Stella Nyanzi

Stella Nyanzi: The Classic Faux Pas.

Here’s to the crazy ones! The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of the rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify them or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things! They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do!

The above, were the writing, or, rather, the subtitles, to what was, back then, Steve Job’s Apple’s new advertising and/or marketing strategy; one founded on values, one that recognised and honoured passionate, change oriented persons, and, importantly, one that, like the ever-powerful brand that is Nike, sold more than just their own products – shoes. We will revisit these words as we sum up.

The Issue

Stella The Symbol

I am on assignment to write an article for the Makerere Law Journal, The Deuteronomy, and Writers Block Uganda. The options are two; mental health and the law on suicide, or freedom of expression and internet governance, with particular focus on Stella Nyanzi. The latter is my choice, for a few obvious reasons; Stella Nyanzi has by her own impressive efforts grown to become a contemporary local, continental, and international – wherever applicable – icon for the utilisation of media – social media, in making her, your or anyone’s case heard and causes fronted. I mean, you cannot even say her name in bits or halves anymore.

Stella Nyanzi has been hailed, by some commentators, as the one who finally found the guts to do what the not so bold rest of us could not conceive. For that, she has, and rightly so, earned, thanks to Facebook’s power of virality, a full followship. Whenever she has had the opportunity, she has reminded us, like she assured Andrew Mwenda, when he tried to respond to her assertion that he was a failure at creative writing, that “I am not for hire. My pen serves me and mine.” It is her show, and she runs it. Even the Police are aware. In a press briefing, when she was briefly held for investigations and, perhaps, cautioning over her choice of language, the police spokesperson noted that she knows how to perform whenever the cameras are directed towards her.

Stella The Talent

Stella Nyanzi is without a doubt a talent. She, previously, posited herself as a writer, and we agreed. Some of us discovered her in July 2016, when she serialised about Ikoku, and his spear (re: penis). With sentences like “and although the cobra has only one small eye in the centre, he sees the white tunnel of my womanity. Each time that Ikoku’s spear wakes up in my honour, it aims precisely and shoots right into all my pleasure berries.” we could not help but ask, when the stories got to us; who is this? For a generation that grew up without much conversations about sex, and in an age dominated by information hungry teenagers and young adults with access to the internet, both on a quest for sexual discovery, she became an instantaneous hit. Her footprint has reached everywhere since then.

Stella The Champion

Along the way, Stella Nyanzi has picked on, and championed the noble cause of providing awareness for and/or about sanitary pads. Thanks to her leadership on the #Pads4GirlsUg campaign, we have discovered experiences and revelations that we had either previously ignored or never paid any attention to. We now know, whether from Stella Nyanzi or from our private conversations on the same, know that there are girls, in remote villages who use either thorns or dry banana or rub themselves on the ground to help themselves during their recurring menstrual cycles.

She has ably illustrated what social media can do for us, those poor, always ignored pupils who were never picked on by their tutors to share what was on their minds, however much or long their raised their hands. When they did speak, however, they had good conversation ideas or responses spewing out of themselves. Twitter, Facebook, and blogs have provided the much-needed infrastructure for this to be realised, and Stella Nyanzi has made the most of it – Facebook, especially, in her case. Hers is an elaborate illustration that anyone can ably transit from a culture of limitation to one of expression with reckless abandon and no caution, and excel – reach out to many people – while at it.

Stella The Victimiser

In the process of expressing herself, Stella Nyanzi has strategically identified and effectively victimized several notable persons.

Due to her antics, Prof. Mamdani, her “employer”, looked helpless when interviewed by NTV Uganda’s Raymond Mujuni. Makerere University’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Dumba, sounded lost and helpless too when asked about his or his office’s handling of Stella Nyanzi’s issues with Prof. Mamdani’s led Makerere University Institute of Research.

Andrew Mwenda, her former classmate, was in December 2016 described as a “bought prostitute with a price tag”, one “being fucked over by the highest bidder”, one whose “main sex style is the merchandise of the propaganda”.

