandan military. A government spokesperson described these claims as a “tantalizing, although unproven” diversionary tactic, while at the same time urging the musician turned politician to present them in a court of law so that they could be “investigated and (the) culprits be punished.”

In 2015, a group of women in rustic northern Uganda stripped before police and government agents to exhibit against endeavors to expel them from their hereditary land. In 2018 ranking of Reporters without Borders index, Uganda was ranked 117. This year it has dropped to eight places to 125.  This year’s report provides the following account- “intimidation and violence against reporters are an almost daily occurrence.”

It was last year that the Ugandan government introduced a controversial social media tax, and till now, it has only managed to raise Shs49.5 billion (17% of the expected revenue).

Present scenario

Dr Nyanzi wanted the court to summon President Museveni as one of the witnesses in the case where she is accused of insulting him and his mother. But, as per article 98(4) of the constitution of Uganda, the president is not liable to any proceedings in any court while still in office.

The 19 witnesses who were summoned to defend Dr Nyanzi failed to appear in court. The defense wanted them to be tried for contempt of court, a request which court denied. With the defense failing to produce witnesses, the Court has set August 1 as the date of delivering its judgment.