Former Makerere University researcher at the Makerere Institute for Social Research (MISR) Dr. Stella Nyanzi is not new to anyone that has been closely following events in Kampala and Uganda.
The unique styled Women’s Rights Activist and Mother has been mostly in the news for her love of sexualised word play and almost in equal measure, her hate for President Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.
After some wait, she finally granted The Ugandan Wire an Exclusive in light of her new found career path – Kampala politics and our reporter Nixon Gusango caught up with her. Below are the excerpts;
QN: Hello Doctor, tell the world about you? Who is Stella Nyanzi?
That is a very difficult question. I am a mother, a lover, a writer, poetess, an academic, a scholar, a thinker, and a gardener. I don’t know what you really want to know.
QN: The common folk downtown may not relate to you as a gardener, don’t you think such abilities are some you should let us know?
Let me list five things about me then. First of all, I was a refugee child. My father left Uganda to exile in 1979, this was after an attack to all the medics that were treating the rebels “bakomboozi’’ who were attacking the Idi Amin Dada Army.
A doctor in Mbarara hospital by then survived a bloody attack into the hospital where all the medics were butchered using bonnets by the soldiers. My father’s survival was as a result of his having gone to the then Ministry of Health headquarters in Entebbe.
On survival, Idi Amin realized that on the list of those that had been butchered, my father was missing hence ordering the bombing of our house by then. This resulted into his fleeing to Kenya and later on sent for assistance for us to join him in exile. People may not realize that I have been a child refugee before but this inspires me to fight for my country more since freedom is a right that we shouldn’t let go of.
The second thing is that I was an NRM cadre who went to Kyankwazi Military and Political School in 1993. At that time, there was a proposal that for anyone to qualify for government scholarship, they had to go through a cadre course. I realized my parents didn’t buy the idea, so I had to escape from home that was in Masaka to Kyankwazi and in there, I had the worst three months of my life. So am cadre 28 and that’s because I loved and admired Mr Museveni by then.
Thirdly, I am a deeply religious person despite the fact that many people call me immoral. I got born again at the age of 10 years old, a grandchild to a famous clergy by then, Rev Yeremaya Sebaduka of the Anglican Church where as my father was born to a herbalist (Muzalisa), so he grew up as a traditionalist. On marriage, my father converted to the Anglican faith due to the excess love he had for my mother and he later built a church. I was raised through Sunday School, Gayaza High School where being born again was the trend so inspite the fact that people call me profane and immoral, I was raised in a highly Christian manner because even while at Makerere I was part of the St Francis Chapel Choir. While at Gayaza, I learnt lots of music that I even learnt to play many musical instruments.
QN: Really? Case in point?
Yeah, I am so good at piano, great at guitar, sound instruments. My religious journey found me a Muslim man with whom we bore three kids, a girl and twins who are boys. As culture depicts, the children are Muslim like their father. Conversion at marriage was a nice lesson to me that made me appreciate the contrast of various religious sects and this turned me into a religious syncretic.
Fourth thing is that I hate cooking, though I can supervise the cooking, give company to those in the kitchen and will gossip with those who are in the kitchen to provide them with an active atmosphere. Despite my hate for cooking, I can still wash up the dishes after the meal, this still leaves me resourceful in such times because I know of many people who hate washing up the dishes.
When it comes to domestic chores, I am so lazy, so I always use machines or employ someone to help me with the work at home. This culture has really helped me a lot since my absence still cant affect the day to day running of normal business at home. Many feminists do not believe in having another woman in their houses but this tendency of having a house help assisted me a lot while I was in prison and I realized how much I need people to run my daily errands.
QN: Lots of us (people) know you as an activist. But what is your life besides that? Can you share an insight of your life outside activism?
I am an academic, scholar, a thinker but of all my abilities, being an academic is my best desire. This got into me when my Dad wanted boys yet my mother was giving birth to girls and this didn’t sound appealing to my father’s mother who actively organized for my father to get polygamous so as to get a son in the family. This happened after the fourth child was born female.
I grew up competing for daddy’s attention which we all thought we would have if we were boys and I resorted to getting what he thought boys would get him and that was the doctorate that I acquired. I further looked forward to becoming a Professor. Luck was on my side when I got a chance to work with the Uganda Medical Research Council in 1997 whereby I joined a team of Social Science researchers, Epidemiologists, Microbiologists and Stasticians by then who were working on the HIV/AIDS project in Rakai and Sembabule and that was a time when the HIV/AIDS prevalence was high in those areas. So I realized so early that in research, one can publish easily and my desire to become a published professor started at that moment and it’s unfortunate that I have left the academia to elective politics before my promotion to a professor.
QN: You seemed to be on the right track at MISR, why did you ‘blow it up’?
