BY DREW DDEMBE
There is a lot of debate within the Ugandan blogosphere regarding the appropriateness or innapropriateness of Ms Stella Nyanzi’s behaviour specifically her choice of vulgar language, rudeness and obnoxiousness as well as her nakedness as tools of protest!
These debates betray a lack of understanding of the theory behind Stella’s behaviour with many assuming she is ill mannered and others that she is mad, neither of which can be proved!
Most shocking to many are the facts that Stella comes from a respected middle class Ganda family, attended one of the most conservative girls schools, Gayaza, is well published researcher and academic with a pHD from London and a google scholar profile that reveals over 335 publications and citations with her name! What they do miss however is that her academic background and research interests deal with sexuality, negotiation and communication among marginalised groups such as women, female adolescents and gay people! Her previous protests and activism have also been related to these groups including gay and gender alternate Ugandans.
Stellas activism is in the same vein as well published protests by groups such as Femen, Pussy riot, the Amuru women who protested the government giving their land away to rich investors, and many other examples from around the world.
Baganda are very well known to be painfully polite and aren’t known for addressing sexuality explicitly and openly. Gayaza girls are known for being “prim and proper” and it is thought that ice wouldn’t melt in their mouths, a myth that Stella has shattered! Some of the earliest foreign visitors to the Kabaka’s court noted that in Buganda one could be killed for being indescent, dressing innappropriately or behaving innappropriately or otherwise breaking the very rigid code of conduct expected of a muganda! Even breaking wind at the kings court could get you killed!
In Buganda female nakedness is a powerful weapon of protest. When a mother bares her nakedness to their child, he or she is cursed for the rest of their lives. When a child so incenses their mother that they disown them, they prove this to the world by showing them their nakedness.
‘Okuwemukila’ to be profane, and ‘okumweyambulila’ to show ones nakedness, or ‘okumwefungulila’ to lift ones skirts and expose their genitals and privates, are serious acts of protest by a woman.
The same people also have two proverbs one regarding profanity, ‘okuwemukila’, and the other regarding politeness or ‘obuntubulamu’! In the first one ‘owebango bwotomuwemukila osula tewebisse’ means if you share a blanket with a a hunchback but aren’t ready to be obscene and expose yourself, they will feel no obligation to share the blanket so you will sleep in the cold. The second one regarding ‘obuntubulamu bukufiriza bingi’ refers to the fact that excessive politeness allows others to take advantage of you!
Baganda are therefore well know among Ugandas for being “soft, gentle and polite” which in Uganda translates as ‘stupid’! Its in this mindset that the events of 1966 are framed by many non baganda! For a well brought up muganda woman of pedigree brought up with ‘empiisa’, manners, to go native, and risk social censorship is uncommon! It creates an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance that many of the “well brought up” elite and middle classes find uncomfortable, thus criticism! But many of those who are really affected by the things that Stella is forcing us to debate and examine are ecstatic!
The debate about Stella often is about what is “proper” and “decent” for a mother (she is a mother of 3 children) and a university academic to say or do in public. In a patriarchial society, with a rigid set of social rules, Stella can most closely be compared to an elephant in a china shop presumably for upsetting the norms of acceptable behaviour by a woman of her background!!
Many Ugandans have found this appalling, shocking and confusing! They have sought refuge in labels like “she is mad” or “she is innappropriate” or “she is indescent and vulgar” rather than face the fact that Stella’s methods are a legitimate form of protest against power and its misuse, or examining the issues that she raises so eloquently!
What they cannot deny is that she is clear, articulate and eloquent as well as passionate about the causes she chooses to take up! So convincing is she that even I made a small contribution to her sanitary pad activism, #Pads4GirlsUg!
In Get Rude: In Praise of Obnoxious and Annoying Activism By Travis Mushett, the author states that “ As student protesters up at Dartmouth College are proving, sometimes you need to get impolite to provoke an adult conversation.
As a rule of thumb, when someone dismisses a protest by insisting that it happened at an improper time & place, this person doesn’t give much of a damn about the issues driving the protest. Oh, they might insist that they give a damn, that they, in fact, give quite a large damn indeed! But if you take a look at the times & places that they think are proper and improper, you’ll find that, mysteriously, the “improper” place is always a highly public one where the issues are likely to actually garner some attention, and the “proper” one is tucked out of the view of most everyone, easy to ignore and contain, or relegated to some indefinite point in the future.” http://www.blunderbussmag.com/get-rude-in-praise-of-obnoxiousnalongo-and-annoying-activism/
An oppressive government is no different to an abusive partner in a marriage. Often in abuse people talk of some sort of collusion or ‘enabling’ between the abused and the abuser. Often the abused even defends the abuser when outsiders try to step in to stop the abuse. There develops a relationship between the abused and the abuser within which the abuser has got complete control and the abused subscribes to the strict boundaries and controls imposed upon them by the abuser. Such is the state of the relationship between Museveni and his family and Ugandans!
