A Ugandan activist, Stella Nyazi I currently languishing in jail for writing a poem about a vagina. Stella Nyanzi has been known in African academic a
A Ugandan activist, Stella Nyazi I currently languishing in jail for writing a poem about a vagina. Stella Nyanzi has been known in African academic and feminist circles for decades, but it’s her provocative poetry about 74-year-old President Yoweri Museveni that has made her a household name in Uganda in recent years.
The academic who has been in Luzira women’s prison for eight months is on trial after the government accused her of “cyber harassment and offensive communication” for penning and posting a poem on Facebook. The poem published last September, uses a graphic description of the birth of the Ugandan President and his mother’s vagina to criticize his oppression, suppression and repression of the country, which he has ruled for over 30 years.
“Yoweri, they say it was your birthday yesterday. How horrifically cancerous a day! I wish the infectious dirty-brown discharge flooding Esiteri’s [Museveni’s mother’s] loose pussy had drowned you to death / Drowned you as vilely as you have sank and murdered the dreams and aspirations of millions of youths who languish in the deep sea of massive unemployment, and under-emplyment (sic) in Uganda,” reads part of the now infamous vagina poem.
While the language and imagery in Nyanzi’s poetry may seem shocking, she said this “rudeness is the only option. Politeness has been taken, it’s been held captive, and they don’t listen any more. So sometimes all you have to say is ‘f*** it! And then people will hear and take you seriously,” Nyanzi said about the Ugandan government.
In early June, Nyanzi’s legal team put it to Buganda Road Chief Magistrate Court that she had no case to answer and pushed for her immediate release. But the judgment went against her. She remains in jail and will start presenting her defense this week. Stella Nyanzi has asked the court to summon 20 defense witnesses, including President Yoweri Museveni himself.
Nyanzi was first imprisoned in 2017 for a month after posting a Facebook poem criticizing Uganda’s first lady, Janet Museveni, for failing to deliver on her promise to provide sanitary pads to schoolgirls. Museveni, who is minister for education and sports, said there ultimately wasn’t enough money in the budget for the initiative. During this stint in prison, the government attempted to carry out a psychiatric assessment of Nyanzi because the prosecutor alleged she was insane.
Over the past year, two other women have been arrested for using similarly rude rhetoric to criticize the government — one for allegedly threatening to hit the President with her genitals. Ugandan women have also used nudity as a form of protest in recent years. In 2015, a group of older women in rural northern Uganda stripped in front of police and government representatives to demonstrate against attempts to remove them from their ancestral land.
But radical rudeness can be dangerous in an environment where civil liberties are increasingly being called into question. As well as Nyanzi’s arrest in November 2018, last year the Ugandan government amended the constitution to remove the presidential age limit, imposed a “social media tax” that critics say is an attempt to hinder freedom of speech online.