My struggle at that point was that, I was over qualified for my position as a Research Fellow. I published lots of research work but never had myself getting promoted hence my nude protest at Makerere was because I got denied a fulfilment of my desire to become a professor at a younger age.
So, (to answer your previous question) I am known for my various research and publication in the world; publications in sexuality and reproductive health, sexual rights, motherhood and childcare then sexuality and politics and now thinking of writing books since am now an ethnographer and this will be within societies. So away from activism, I am a scholar.
QN: Using the past campaigns you have run as a benchmark, you have exhibited the highest level of dissatisfaction towards the current regime. In your view, how best do you think all your dissatisfaction can become satisfaction?
The solution to Uganda’s problems is Yoweri Kaguta Museveni leaving power. Whether within the health sector, education, infrastructure, Makerere et all. His dictatorship is the only reason everything is in a mess and for me, I am a vessel that will remove the power from him and return it to the people.
QN: How does your approach seek to handle a post Museveni era? To ensure that we don’t see more of the same and get actual change?
[I believe] rehabilitation of citizens into classes of patriotism will erase the bad effects socially and psychologically amongst the masses.
QN: You are in a big elective race, very highly rated position. How do you find it considering you just got into politics?
I think I want to first correct you, I am getting into national elective politics. I have been part of politics for a very good time. In my P.1 when I stood up and protested against a class bully, that was politics. When I stand and claim ownership of my father’s inheritance in favour of my mother, that’s politics and when I stood up naked in protest against failure to get promoted in due time, that was politics but all that is not national elective politics.
About the race, I find politics so unfair to those in the opposition in terms of resource mobilization and even the available resources are hard to access when one is in opposition. I think we need to liberate ourselves into democracy. I feel we are more into “katemba” (comedy) politically that we are performing a 5-year ritual most especially in the presidential race, this is much of a pretence.
I experience lots of difficulty just because I am in opposition. But this will not make me change, I have been unbuyable before and I do not want to be bought. We have limited resources as compared to our NRM counterparts that receive funding from the corrupt NRM government so our task is a harder one.
It is also an exciting venture to engage in and I will exhibit what women can do in the house. The incumbent, Ms Nabila Naggayi Sempala illustrates to us that it’s not enough to just be in opposition but also have the heart to serve the people. This an opportunity to showcase a different aroma of the opposition through effective representation and will get back to my people that I legislate for.
QN: So what package do you have for the women of Kampala?
I want to go to parliament to do four things i.e legislation, budgeting, oversight providence and representation. I will go and play my roles in these areas, creating new laws as per the constitutional mandate. Budgeting specifically is to address or redress challenges to the table. Give oversight to government proposals that are unfair to the common Ugandan.
The representation of the “Bana Kampala” – my manifesto runs on a 10 point programme and issues like insecurity, poor sanitisation, infrastructure, congestion etc. the grid between the rich and the poor is high and it has to be sorted too, hence making laws that address the current the challenges.
QN: Tell us about your allegiance to political parties? Are you with FDC or Bobi Wine’s NUP?
After the disappointing governance by Mr Museveni’s government, I decided to join the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and that was in the year 2017.
This came after what I felt unfair to Dr Kiiza Besigye’s stolen victory over the incumbent. My joining FDC was because it was the only political wing whose values suit my kind of resistance in the struggle. I will contribute to the FDC party irrespective of the members that dashed out to other political schools.
People power is a movement that rhymes with the FDC in that they share a political heart beat. My joining People Power was because the invitation never asked us to dump our mother parties, case in point Hon Asuman Basalirwa of JEEMA still holds onto his party. So the formation of NUP was not a must for me to make a move into the new baby since I already had a party, the FDC. So in a nutshell, I am a member of the People Power and FDC.
QN: How do you perceive activism in Africa, and what challenges does Africa face in this?
First and foremost, activism in Africa has the ability to resist unfair treatment in society. The lack of African activists’ unity has failed the activism actors from achieving a common goal at continental levels. Then, the tendency of copying activism themes from the western world should be desisted from. Moves onto feminism which is treated as a western culture may not yield in due time since Africa is predominantly patriarchal and that is challenging; then of course, the lack of resources to sustain these struggles.
QN: In conclusion, summarize what you think the public should perceive you as (beyond what they may already think of you)?
The public should see me as an honest person who speaks the truth and hates lies and furthermore doesn’t want to be spoken for. I should also be known for my daring character. I dared Mr Museveni by touching what he refers to as ‘touching the leopard’s anus’. I have been persecuted for speaking the truth; I was arrested for a year in Luzira prison which up to now depicts me as a lady who is not going to give up on the struggle. People should also know me as a humble and approachable character.