Uganda: Stella Nyanzi charged for calling President Museveni a “pair of buttocks”
Since criticising First Lady and Education Minister Janet Museveni, the academic has faced a campaign of state repression.
The Ugandan academic Stella Nyanzi was officially charged in court today for referring to President Yoweri Museveni as “a pair of buttocks” in a Facebook post. It is alleged that her online comments contravened the 2011 Computer Misuse Act and that she engaged in “cyber harassment” and “offensive communication”.
The passing down of these charges is the culmination of a two-month campaign of state repression against Nyanzi. This alarming streak of authoritarianism began after Nyanzi criticised the policies of Education Minister and First Lady Janet Museveni in a Facebook post on 15 February.
Although Nyanzi’s charge sheet does not specifically mention those comments, it is since then that her rights to free expression, movement, privacy and liberty have been flagrantly violated. She has been summoned by the Criminal Investigations Department for questioning. She found out she had been subjected to a travel ban as she tried to board a plane to a conference in Amsterdam on 19 March. And she was suspended from her job as a research fellow at Makerere University on 31 March.
Moreover, on 3 April, Nyanzi claimed on Facebook that armed individuals were trailing her sister’s vehicle, and on the same day, armed men raided her home, intimidating her domestic employee and three children.
In the following few days, rumours and false alarms of Nyanzi’s arrest circulated, until, on the night of 7 April, she was seized by unknown state agents. After being held in police custody over the weekend, she was officially charged today.
Nyanzi has courted controversy before. In fact, up until a couple of months ago, she was best known for two things. The first of these was the half-nude protest she embarked upon in April last year against the alleged maladministration of Mahmood Mamdani, director of Makerere Institute of Social Research – a demonstration she broadcast on social media, generating nationwide coverage. And the second was the erotic fiction, written from the perspective of a middle-aged woman, which she posts on her Facebook page.
Nyanzi has sometimes used this erotic imagery in creative ways to critique the government. But the post that got her in hot water with the Education Minister in mid-February was more straightforward.
The previous day, Janet Museveni had told parliament that the government lacks the funds to fulfil her husband President Yoweri Museveni’s electoral pledge of providing free sanitary pads to school girls.
Nyanzi responded angrily to the development, writing: “What sort of mother allows her daughters to keep away from school because they are too poor to afford padding materials that would adequately protect them from the shame and ridicule that comes by staining their uniforms with menstrual blood? What malice plays in the heart of a woman who sleeps with a man who finds money for millions of bullets, billions of bribes, and uncountable ballots to stuff into boxes but she cannot ask him to prioritise sanitary pads for poor schoolgirls? She is no Mama! She is just Janet!”
Nyanzi continued by recounting how she had received education on menstrual care as a young girl from her mother, before concluding: “I should visit [Mrs Museveni] without protection during my next menstruation period, sit in her spotless sofas and arise after staining her soul with my menstrual blood! That will be my peaceful demonstration in solidarity with Uganda’s poor adolescent girls.”
When Nyanzi was summoned by the police to answer for her comments, the academic responded by calling on her followers to turn up in solidarity at the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters with pads.
Soon, an online crowd funder had been set up, and a team of over forty volunteers began a campaign to fulfil President Museveni’s broken promise themselves. They visited several schools, dispensing sanitary pads and teaching girls about menstrual hygiene. According to campaign spokesperson Almeidah Ampwere, over a million pads have already been distributed so far.
A family business
On 30 March, Janet Museveni spoke out publicly about the whole affair. She wondered aloud why Nyanzi would be so angry at her and announced that she had “forgiven” the academic. This hollow declaration not only ignored the content of Nyanzi’s criticism, but exemplified the personalised nature of the Musevenis’ rule.
[Uganda: Museveni’s routes to staying in power beyond 2021]
After all, despite the charges, Nyanzi did not commit any crime by simply expressing her opposition to a government policy on Facebook. If she had, Janet Museveni could sue her in a private capacity. But instead, the Musevenis employed the state machinery to aggressively curtail Nyanzi’s freedoms, violating her human rights and breaching the constitution.
In events reminiscent of Uganda’s post-colonial tyranny and impunity, Nyanzi’s freedom of movement was denied without any court sanction. She was suspended by Makerere on the grounds that she insulted the Minister of Education, a move the Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA) condemned. Her home was raided, scaring her children and domestic employee, and her sister’s vehicle allegedly trailed.
Moreover, on 7 April, Nyanzi’s personal safety and liberty were taken away too as she was seized by plain-clothed state operatives. And she now faces politically-motivated charges.
