Stella Nyanzi: “Teach the nation poetry” #FreeStellaNyanzi

Stella Nyanzi

On Thursday, February 20, Ugandan queer and women’s rights feminist activist and founder of the Pads4girlscampaign Stella Nyanzi walked out of Luzira Maximum Security Prison for Women, after having served fifteen months of an eighteen-month sentence. Stella Nyanzi had a question: “Why was I in court for all these months? Why is the current regime of Uganda oppressing Ugandans who are expressing their constitutional rights? I am the voice for the opposition of Uganda. Museveni must go. Yoweri Museveni you are on notice. I give you notice, Museveni. You can do whatever you want. We are ready for you, Museveni. We are tired. Stop oppressing Ugandans. It’s important for us the opposition to find bases of unity that are going to help us in our solidarity against the current regime. Why was I in prison because I wrote a poem? Because I expressed my deep disinterests and disgust of the NRM [National Resistance Movement] regime? Is it because I told the current illegal president of Uganda that I really want him to go? Museveni is sending so many opposition activists to prisons – for what?” 

In 2017, when Stella Nyanzi spent 33 days in prison for a Facebook post, we asked “Where is the global outrage at Uganda’s abuse of Stella Nyanzi?” We continue to ask. Stella Nyanzi was able to walk out of prison because a judge ruled that her earlier trial was improper and improperly conducted, because thousands of supporters inside Uganda and some outside rallied, and because Stella Nyanzi refused to submit. While inside, she organized, protested, wrote poems, shared insights, worked towards freedom. As she did upon leaving Luzira, every day Stella Nyanzi posed the questions, and the crisis, of freedom, equality, justice, for all and in particular for women. 

Now that Stella Nyanzi is out of prison, and who knows how long that will last, now, as before, is the time for organizing. People should write to their newspapers and call in to their radio stations and make sure the word gets out and around. Those who teach should teach … teach the story and lessons and name of Stella Nyanzi. Those who read should read … read the words Stella Nyanzi has written, listen to her speeches, and share them. And those who hear and listen and read and share must (learn to) write poetry. 

While in Luzira women’s prison, Stella Nyanzi wrote poems which have been collected in a volume, entitled No Roses from My Mouth: Poems from Prison, available here. Here’s one:


Teach the nation poetry. 
Deployments of anti-riot police 
Cannot shoot tear-gas at rhymes 
Nor disperse the rhythm of our poems. 

Teach the nation poetry. 
Forgotten masses will pack our pain in stanzas 
That will pierce the core of the tyranny.
Raw poems hit harder than your platitudes. 

Teach the nation poetry. 
Handcuffs cannot contain the potency of poems. 
Arrest warrants cannot disappear memorised verse 
Poetry can never be detained in gaol. 

Teach the nation poetry. 
Investigating detectives and crime solvers 
Cannot decipher metaphors, similes or symbols 
Their charge sheets will never make sense. 

Teach the nation poetry. 
To write, recite and interpret it.
Poems of the oppressed will oppress the oppressor. 
Poems will transport us to freedom.

Poems of the oppressed will oppress the oppressor; poems will transport us to freedom. Teach the nation poetry … to write, recite and interpret. #FreeStellaNyanzi

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Reuters) (Image Credit: Brittle Paper)

Stella Nyanzi: “I will speak to dictators even if it means speaking in the language of vaginas”

Today the Magistrate Court by Gladys Kamasanyu found Dr Stella Nyanzi guilty of cyber harassment but innocent of offensive communication. It’s been a twisted trial and the judgment was postponed to tomorrow after 2 hours of waiting for her to come to court. What gave me life is defiantly speaking Stella Nyanzi. Here are snippets which might have been edited out of your news.

“I could talk about my children because very many mothers would say, ‘Oh I have children who are minors, please don’t send me to jail’. Your honour, I will not say that. My children celebrate my virtuous action. My children are protesters I have trained them to freely express themselves. My children are taken care of by Ugandans who believe in ideals that espouse. 

“I will sacrifice motherhood to whatever altar I have to sacrifice motherhood to…I was born for this moment. I will speak to dictators even if it means speaking in the language of vaginas.

“I am disappointed that you don’t find me guilty of offending the president. I plan to offend Yoweri Museveni Kaguta because he has offended us. Find me guilty of offending the dictator. I planned to offend Yoweri Museveni Kaguta because he has offended us for 30 plus years. Find me guilty of cyber harassment, find me guilty of anything else, but please find me guilty of offensive communication against Yoweri Museveni Kaguta. Find me guilty of offending Yoweri Museveni Kaguta because that’s what series of mothers in Uganda should be doing. We are tired of the dictatorship.

