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Stella Nyanzi’s obscenity war

Dr. Stella Nyanzi escoted by police to Buganda Road Court. INDEPENDENT/ JIMMY SIYA

Obscenity is a powerful tool

However, although Nyanzi is the one in the dock, this case appears to have put Museveni’s government on trial. And Nyanzi is exploiting the twist. While she was still playing at the local level, her arrest has escalated the melee onto the international scene.

If the authorities hoped to contain her vitriol, as has happened with other Museveni opponents, Nyanzi appears to have been emboldened. She seized the opportunity in court to unleash even more vitriol. “Who has offended who? It is Museveni who has offended Ugandans for all these years,” she said before she was remanded to Luzira until April. 25.

“I am a screamer,” she posted on her Facebook page on April 2, “If I scream from the pleasure of a lover’s tender love and care, how much much harder will I hurl rocket-propelled grenades of words at the Musevenis and Musevenists…?”

This post alone, garnered about 800 comments and over 700 shares from her 126,000 followers on Facebook alone. She has trended for weeks on Twitter.

Renowned commentator and publisher, Charles Onyango Obbo, described her as “our first neck-on-the-chopping-block female social media combatant,” adding that her social activism “speaks to how gender politics and power are shifting in Uganda.”

Not sure on what to think of her, many of her critics including the government machinery are peddling claims that she is insane.

But communications expert, Amos Zikusooka, who has been behind some of Uganda’s most successful health campaigns, knows better. He told The Independent on April 10 that Nyanzi is deploying established principles of communication, which are also used in news, psychology, and even sociology.

“She (Nyanzi) uses a certain style of language to position her message in an unusual way that commands attention,” Zikusooka said, “People have for the last 20 years heard these things and were no longer caring but because she is saying it differently, it is commanding attention.”

Zikusooka says that the principle of framing and positioning is behind the popularity of Nyanzi’s message.

“The way the message is framed and positioned determines how it will be seen or heard and accepted or rejected,” Zikusooka told The Independent, “But the first stage, the message must be seen or heard, which speaks to commanding attention.”

He explained that Nyanzi has become popular because her usage of obscenity to deliver her message is new, unique, breaking the norms and has found the right environment.

“People are drawn to unusual things,” he said, “People also always want to know who the daring person breaking the established norms is.”

Apart from this, he says, the environment is also favorable.

“There is discontent, poverty, income inequality,” Zikusooka said, “People are always talking about these things. But when someone says the same things in a different way and gets a lot of attention, people say that they are saying these things in an even better way.”

Apart from Zikusooka, Dr. Moses Khisa, a political scientist, who teaches at Northwestern University in the U.S., also said that if Ugandans read a little more, a phenomena like Stella Nyanzi would not have taken us by surprise.

“The scholarship where people use obscene and grotesque language to deliver certain powerful messages has always existed,” he told The Independent. He said some of the works deploying this approach were done by Russian scholars.

On the African continent, he said, there is a post-colonial theory of scholarship, in which Nyanzi can also be placed, with established scholars who have used this approach.

He cited Cameroonian scholar Achille Mbembe, who wrote a book titled On the Colony.

“Mbembe uses a lot of vulgarity and obscene conjectures to tackle misuse of power in post-colonial Africa,” Dr. Khisa said.

Nyanzi, he says, appears to have cut out herself a niche in Uganda by using subversive scholarship to put across her message.

“I do not vouch for that kind of approach but it is within her right,” he told The Independent, “But her usage of obscenities is not the problem. Kalundi Serumaga did not use obscenities but he was still arrested and thrown in a boot.”

“So with a jittery, angry regime like this,” Khisa said, “you don’t get surprised when they use state force to push back against criticism.”

Observers say that while Nyanzi has as many supporters as opponents even on her Facebook page, the majority seem to relish her vulgarities, a clear signal that she has found a fertile ground in this otherwise so-called, conservative society.

Part of the reason is that apart from targeting President Museveni, whose opposition has continued to grow owing to his long stay in power, Nyanzi’s language is riding on an equally high appetite for profanities and vulgarities.

Away from the display in music videos, tabloids, Ugandans, who flock churches and mosques at night, also make sure tickets are sold out for night sex and comedy shows, where profanities and vulgarities have become the chef’s special.

Nyanzi appears acutely aware of the power of the ship she is sailing. “I use a lot of graphic language because then they listened,” she has said in the past.

“I don’t swear all the time but I know that the tools of the master cannot bring down his house,” she said the night she was arrested.

President Museveni hasn’t been the only subject of her heavily loaded insults.

When the Ethics Minister, former Catholic Father Simon Lokodo, appeared on NBS TV criticizing her, she described him as “bumbling defrocked ex-priest and a failed professional politicking for an illegitimate despotic regime”.

Earlier on, she had described the chair of Makerere University Appointment’s Board as the “bumbling bootlicking ball-less butt-wiping Bruce”. This was after the appointment’s board issued a letter suspending her over her usage of social media to insult colleagues, which got some to warn that if it continued on this path, Makerere University could become the regime’s “thought police”.