In Uganda Museveni has been in power 31 years and counting. In that time, he has ensured that he controls everything. The army is all raised and groomed by him and handed over to his son and tribesmates, the civil service and major government parastatals are controlled by him and his tribesmates and the judiciary are all appointed by him! He and his party control parliament and virtually all spheres of public life! Under his rule, institutions have been largely destroyed and undermined by his personality! He is everywhere! Opening taps, demonstrating drip bottle irrigation, opening latrines and even being chief mourner at funerals and chief viewer at eclipses! There is no job left for anyone else to do unless they are a family member or himself!
His brother controls the veterans and army reserves not to mention virtually every wealth creation project in the last 2 decades most of which have been proven to be no more than projects for siphoning money to his party which spends billions on buying patronage but has no verifiable source of income! He also owns the largest security firm in the country, the same firm contracted to guard the countries oil fields!
His son recently promoted to a cabinet level position as a presidential advisor on military affairs has his own elite army within the army, the same force charged with guarding the countries oil fields. He is now ‘introducing’ himself to the sheeple in full uniform dropping anecdotes of bravery and ‘near death’ or as close as one who has had body guards around him for almost all of his life can get to death!
A son in law and his law firm has been involved in the drafting of all of the countries oil contracts, many of them secret and presumably negotiated over his father in laws kitchen table like clan affairs!
Another son in law is currently actively involved in trying to position himself as the ruling party and by extension the countries leading ideologist having had the party ideology transmitted to him presumably by sexual transmission! He is going around being interviewed and writing series that nothing in his background save his marriage to a princess qualifies him to lecture anyone upon!
Furanka, a minister is married to a girl who was brought up as his adopted daughter. She benefitted greatly from the Katosi scandal in which the taxpayer lost 25 billion in a deal that sounds very much like influence peddling! Her sister a one Atwine is now a PS having been appointed from outside the system! Prior to that she manned a department in presidents office created specifically to employ her, that duplicated the roles of the Ministry of Health monitoring units!
His wife had a vision … don’t laugh, she really did! Not only do they control the country, but they even have their own personal church and personal pastor, a daughter, the family priestess, who intercedes directly with God to affirm their God given right to continue ruling the country in perpetuity!
She had a vision in which she was the annointed messiah of her former contituency to “save it” from an opposition member! She later had another vision to save Karimojong and she did that too! During that period of sacrifice in Karamoja she was said to have travelled 9 times to Israel in one month to study irrigation technology! interestingly Karamoja now abandoned by the lady is in the middle of a drought!
She somehow failed to impart that irrigation technology to her husband who is now teaching the natives how to carry water on their bicycles and use plastic bottles to irrigate their gardens so they can grow commercial crops and join the middle income ranks in the next 2 years, a miracle that is surely going to require the family priestess to worship naked!
She is now the Minister for education, granted to her by her husband as a graduation gift on completion of a masters degree, nevermind its debateable whether she really ever did fulfil the requirements for the first degree upon which her masters admission would have been based …. but thats a topic for another day!
Sacrifice is the family religion! While you may believe that they have been sponging off the taxpayer for the last 3 decades, thats not how they view it! You should feel grateful that they have been living in luxury at your expense for the last 3 decades, ‘sacrificing’ for you! If anyone got killed by their actions or died in their wars, thats the price you have got to pay for their sacrifice! But back to Stella!
Stella Nyanzi has so far demonstrated the power of her unique mode of protest. She has shown a passion and commitment to her chosen topics. When a Prof Mamdani brought down the full wrath of institutionalised patriarchialism upon her, she instead of crying and begging, took the war to him and Makerere University. They have since backed down and offered her back her job. It still remains to be seen whether they illegally witheld her salary while she was under suspension, something I believe to have been illegal!
When the man in the hat in an effort to get himself “elected” if you can call financially facilitated recycling of a man who is past his due by date an election, desperately made offers left and right like a drunken man, people were taking notice.
When his wife announced to parliament that their family government didn’t have money to fulfil her husbands frivolous pledges, despite having recently spent 6 billion shillings on a handful of selected people using vague and quite frankly mendacious eligibility criteria, Stella took her on and challenged her … in colourful language prompting government goons to be sent around to intimidate her! Not only did they interrogate her for a crime without a complainant but they went ahead and declared her public enemy number one! One restricted from holding a passport or flying out of the country! So without a court order, nor any warning, she was barred from flying to a fully paid for conference but only found out when she presented herself to the airport!