Online, the debate about Nyanzi has shifted from discussing the appropriateness of her language to the extent the Musevenis are prepared to repress Ugandan citizens. In abusing state institutions to pursue a personal vendetta against an academic expressing her opinions, the true nature of a thin-skinned family-run regime that cares little about constitutional and human rights has become clear.
Nyanzi pleaded not guilty to the charges this afternoon, while prosecutors questioned her mental health. The court then declined to hear her bail application, meaning Nyanzi is to be remanded in custody until 25 April.
The answer is simple: We Ugandans are tired of MUSEVENI. Even if you gave us a goat as President we would rather go with that for the sake of change
I think amnesty international must protect the gender roles especially when elite es as a watchdog of a s- society try to address the main challenges faced our academicians whereas they seeking or acquiring the knowledge intentionally for social development not for their own capital progress,taking into consideration human nature are difference even their income are very limited so there is a need to execute exact promise to non ruling class after electoral session i think this is a our concern not only for yoweri museven and his predesors or would-be successor but also all third world state leaders regardless their sex.
Surely Stella comments don’t warrant criminal charges, but if she had used a more global criteria for evaluating presidents her frustration would decrease. For example, in the USA our president is not even a “pair of buttocks”, he’s only an orifice. We feel you Stella; hang in there!
Just a “pair of buttocks”, it is. The “king” is naked.
This should not be international news. It should be in the gossip section of a local paper in Kampala. Yahoo is allowing this public dirty laundry from an African woman who has become an American Democrat.
The previous comment by Hibba sent on 11/04/17 at 14:44 actually makes me angry.
Nyanzi’s treatment essentially shows how rotten and suffocated our Ugandan democracy has become.
So what if someone is called a pair of buttocks? So what if they are called anything at all?
Politicians breaking their electoral promises against fundamental human rights makes our Uganda cancerous – menstrual pads are a necessity – they should never have been a promise to win an election in the first place. And you, Hibba, in your great mind find that this is ok ?!?!
Nyanzi is an intellectual – she is simply being a voice for the voiceless! Should we as Ugandans let things like this happen?
Any President is the fountain of honour. Simply that. Whether we love or hate him. We got to learn to learn that. Commenta and criticisms can be made even to his person but we should defend the institution of presidency from people who use vulgar language.
when we call our selves literates and respond to issue which do not lead us to developmental ventures, then i call that a pity. Being a middle aged woman, i think it is high time Nyanzi begins to realize of leaving a legacy other than protesting in things that do not lead her anywhere. SORRY for her parents
Millions of Ugandan women, rich and poor have menstruated since time immemorial. Letting these people come into our country and tell us that the government has to provide pads for girls is disempowering the girls and their mothers from finding creative solutions to an ageless issue. The charges have to do with a law that is on the books about internet use and such. This shallowness of jumping at everything is ridiculous and makes Ugandans look foolish.
I am strong critic of authoritarian regimes and do know Ugandans are tired of M7 regime.My only concern is why would we choose to use swear words to express our dissatisfaction.Cant we do it with decorum. Whereas am privy to the fact that we have freedom of expression ,am also aware it has limitations.Let us oppose bad regimes without necessarily being abusive. One strong sentiment I support is how can a regime wold afford to buy bullets but fail to get sanitary pads.This is indeed a SATIRE.It tells us about misplaced priorities by some incompetent African presidents.In Kenya the president buys laptops for Class One while some pupils have no class rooms to learn from and other Kenyans die of hunger.This is Africa for us.I wonder as Lumumba puts it if we are children of a lesser God
Stella metaphorically nicknamed the president of Uganda using swear words .As an academic like her, I have tried to figure out how figurative and metaphoric the abuse is but cannot manage.Any way my concern is why people would want to be heroins or heroes by swimming in fire.Will they survive from the fiery furnace flames to give an account of their heroism?Am not sure…It’s only in Kenya recently a woman MP without decorum coloured the president with “romantic ” words and as chance would have it she went untouched.Let me summarise and say whether we like the presidents in power or not people should respect the PRESIDENCY not individuals.We can critique their authoritarian regimes without necessarily using dirty humour..I support activism executed in a respectable manner.
Dr Nyanzi being r gov’t oppositionist dosnt make sense wn u to begin abusing the president to this extnt. en rember u rather abuse him bt nt evn 1st lady , let her fill jail
Keep up madam…you have our support from kenya. Your president is a buffoon so is ours…the African tragedy