“I paid for my freedom of expression. I don’t repent for anything. I celebrate that one woman was bold enough to deploy a dead woman’s vagina. Send me to Luzira if my crime is to have told a dirty delinquent dictator that he is a dictator and that Ugandans are tired. And I wish his mother’s vagina had squeezed him out.

“You say I am giving young people poison instead of food, giving them stones instead of bread, but the youth want to use their voices and speak whatever they have to speak. How do we teach young people in Uganda to remain silent, your honour?

“The internet must be protected. The public media has been silenced. How many of us can afford OTT. I use a weapon that I paid for and I will not allow the dictatorship to tell me what words to say to the dictatorship. If it is a dirty vagina that gets the attention of the dictatorship, emana ewunyawunya ejjakukola (the dirty vagina will work). I don’t beg for forgiveness. I don’t beg for lenience. I will survive.”


(Photo Credit:  Mail & Guardian / Reuters / James Akena )

Why does England hate Ugandan lesbian asylum seeker Lazia Nabbanja? #SetHerFree

Why does England hate Ugandan lesbian asylum seeker Lazia Nabbanja? For that matter, why has England hated Ugandan lesbian asylum seekers Brenda Namigadde, Jackie Nanyonjo, Betty Tibikawa, Anne Nasozzi and so many others? Why has England invested so much time, energy, resources into torturing these women who have already been tortured by their families, neighbors and the State? Why does England continue to subject lesbian asylum seekers to the degradations and humiliations of the society of the queer spectacle? What threat do these Black lesbian women pose to the security of England and Wales? Today, Lazia Nabbanja, just another Ugandan lesbian asylum seeker, sits in Yarl’s Wood awaiting deportation. Why?

Lazia Nabbanja’s story is all too familiar. In 2009, Lazia Nabbanja’s family forced her to marry a man. Seven years later he discovered her with her girlfriend. He beat her and left her unconscious. She fled, first to her grandparents’ house and then to the United Kingdom, where she applied for asylum. In England, Home Affairs decided that Lazia Nabbanja is not sufficiently lesbian to warrant asylum and sent her to Yarl’s Wood. Lazia Nabbanja’s story is all too familiar.

Despite Lazia Nabbanja’s story, including photos, being spread across Ugandan media, Home Affairs claims that she would not be in danger if she returned “home.” Again, Lazia Nabbanja’s story is all too familiar. This is the story of Brenda Namigadde, Jackie Nanyonjo, Betty Tibikawa, Anne Nasozzi, and now Lazia Nabbanja.

An online petition is circulating: URGENT: STOP THE REMOVAL OF LAZIA NABBANJA (A LESBIAN WOMAN) TO UGANDA. Please consider signing it. Consider, as well, the urgency of this question: Why does England hate Lazia Nabbanja?


(Photo Credit: The Independent / The Petition Site)

Stop sending mothers and children to prison!

Today in Uganda, a leading headline reads, “24 children in prison with their mothers”. The article opens, “About 24 children are locked up in the seven prisons of Lira, Oyam, Kole, Alebtong, Otuke, Apac and Dokolo districts with their only crime being born to mothers suspected of breaking the law. Currently, there are 228 female inmates in the seven prisons.” The article concludes, “The prison population in Uganda is said to be growing at a 10 per cent rate annually. Currently, there are 284 children living with their mothers in 21 female prisons.” While Uganda’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded, with a recorded occupancy rate of 293% as of October 2016, more than half of whom are pre-trial or remand prisoners, the situation of mothers and children in prison is a global phenomenon. The global gulag has produced a global prison crèche and nursery. Children are the future.

While the issue of mothers behind bars has garnered increased attention, as witness this year’s Mother’s Day National Mama’s Bail Out Day campaign, the ever increasing global population of mothers with children in prison has not. In Uganda, the population of mothers incarcerated with children has grown steadily for the last ten years. According to the Turkish government, 560 children are in Turkish prisons along with their mothers. The children age just born to six years old. In 2014, 334 children were living with their mothers in Turkish prisons. Incarcerating innocent children is a major growth industry. In Kenya, hundreds of children under four live with their mothers in prison; in Bolivia over 1000 children do. In Cambodia, two years ago, the Prime Minister wanted to find a “solution” to children in prison with their mothers. Thus far, none has been found. Quite the opposite.

Around the world, where do children live? Increasingly, in prison. In 2008, the International Centre for Prison Studies reported that the following countries kept mothers and children together … in prison: England and Wales; Australia; Brazil; Canada; Denmark; Finland; Germany; Greece; Italy; Netherlands; New Zealand; Russia; Sweden; Switzerland; and the United States. Spain kept mothers and children together in “family” cells. No information was available for France, Japan, or, curiously Turkey. Of the 20 nation-states surveyed, only Norway said, NO.