Stella took on the establishment with embarrassing results! In 3 weeks she had mobilised the community and distributed sanitary pads to thousands of students including providing education on menstrual hygiene, something the first lady, Minister of Education and self proclaimed “mother of the nation” stated she couldn’t do without a budgetary allocation of billions! Without even being able to demonstrate that they had a program to provide the pads or menstrual hygiene education to adolescent girls in schools, they have attempted to block her access to schools! But in that time she demonstrated that she could do what the first lady and whole minister for education couldn’t do even when backed by the whole power and finances of government! Stella demonstrated that one didn’t need money nor power, nor did they have to be a minister, all lies that have been previously told the population, to effect social change and mobilise society towards a common goal! In a country like Uganda, showing up the incompetence and lack of imagination of its rulers, …. that’s a crime of treason!
Fast forward to today. Stella’s methods are consistent with the history of marginalised groups operating within an oppressive power structure. They are consistent with the history of many resistance movements around the world that have harnessed the disruptive power of language, rudeness, profanity and nakedness, to shock society out of their stupor, aka ‘twebaka ku tulo’ ,into a dialogue and debate of pertinent issues relevant to their situation. This kind of power has forced change and even uprooted tyrants. It has bypassed the institutions of “order and civility” that often are used to impose the power of the oppressor with the comprador complicity of the community’s middle classes and the unquestioning resignation of the masses!
Think of the alternative! If Stella thought and acted like Museveni when he disagreed with the government of the day and went to the bush, there would be bombs going off downtown and landmines laid on all routes out of Kampala! Tolerating Stella’s choice of language is a much smaller price to pay particularly if it shocks Ugandans out of their complacence and forces them to debate the issues relevant to them!
Museveni goes on about treason — yet ignores the fact that he brought “change” by his treasonous activities in which he killed or caused to be killed citizens of Uganda in the tens of thousands! He forgets that this demonstrates that there really is nothing God given in his own power! That power once it becomes oppressive loses legitimacy!
The point here is that when he was a rebel, he was a traitor. When he took power, he created his own reality in which he was the government and anyone who opposed him was a rebel and a traitor. Within this political construct all power structures that benefit the ruler and oppressor can be questioned!
This can include social rules and codes of conduct and behaviour which often are created by the elite for their own benefit often because they keep everyone in their place and prevents them from challenging the status quo! Within this construct its Ok for Museveni’s household to all be employed in his government. Its ok for them to be taking hundreds of billions for their upkeep. Its ok for him to take zero responsibility for billions lost due to his own personal poor judgement. Its ok for him to approve fraudulent payments to a handful of revenue and financial officials while creating a fictitious narrative of bravery while reneging on his election promises to give free sanitary ware to vulnerable teens or malwa to drunkards and hoes to west nile paesants to maintain them in their basic subsistence.
Its ok for the countries security services, the upper civil servant classes, or the cabinet to literally be selected from one village AND any criticism of this will be met by the full force of the law as defined by him and his government including CID interrogations, tear gas, batons, arrests, frivolous charges, bans on travel and free movement and even threats from father Lokodo a defrocked priest without gainful employment!
The media, the law courts, the security organisations and the societies guardians of morality including the churches for who Ms Kataaha is a patron and her daughter a pastor are all complicit in maintaining societal order to the benefit of its rulers. within this society dissent is frowned upon particularly dissent that does not follow the rules as set down by the rulers and oppressors. the avenues for change of the status quo however unjust within this power structure are limited. You could go to court and spend ten years and millions and still get Kavuma to throw your petition out! You could petition General Moses Ali, if he could even read and understand your petition let alone bother to look at it before he put it in the bin! You could make statements to the police that would never go anywhere! You could invite Andrew Mwenda to come cover your press conference and he would ignore you! None of the above are going to do anything without making a call to someone “above” which means you would never get anywhere!
And soon if you became a nuisance enough, your job would disappear. They would cart you off to Butabika and claim you are mad using the draconious and unethical 30 day assessment time for involuntary mental health assessment for which they do not have a valid legal trigger, or arrange someone to bump you off! Ultimately though, history says they would lose even though it could be at great individual personal cost!
Or you could go out and make Ms Kataaha come to you! Stella got a press conference ‘forgiving her” within 24 hours! Even before she took her kit off! And before she asked for forgiveness! Ms Kataaha failed to see that no one really needs her forgiveness. They need a policy statement on the issues raised by Stella!
Of course their preference would be that she go out on the street so they can send in Afande Tiyagassi with his goons and tear gas to rough her up! Or that she had a gun so that they can send the butcher of Kasese to mow her down! But as she says, her words are her weapons! The profanity, her bombs! The vulgarity her missiles! And against these they are completely disarmed! There is no Russian or North Korean weapon to combat them …. save Kavuma and lokodo both demystified in the eyes of Ugandans!
