In Summary

  • Dr Nyanzi is an avid social media commentator; her contributions assuming an admirable ethnographic form.
  • Her right to think and share her thoughts are inalienable. This is why it is a complete travesty to arrest her.

Ugandan Police arrested Dr Stella Nyanzi and arraigned her in court on two counts of ‘cyber harassment’ and ‘offensive communication’ under the Computer Misuse Act 2011.

Notably, this happened after she had a public spat with the First Lady and Education Minister, Mrs Janet Museveni, because the Ministry’s budget did not include resources to provide sanitary pads for school girls, a promise President Yoweri Museveni expressly made during the campaigns.

The Inspector-General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura ordered Dr Nyanzi’s arrest.

The Police seem particularly irked that Dr Nyanzi described President Museveni as a ‘pair of buttocks’, language they found obscene and indecent.

In Uganda, public debate has focused on vulgarity, something Dr Nyanzi has become the poster-child of, for which she is often condemned or dismissed.

SEXUALITY ISSUES
Dr Nyanzi is an avid social media commentator; her contributions assuming an admirable ethnographic form.

She avidly records her observations, engagements and convictions.

She has done this for a long time, perhaps since her doctoral research in the Gambia.

I have observed her take copious notes and use herself as a departure point to serious reflections on societal dynamics defined around sexuality.

Feminist thought is the critical pillar of Dr Nyanzi’s research focus on sexuality.

She has deployed ‘vulgarity’ and mobilised sexual metaphors to make social commentary.

The ‘vulgarity’ is discomforting to many; but that it is designed to shock is part of her method, and therefore perfectly in keeping with her academic vocation.

WRONGFUL ARREST

What is valuable is that she is able to easily and brazenly turn her intellectual focus into discomforting social commentary.

Prof Sylvia Tamale, herself a world renowned feminist researcher and editor of the path-breaking volume, African Sexualities, admitted to being “shocked and horrified, embarrassed and ashamed” by Dr Nyanzi’s nudity stunt, only to realise later “that (her) emotive response to Nyanzi’s protest was in keeping with societal attitudes that associate nakedness — especially the nakedness of a grown woman — with shame, perversity and taboo”.

You might disagree with Dr Nyanzi’s choice of words and modes of expression, but this choice can be defended intellectually.

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