The literary community in Uganda has joined others in calling on the Government of Uganda to drop charges against Makerere academic, Stella Nyanzi. The petition coordinated by Soo Many Stories publisher Nyana Kakoma and co-director of Center for African Cultural Excellence, Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire.
The public statement, signed by several in the field, emphasises the need for protection of expression. “We are concerned that the imprisonment of Dr Stella Nyanzi, may open a floodgate for the criminalisation of creativity in Uganda,” it reads.
Dr Nyanzi was taken into state custody on the night of April 7th after a presentation at the Rotary Club of Kampala Metropolitan. She was produced in magistrate court on April 10th where she was charged with cyber harassment and for disturbing the person of the president. Nyanzi who has been writing for a while about governance and country politics, got into trouble after she criticised the government and education ministry for backpedaling on a pledge to give sanitary pads for girls in school.
In a televised interview, the minister – who also doubles as a First Lady – expressed shock at the language the Makerere researcher employed. However, the minister, who is also a published author, appears not to be involved in the charges – with only her husband, the president of the nation, being cited as having been offended. The President is no stranger in the use of language as a creative tool to deliver message. Most recently, during the last presidential campaign, he equated provocation to touching the anus of a leopard.
Writers signing the statement have expressed concern for their trade. One “writer of political erotica” says that “writers and other creatives should be able to speak their truth to those in leadership without wondering whether the world will doubt their sanity.” While another, signing, simply said “We can’t breathe!”
The arrest and imprisoning of Stella Nyanzi has raised several issues from the laws used in the justice system, to presidential pledges and the rights of the girl-child, to what and who gets to organise in Uganda, to the place of a public intellectual and the independence of independence of institutions like Makerere University from the government – and so many others, already written about across various platforms in international and national media. And now, more immediately, the effect on creative writing where the creative community might self-censor, or be gagged with intimidation and possible imprisonment.
Add your name: Statement by Ugandan literary community
Other public statements:
Don’t criminalise Stella Nyanzi’s language – African Center for Media Excellence
Detention of feminist academic for criticizing president a travesty – Amnesty International
ASA Board of Directors Statement on Academic Freedom and Stella Nyanzi – African Studies Association
Pan-African Feminists in solidarity with Dr Stella Nyanzi