James Onen was, as Stella Nyanzi wrote, in April 2015, thought to be “sporadically indulging in fantasies with me as the nymph of a star.” She added that “either he wanks to dirty thoughts of me or he is just grossly infatuated with my queer feminist awesomeness.” In the same breath, he, James Onen, was also criticised. She asked; “Does it delight you to taunt, attack and prod me repeatedly? Does it arouse and turn you on to revile me for naught?”

When Stella Nyanzi seemed to be done with the gentlemen, she, in January 2017, started on the ladies. On the revered Hon. Winnie Byanyima, she wondered; “How does non-violent Kizza Besigye mount or sleep in the same bed with this violent Winnie?”

Her biggest victim, by far, has been Mrs. Museveni Janet, the First Lady of the Republic of Uganda. Of her she finds “people who go around addressing the first wife as Mama Janet” worth despising. Well, from another perspective, it would present a threat to and a competition for Mr. Museveni in as far as her sharing the title Excellence is concerned. Museveni, as we have noticed several times before, only buys His and His, not His and Hers. Also, there are, in other African countries, first ladies who go by the title Mama, and not the befitting Her Excellency.

Stella The Blamer

Stella Nyanzi has ably woven her causes – sanitary pads, for example – with a well-conceived blame game which seeks to portray Mrs. Museveni as the reason for the status quo that she is trying to expose and demean, and probably, eventually lead a revolution against.

“(Mr.) Museveni has never had menstrual blood between his legs. Janet Museveni has been bleeding for decades, and still does, if she is not yet menopausal.” Stella wrote, before blaming a person as knowledgeable as her – Mrs. Museveni, and the rest of the government for enabling the missing of school by poor girls because their inability to illustrate their contribution to their education by providing sanitary pads for use during their menstrual cycles.

I have found, by learning from some of my closest and other not-so-close girlfriends, the so called privileged ones – unfortunately, that never before in their lives has it ever mattered that another person to ever remind them to realise the necessity of sanitary pads. They were introduced, trained, and expected to know what to do when they needed it.

Stella Nyanzi concedes the same when she references her own mother’s lessons. “I started my periods when I was only nine years old. My Mother introduced me to disposable Lilia sanitary towels; and others alternatives.” She, unlike the poor girls she is a champion for, the same girls who, definitely, are not even aware of her qualifications and efforts to elevate them had an opportunity to appreciate the same cause she is fronting in 2017. This is not in any way in defence of those girls, the same poor girls, and boys, men and women, that we all sympathise with, who are the way they are, as compared to their urban-dwelling, different-dreams-having contemporaries, because of a dearth of both information and resources, and not necessarily because of Janet Museveni’s “tiny brains” and “tiny vagina”. The drastic changes in the economy, world over, have, despite the presence of aggressive, well meaning, and like-minded companies like the sanitary pads and tampon making Always, for example, made it difficult for Ugandans and other citizens of the world to simply exist. Sadly, sanitary pads are, thus, foreign to them, these poor girls. It is, as a matter of course, a worthy cause to champion, but not one to blame another for causing. It is, also, a situation worth acknowledging, first, before we can write vulgarities about it. People do not even have food to eat! Their needs go beyond sanitary pads. Their self-esteem, for example, is down, too, and there are several reasons that we could name for that. I once witnessed a lady’s experience, and, at the very least, wrote Do They Have Wings? about it.

Stella The Writer

It begs the question, now more than ever before, whether she is a writer or something else.

I was rather impressed when, in 2015, I discovered and read some of her writings, as an academic or scholar. Her own Knowledge Is Requisite Power: Making A Case For Queer African Scholarship and references of her other works (there are more than 300 of those) in J Oloka-Onyango’s Debating Love, Human Rights And Identity Politics In East Africa: The Case Of Uganda And Kenya (2015) and Mariel Boyarsky’s Staging A Conference To Expand And Reframe The University Of Washington Department Of Global Health’s Approach To Sexuality (2015) made me believe that her ground-breaking, needed work she is worth a Nobel Prize. Perhaps, someday.

However, I was, admittedly, somewhat disappointed by what I am moved to term as a neglect of her high culture, for and her emergence on a noisy, distractive platform characterised by a low culture, such as Facebook. As such, her presence there has, if I may, watered down her aforementioned talents, and now skills, into, not the wonderful writer, that I would prefer but, rather, we have to admit, a serial sentimentalist.