Contrary to what many believe, there has been a history of protest in Buganda and Uganda. In the 1930’s my wifes grandfather was imprisoned together with other youth for insulting the Kabaka in defiance. He went on to become a kingdom grandee! other rebellions like the Bataka rebellion as well as the general civil strike and disobedience campaign against the colonial government following the exile of the Kabaka to England are well documented.
In the 1940’s, young Baganda mounted a campaign of rude disobedience against the colonial authorities and the Buganda kingdom officials who they viewed as collaborators.
“In a scathing letter of eighteen single-spaced typed pages, Semakula Mulumba declined the Bishop of Uganda’s 1948 invitation to dinner. Dinners and other forms of entertainments and hospitality were, Mulumba asserted, pernicious forms of corruption. 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. (1) Mulumba’s response to a dinner invitation with a critique of the colonial order–as a closely interlocked system of cooperation among officials and missions, the Kingdom of Buganda and protectorate officials–was rude, deliberately rude, an attack on the forms of manners and politeness that had shaped both British and Ganda deployments of power and influence in Buganda since at least the beginning of the Uganda Protectorate in 1900. Mulumba, and other Baganda rebels of the late 1940s were disorderly, intemperate and obnoxious within the polite sociopolitical world of colonial Buganda as they drew on their extensive experiences with Britons–officials, missionaries, and others–to reject the polite accommodations around them. What made their rudeness more than just adolescent immaturity, though, was that it was rooted in an understanding of the significance of social rituals, constituted a strategy to disrupt them, and was tied to an effort to build new sorts of public sociability to replace the older elite private networks. “ https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Radical+rudeness%3a+Ugandan+social+critiques+in+the+1940s.-a0144728103
When trump became president of the united States, New Yorkers started a campaign of rudeness against him and his family!
“If you see a Trump, say something. Specifically, say, “Fuck you!” Say, “Get out of this city!” Tell Donald he is a disgrace. Tell Melania that she will go down in history as the enabler of a bully, a liar, and a coward. Tell Donald Jr. he is a racist and an idiot. Tell Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, that they are enablers of anti-Semitism. Also tell Ivanka that her attempts to turn presidential interviews into chances to hawk her gaudy, overpriced jewelry are tacky and pathetic. Tell Tiffany—who is less involved with her father’s activities than her half-siblings—that if she doesn’t speak out against her family, she is complicit in the hateful rhetoric they and their supporters spread.
The president is not a king, the Trumps are not royalty; you are not under any obligation to put up with their bullshit. If you own a deli or a restaurant, refuse to serve any Trumps. If you wait on the Trumps, you have to give them their food or you’ll likely be fired, but you can give them back their tip. If you see Jared and Ivanka at a gala, or Eric in a corporate box at a Giants game, don’t acknowledge them. If people applaud the Trumps, like those patrons at Club 21, counter that applause with boos. If you make them coffee, give them cream when they ask for soy, and vice versa. Don’t stop your dog from barking at them. Don’t take their money. Don’t sit down at a dive bar with Ivanka. Don’t commit any crimes—refrain from any actual violence like the disgraceful subway attack on the man with the Make America Great Again hat—but the First Amendment, people, we can make it clear to the Trumps that they don’t own the city.” https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/new-yorkers-have-a-duty-be-rude-to-the-trumps
All of these are examples of the use of rudeness, profanity, vulgarity and and even nakedness as forms of protest against a powerful state opponent or society which helps bring issues of social or political importance to the front for debate.
All of Stella’s actions are consistent with her background and training! So next time you catch yourself thinking Stella is mad, think again! Maybe she is, maybe she is not! There is always a very thin line between genius and madness.
Also remember that most people declaring Stella mad really aren’t qualified to make that diagnosis as it is a medical one that requires a formal psychiatric assessment! And given no one on social media has made that assessment, you cannot say she is mad! You also cannot compel her to undergo a psychiatric assessment without a trigger — and there is no valid legal trigger unless you wish to pay her for wrongful imprisonent!
But then again as Baganda say, even a mad person, ‘omulalu’ sometimes speaks the truth! As a matter of fact, they are more inclined to speak the truth having been freed of the shackles of society and its rules of politeness and “correct behaviour”!
And then there is the final coup in her favour! She is a nalongo, the mother of twins. In Buganda the mother of twins was so revered that she was freed from the shackles and rules of society including the rules of politeness and correct speech and behaviour. A nalongo could walk into your garden and harvest your food for her twins without censorship. More pertinent to this debate, a nalongo could use ‘big words’ without social censorship amidst the normallly polite and very correct Ganda society!
Nalongo is speaking so you better sit up and listen!