In 2014, the Law Library of Congress’s Laws on Children Residing with Parents in Prison expanded the survey to 97 countries. Here’s their list of those who keep mothers and children together in prison: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Burma/Myanmar, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, England and Wales, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Libya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe. From A to Z, babies behind bars are everywhere.

None of this is surprising. Skyrocketing rates of incarceration for women, and especially younger women, means incarcerating more and more infants and children.

But it’s not inevitable: “Norway does not allow children to stay with their parents in prison. Instead, a new mother is housed outside of the penitentiary in a mødrehjem (home for mothers) until her child is old enough to be separated from her, generally around nine months of age. Mothers with young children and short sentences may serve their entire sentence at the home for mothers …. In general, the Norwegian prison policy reserves prison sentences for the most heinous crimes and attempts to avoid sentencing criminals to prison. Courts have also chosen to transform certain sentences from prison sentences to community service, generally in cases where mothers are convicted of drug offenses but have since been drug free and are caring for a small child. At the start of 2012, 255 women were incarcerated in Norway, of whom 187 were serving out the sentence in an alternative institution.”

Norway is taking this approach beyond its border, funding, for example, an `open prison’ for women and children in Lithuania. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step.

The State alibi for caging innocent children is the good of the child. What does that say about the world outside the prison, if the best place for an infant or young child is behind bars? What is justice, if sending a child to prison is fine and dandy, no matter how minor or negligible the mother’s so-called offense? Want to keep children out of prisons and jails? Imagine a world in which close to 75% of women convicted of criminal offense do not end up in prison. Imagine Norway.

(Photo Credit: Daily Monitor / Bill Oketch)

Where is the global outrage at Uganda’s abuse of Stella Nyanzi? #FreeStellaNyanzi

On Friday, April 7, Ugandan queer and women’s rights feminist activist and founder of the Pads4girls campaign Stella Nyanzi was arrested for a Facebook post in which she referred to Uganda’s President Yoweri Muzeveni as a “pair of buttocks.” For that, Stella Nyanzi was charged with cyber harassment and infringing on the President’s freedom of speech and expression. Formally charged on April 10, Stella Nyanzi was promptly transported to Luzira Maximum Security Prison, where she awaits her trial, April 25. Stella Nyanzi’s Facebook post was part of an ongoing campaign to get the President and his Minister of Education, Janet Museveni, also the First Lady, to live up to their election campaign promises to create real budget lines for sanitary napkins for school girls. To no one’s surprise, once the election season was over, the promises disappeared into a welter of budgetary fog. The surprise was Stella Nyanzi, who decided that this was unacceptable and took up the gauntlet. Since being dumped in prison, the government has tried to force Stella Nyanzi to undergo psychiatric examinations, which she has resisted. There was no mad woman in the attic in Amherst, and there is no mad woman in that prison cell in Luzira, but there is a woman in Luzira who is righteously furious. As Ugandans have noted, Stella Nyanzi’s treatment is an abuse of everybody’s freedom and should be worrying everyone … and not only in Uganda, but does it? Where is the global outrage at Uganda’s abuse Stella Nyanzi? Somewhere just below the global outrage at the lack of concern for school going girls.

Since Stella Nyanzi’s arrest, and for weeks before, the Ugandan press has been awash with news reports, analyses, commentaries and general commentary. Beyond Uganda, however, the formal press has been fairly quiet. Usual suspects, such as Amnesty, have mobilized, and supporters have organized an on-line #FreeStellaNyanzi campaign. But the news media itself has treated the whole affair as one-off. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, the BBC, the Mail & Guardian have each, respectively, run one original article on the situation, relying on Reuters and AP for anything else. Al Jazeera has run three, mostly made up of other sources but also their own. Just today, The East African finally caught up with Stella Nyanzi.

While there is a personal drama taking place among Stella Nyanzi and Uganda’s First Family, the imprisonment and subsequent attempt at a psychiatric analysis should worry everyone. In Uganda, supporters, and even detractors, understand that the arrest and imprisonment of Stella Nyanzi threatens to criminalize speech, expression and thought. They understand that as a violation of the 1995 Constitution. The attempt to force a psychiatric examination on Stella Nyanzi was `justified’ by the Mental Treatment Act, “inherited from … colonial masters at a time where persons with mental disabilities were looked at by the law as of no value, with no place in the community. They were seen as ‘objects’ whose only place was a mental asylum where they would be subjected to perpetual suffering. Persons with mental disabilities were, at all times, considered dangerous to themselves and the community.” The application of the Mental Treatment Act against Stella Nyanzi is worrisome because it is an abuse of Stella Nyanzi’s rights and person, and, equally, because it is an attempt to return Uganda to colonial days. By applying the Mental Treatment Act to control and suppress Stella Nyanzi, the State hopes to make Uganda great again. From Uganda to the United States, the line is short and direct.