The Application

The Intriguing Ugandan Culture

Foreigners have asked me what it is that is really wrong with Ugandans. They find us, amongst other unfathomable descriptions, unserious characters. I also have no reasonable answer to that, but, I am aware that ours is a country made up of baby, mentally indolent people who are comfortable enough to only care about enjoying life. We are corrupt, sectarian, disappointed dream chasers, without any agency whatsoever.

Our heritage is one heavily dependent on an educational, cultural, and religious system which emphasises conservatism. We are not made for “revolutions” that honour “the crazy ones” (activists), detailed in the quotation at the top, for conversations had in a “vulgar” language (like Stella Nyanzi’s) that is understood and accepted across the broad, and for the caution and/or consequences (imprisonment) when we are found in fault of challenging the status quo.

We cannot realise much for ourselves, unless someone, one of us, better exposed or the foreigners we prefer open up our blinded eyes, or actually do it all for us. There is, as you would imagine, a sufficient dose of laziness in as far as exerting ourselves – mentally and physically – is required.

Stella’s Playground

Stella Nyanzi is, I want to believe, well aware of this. It is probably why she has been quick to remind whoever has tried to challenge her, that she is better educated and more intelligent than them.

Her choice of writing, sorry, sentimentalist’s style is well calculated. Her choice, of a playground is, also, well thought out. First, it is where most Ugandans, both those who have read her work, and those who simply admire her appreciation of the English language live or are bound to end up. Words are wonderful toys to play with, and she is rather quite good at it. Being on a platform – Facebook – that the Government of Uganda cannot, by any means halt, she is thankfully or otherwise, unstoppable. She is as a matter of course, loved and disliked in equal measure.

Stella And The French Vulgarians

Stella Nyanzi’s writing is, to me nothing but a vulgar display of her wealth of words. She, we should know, is not the first or last Ugandan or non-Ugandan to capitalise on political vulgarity in order to address the same issues that we have always interacted with. Kenya’s Millie Odhiambo comes to mind. To deny the importance of vulgarity is to reject the revolutionary tradition, we have been taught.

Amber A’Lee Frost has defined vulgarity as “the rejection of the norms of civilized discourse.” To be vulgar, Amber adds, is “to flout the set of implicit conventions that create our social decorum. The vulgar person uses, swears, and shouts where reasoned discourse is called for”. This, Stella Nyanzi has certainly achieved.

Vulgarity has been employed before. In Mary Antionette’s France, the pamphleteers of the day coined a word, Austrichienne, to describe the Austrian-born Antoinette. Austrichienne means or meant Austrian bitch, but also resembles or resembled the French word for ostrich. In 2017 Uganda, Stella Nyanzi has described Mr. and Mrs. Museveni with several words that we can generally term as unmentionables. She is, as the trending hashtag has reminded us, been arrested and charged with calling the President a “pair of buttocks”. Indeed, each person chooses their monster(s) (re: victims). The French pamphleteers, and Stella Nyanzi did and have chosen theirs.

The pamphleteers of France were all too happy to satirize and smear the upper class with the utmost malice. Clergy, royals, and anyone else in power were slandered and depicted visually in all manner of crass and farcical political cartoons. Hundreds of agents smuggled pamphlets through a secret network to reach the tabloid-hungry French masses. In order to stem the tide of banned pamphlets about Marie Antoinette in particular, the French government actually sent spies to England to buy up the entire stock before they could make it France. It’s therefore not particularly difficult to argue (as many historians do) for a causal relationship between nasty political porn and the revolution that followed, especially when the pamphlets posed such a risk to produce and obtain.

Facebook, Stella Nyanzi’s playground, is the dwelling house of all low culture, all pornography, all reckless abandon. It is the cheapest/most affordable, most viral platform, and one that can ably broadcast to all the people that Stella Nyanzi sympathises with or is championing. She does not need a kingpin or international smuggler to distribute her work. Her job is, thanks to advancement in technology, as easy as elaborately parodying the regime and all its function(arie)s.

Stella And The Ugandan Vulgarians

Stella Nyanzi is not the only vulgar person out there. She is the popular one, and, yes, that is a given. I concluded a long time ago, that Runyankole or Runyakitara is up there amongst the most vulgar languages.

