She’s an activist and academic whose rants against current Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and First Lady Janet Museveni are definitely rated PG if not Triple X.
On live television, in one memorable occasion, she stripped half-naked to protest her eviction from her office at Makerere University, for allegedly breaching departmental policy. In that case, she went up against internationally renowned Mahmood Mamdani, executive director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research.
But Stella Nyanzi is out to do more than raise eyebrows. Her most recent campaign over the past few months has been to provide free sanitary pads to Ugandan schoolgirls. Responding to the government’s claim to have scrapped the state tax on the menstrual napkins, which she denies, she ripped into the president, calling him “a pair of buttocks,” which quickly went viral.
To say this incident prompted an avalanche of tweets would be an understatement. For example, ModeKarukiiko tweeted, “If you don’t #freestellanyani today then we’ll know you are #pairofbuttocks.”
In a country where freedom of expression is not an enforceable right, Nyanzi was officially charged in court today for her provocative figure of speech in a Facebook post. It was alleged that her online comments violated the 2011 Computer Misuse Act and that she engaged in “cyber harassment” and “offensive communication.”
Efforts to silence Nyanzi ramped up after she criticized the policies of Education Minister and First Lady Janet Museveni Feb. 15.
To Museveni’s claim that government lacks the funds to fulfil her husband’s electoral pledge of providing pads free to school-age girls, Nyanzi replied, “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 prioritize sanitary pads for poor schoolgirls?”
Since then, an online crowd funder was set up and a team of more than 40 volunteers began a campaign to fulfil President Museveni’s broken promise themselves. More than a million pads have been distributed so far.
Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, criticized the arrest as an attack on free expression.
“The arrest and criminal charges brought against Dr. Nyanzi are yet another clear indicator that those who express critical views of the government can face its wrath,” Burnett said.
She has been locked up at Luzira prison until April 25, when her #PairOfButtocks case will be heard. Civil libertarians and all others, please stay tuned!