2 comments

  1. I have to approaches about Miss Stella Nyanzi. My queer intelligence tells me that Dr. Stella Nyanzi is on a protracted war to launch queer sexuality in Uganda. She is in the initial stages of seeking for approval and authenticity as the champion for the marginalised. Away from this, my ordinary mind says:
    Uganda has placed Stella Nyanzi in the doc and yet again, Ugandans have attained the high moral ground to adjudicate. Stella Nyanzi has done the abominable, she did not only make anatomical comparisons between the first lady and herself but went on to refer to the head of state as a “pair of buttocks.” Allahu Akbar!!! Vigilante state operatives and moral enthusiasts have implored the courts of law for immediate action. To the onlookers, Stella Nyanzi is a disgrace and an outlaw who should be treated with contempt. To a serious sociologist, Stella Nyanzi could be a symptom and a symbol of a large societal problem. To understand Nyanzi, one should address oneself to the principles of ‘Democracy and morality.’ Patrick Devlin (Oxford University Press 1965) states that the verdict of a jury must be unanimous; so a moral principle, if it is to be given the force of law, should be one which twelve men and women drawn at random from the community can be expected not only to approve but to take so seriously that they regard a breach of it as fit for punishment. Do all Ugandans agree that Stella Nyanzi should be charged for what she said? I have heard from the former minister of ethics and integrity, Mrs. Miria Matembe asking, why Stella Nyanzi is in Luzira and President Museveni is still at large? What informs her questioning is that, the President has equally uttered “vulgar things.”
    But if you what to understand Stella Nyanzi better, you have to go back in history of how states formed. And one important look, is that of Emile Durkheim’s theory of law (1774). In answering the question, ‘how do societies hold themselves together?’, Durkheim analysed that societies had to operate on two bases. These were: Mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. Mechanical solidarity or the similarity among people of the same society which makes them feel akin to each other and comfortable with each other and yet different from people not in that society. The Stella Nyanzi phenomenon is well within the “socio-ambits” of Buganda. When a woman in Buganda gives birth to twins, she is accorded the title of “NNalongo”, the man who has sired these twins is called “ssalongo.” There are initiation ceremonies for the “Ssalongos and Nnalongos” in the Buganda culture and these ceremonies are hugely earmarked with vulgarities and merry making. Interestingly, Our Kabaka (or King) of his so many titles, he is also a “Ssalongo.” If Nnalongo Stella Nyanzi had directed her “venom” towards Ssalongo Ronald Muwenda Mutebi maybe it wouldn’t have attracted such public annoyance as the King would have reiterated in equal measure. But Uganda is a cosmopolitan society which is ruled by the ability of the state to coerce. That might partly explain why Stella Nyanzi is in Luzira prison.

  2. All over the world, international press and governments have asked for the release of this patriotic activist with a strange language and as usual this #Museveni #JanetMuseveni government has pretended not hear.

    Some Ugandans were so angry at Stella’s style of advocacy but it looks like it’s the only one that gets their attention into action.

    I have watched as people diplomatically talked and ranted. Right now from the guardian to the Washington post, all African press, AlJazeera, street protests in front of Ugandan Embassies in Europe, all have tried to voice one sentiment, #FreeStellaNyanzi but it has all fallen on deaf ears. These immune tyrannical, despots only understand, human rights abuse, Nepotism, Abductions and public Murders, Abuse of power, corruption and name it. They have deduced that Ugandans are door mats that are too cowardly to do anything to save themselves from any injustice leveled over their heads.

    So how dare anyone frown on the one voice, the one language these immoral leaders could hear and that is Dr. Stella Nyanzi!

    These deaf ears only open when Stella Uses her metaphors, the rest they can never listen!

    Even when locked up, dialogue and discussions on how to save Ugandans from their plight is going on. Issues that have been ignored for decades are coming to the forefront. They can lock her up Physically but they can never lock up the truth of what she exposed.

    Just like Nelson Mandela came out of Prison and achieved his goal, she too Will come out if these shameless #PairOfButtocks don’t murder her in broad daylight as is their usual way of silencing opposition voices through enigmatic deaths like Nebanda’s and the likes.

    That said, we need Dr. Stella out, locking her up is locking up our national freedom of speech and laughing in our faces saying you powerless Ugandans have you not learnt from our decades of tyrannical despotic regime that you can do nothing to us.

    Our leaders are telling world leaders that they can talk, tweet, media cover, protest all they want but as long as they have the power they can abuse their citizens in anyway they dimmed fit and kill any local who dared challenge them then push that matter under the carpet and do business as usual.

    I hope this government doesn’t rob us all of our youth and cripple all the following generations so that we continue in this pattern of stone age rule, Amin-Obotte-Museveni sounds like the historical reign of terror Metanic-Napoleon-Hitler all of them have decided to reincarnated in Uganda. To the extent of Marie Antoinette reincarnated as Janet Museveni.

    #Uganda my mother land when will you ever enjoy present day democracy and good governance! God of heaven please save my land. #FreeStellaNyanzi #PairOfButtocks

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