Personally, I have been described or have heard other people being described as “noyiragura nka amazi” (you are as black/dark as faecal matter), and “okuzire hati oyine ebiza aha maisho” (you have grown so old that you have pubic hair on your face), and “ojabirire nka amabunu” (you are as disorganised as buttocks). Vulgarity in Uganda is as common a lingo as breathing. So much so that I have even heard a lady salute another with a polite “nogambaki, iwe malaya” (how are you, you whore/prostitute?). Vulgarity is the language of the people, our people. We should, in the instant case, all be arrested, charged, and imprisoned for our day-to-day ways.

Vulgarity, by Ugandans, has been illustrated, on the national scale, by a one Semakula Mulumba, a rude radical who famously declined an invitation to dinner in 1948 Uganda. His rudeness has been described as “more than just adolescent immaturity”.

According to Radical Rudeness: Ugandan Social Critiques In The 1940s, Mulumba argued that dinners and other forms of entertainments and hospitality were, “pernicious forms of corruption” and, also, that “dinners and friendly associations among missionaries and protectorate officials, and between Baganda and Britons, had allowed the British to plot among themselves, seize Ugandans’ resources, seduce Buganda’s leaders and block Ganda efforts toward individual and corporate progress.”

In 2017 Uganda, Stella Nyanzi has experienced her individual progress curtailed, for example, when she had her visa for a travel(s) abroad denied – a reason for some of her sentimental series.

An Embarrassment? Duh!

The most interesting bit about this faux pas (a socially awkward or tactless act) is two pronged.

Firstly, Stella Nyanzi, we would think, would be embarrassed by her method, which, she says, includes the reliance on her “words, tongue, fingers, voice, and body”, and/or the usage of extreme skills such as undressing for a job (in a country with already unbelievable statistics on unemployment) and projecting her deep intellectual arguments with counterarguments and projecting her insecurities through vulgarities, characterised by the hyperbolic, vulgarised usage of lewd lingo (“The gang-bangers are raping you so bad with their diseased protrusions, but you wander why I hurl insults at them?), but she is not. She should not be. Vulgarity is, as noted, the language of the people.

Secondly, we would imagine that the government would be bothered by the poor portrayal of who they are and what they represent, but, apparently, they are not. To them, Stella Nyanzi must be another “rebel” and “troublemaker” (from the opening quotation) who can be dealt with, by for example, imprisonment, in this their attempt at maintaining their stay in power. The best they have done, is an apology from Mrs. Museveni, and as you would expect, an incarceration.

Therein lies the beauty: – How it ends, we know not, but we can’t help but wait. When we are on a connected interface like Facebook, we who have been described as those with a lack of understanding, or those from a patriarchal society, with a rigid set of rules, are nothing but creators and watchers, or one of the two and thus the same.

A Necessary Imprisonment

Believe me or not, it was necessary that Stella Nyanzi was arrested. Here is why; it became necessary to imagine, even for a day, what a world without Stella Nyanzi would look like. With each post, her wings and influence grew. Her messages were well received, and appreciated. Without her, we would have a good enough test to determine whether her efforts would be, collectively, taken on by any other person, and as well as she has demonstrated. Unfortunately, all I have seen, post her arrest, are her followers’ illustration so their frustrations, frustrations and disappointment resulting from the arrest. I would personally, fancy a continuation of her causes (the sanitary pads one is thankfully ongoing), but the politics behind her motivations is yet to be figured out by many.

Besides hurling insults criticising Mr. and Mrs. Museveni’s National Resistance Movement party, a thing we all derive pleasure in, what does she really represent? It is a good question for us to ask ourselves, because, in (re)publishing or (re)publication of her postings (which would translate to possession should lead to punishment – imprisonment in Uganda’s case), by sharing it on our personal Facebook timelines and other social media mediums, we ought to be arrested as well.

The Rule

Stella’s Lines

Stella Nyanzi is for her “activism”, charged under the Computer Misuse Act. The law has its own challenges. It for example, does not aptly distinguish between a computer and a mobile phone, the people’s most common device.

For that loophole, and thanks to Andrew Mwenda, Stella Nyanzi might get lucky. In Mwenda v Attorney General (Consolidated Constitutional Petitions No. 12/2005 and No. 3/2006), a case in which Journalist Andrew Mwenda made several comments critical of the President and the government of Uganda on his live radio talk show, the state charged him with the crime of sedition, pursuant to sections 39 and 40 of the Penal Code, because his remarks were made with the intention to bring hatred and contempt against the President, government, and Constitution. The Constitutional Court declared null and void the sedition provisions from the Penal Code because they were in contravention with the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 29(1) (a) of the Constitution.

With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps, and reference to the opening quote, Stella Nyanzi has, and wonderfully so, set and crossed her own lines – of decency. She has not had the opportunity of radio, but a better one, that of the internet. What the internet does, is that it augments the proliferation of information. The actual results, the ones we will actually remember Stella Nyanzi for, especially when before the organs of the state, are yet to be crystallised. We can’t help but wait to see how these sentimental counterarguments cum hullabaloo that is offensive communication, cyber harassment, and cyber space freedom (of expression) and the tolerance of socio-activists in the 21st century will be resolved – hopefully to set a worthy jurisprudence for many.

In Conclusion

Signs Of A Dying Regime

Stella Nyanzi’s blame game (Oops, did I?) has concentrated on, amongst others, the breakdown of Uganda’s health infrastructure, the same which unfortunately led to her father’s and mother’s death. We all know of a loved one that we would not have lost, if it was not for the same broken systems.

Uganda’s sham of an election(s) has also featured in her postings. If we had all chosen to not participate in it in the first place, we would not be that engrossed in bothering ourselves with the rot that they are. One of the solutions to unseating this government is, I find, showing them that we do not even care about their schemes. Participation in their programs is tantamount to enslavement. I tried with I Have Decided Not To Decide.

The Kasese Killings, the waste of national resources (like gold in Karamoja), and the land grabbing in Acholi-land have also been noted. Land grabbing is, however, nationwide with skirmishes in Kayunga, for example, and the rest of the country. There is simply not enough land for every one of us. Our population has overshot, and surpassed our never-planned-for national resources. We cannot, in a few words lay all blame on a few hapless individuals. They may play a part, and need help for it, but these challenges are beyond them.

I have argued before that for this regime to end, it will inevitably do so when the so called 1986 revolution is complete. We will have to return to the same levels of anarchy, poverty, disease, hopelessness et al that we were in before 1986. If you are too comfortable to need someone to enlighten you on these realities, then you are in need of a lot of help. We may speak on it, or not, but we do not need to elevate any other person above the mediocrities and failures of our land. We all need to play our roles, our active roles in collectively criticising the government and all its ills – every other day. They do know the challenges that beset them too. We hope that they can read the signs. We have to be active enough in engaging them to take the necessary action(s).

Damn you, Censorship!

Amber A’Lee Frost wrote, in The Necessity For Political Vulgarity, that vulgarity should be among the grammars of the left, just as it has been historically, to wield righteously against the corrupt and the powerful. Civility, Amber wrote, is destructive because it perpetuates falsehoods, while vulgarity can keep us honest.

On my aforementioned juxtaposition of low and high culture, Amber wrote that “the left will always need its journals and academic writing, but there are times when it is both right and proper to terrify the bourgeoisie with your own feralness.”

It, therefore, makes sense to entertain both the vulgar and the not so vulgar to maintain an agreeable sense of tolerance towards one another as it would be beneficial to the administration and accountability of our democracies.

A Footnote On The Pages Of History

Mr. Semakula Mulumba might have gotten away with insulting the Protestant Bishop, the local governor, Sir John Hall, both to Baganda and British audiences, and internationally, to the United Nations and the Soviet bloc, and Stella Nyanzi might get away with insulting the First Family to whoever can access and read a word of either English and Luganda; but what will we really remember them for?

Well aware that there are those who have come before her, and that, with her help, she might not be the last one, it is my fervent hope that Stella Nyanzi does not end up as a mere footnote on the pages of history, when, eventually, left all alone, by her numerous fanatics, but as one who might change the way we perceive things, just like the company she keeps in the opening quote.


This article appears in our digital law newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 4, Issue 4 of April 28th, 2017

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