The general global news media quiet concerning Stella Nyanzi is itself disquieting. The politics of enforced silence takes many forms in many places. We should hear more from the news media concerning Stella Nyanzi, as well as the conditions of girls going to school, of women in prison, of free speech and expression, and of the right for women to be mad. What happens to Stella Nyanzi happens to all of us. For some, “Stella Nyanzi is a hero to hundreds and thousands of little girls and women who know where she is coming from, in terms of defending women’s rights to sanitary towels.” While Stella Nyanzi is both hero and champion, her circumstances are altogether ordinary, and not just in Uganda. Don’t wait until April 25 to see what happens, because it’s already happening. #FreeStellaNyanzi

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian / Reuters / James Akena)

In Uganda, women say NO! to bride price violence against women


Women celebrate court ruling

Women celebrate court ruling

Yesterday, Uganda’s Supreme Court ruled that refunding a bride price when customary marriages end is unconstitutional and should be banned: “Refund of the bride price connotes that a woman is on loan and can be returned and money recovered. This compromises the dignity of a woman.” The judges unanimously agreed that referring to bridal gifts as bride price reduces its significance to market value. On the other hand, the judges decided that bride price itself is not (yet) unconstitutional. This victory for women’s rights, power and dignity emerges from the persistent organizing work of MIFUMI, a Uganda based women’s organization that, since its establishment in 1994, has focused on domestic violence and bride price, which, they argue, is a form of structural domestic violence.

In 2004 MIFUMI organized the first international conference on bride price, which produced the International Kampala Declaration on Bride Price. The Ugandan government responded by saying bride price belongs to customary laws and courts.

Undeterred, in 2007, MIFUMI petitioned Uganda’s Constitutional Court, seeking to have “bride prices” declared unconstitutional: “The payment of bride price by men for their wives as demanded by custom from several tribes in Uganda leads men to treat their women as mere possessions from whom maximum obedience is extracted, thus perpetuating conditions of inequality between men and women”. In 2010, the Constitutional Court overwhelming rejected MIFUMI’s petition. MIFUMI appealed to the Supreme Court.

In 2011, leading Ugandan feminist jurist Sylvia Tamale noted, “Strategic action litigation in the area of gender and sexuality is … in its infancy … Its process is brutal and controversial. Most women’s rights NGOs that engage this strategy take their cases to mainstream lawyers due to limited capacity and the fact that most female lawyers shy away from overly aggressive lawyering. This means that lawyers who argue such cases in court lack the requisite empathy with feminist issues and methods … This, for example, happened in the recent Ugandan case of Mifumi (U) Ltd. & 12 Others v. Attorney General & Another (Const. Petition No. 12 of 2010) where the women’s rights NGO, Mifumi unsuccessfully challenged the traditional practice of bridewealth, associating it with domestic violence. Instead of directly challenging the deeply entrenched practice per se, perhaps it may have been more strategic to focus on and argue against its oppressive aspect that requires a wife to `reimburse’ bride price in full in order to gain divorce from her abusive husband.”

A mere four years later, and here’s MIFUMI again, one step closer to full abolition. Leah Nabunnya, a spokeswoman for MIFUMI declared, “The court’s pronouncement is a win for us.” Solomy Awiidi, a legal officer with MIFUMI, agreed, “There are fathers and brothers of brides facing civil suit because they failed to return the bride price, while thousand if not millions of women across the country who have been abused because of failure to refund the bride price. This ruling will liberate many of them.” MIFUMI Director for Communications Evelyn Schiller added, “Women are no longer going to be chained in abusive marriages. They have been given a choice. This court declaration means that women can escape from a marriage if it is abusive without fear that I have to refund the price that was paid for me 20 years ago or that my father and brothers will pay the repercussions for this if I leave this marriage.”

Atika Turner, Executive Director of MIFUMI, concluded: “A woman is turned into an object that is not taken into account during those discussions, she does not have a say in how much is paid. The man feels he is entitled to his wife’s obedience, reproductive capacity and labor. So anytime she resists his demands, he feels he is entitled to mistreat her and this forces many women to endure violence.”

Yesterday’s court decision in Uganda demonstrates the real potential for women’s material liberation everywhere. Women are organizing in the streets, households, courts, conference halls, legislatures, and beyond. Undeterred by impediments, they study the situation, analyze the defeats, and hone their tools and weapons. Thanks to MIFUMI and their sisters everywhere, the struggle continues!


(Photo Credit: United in Beauty)

In Uganda, women smallholder farmers say NO! to palm oil plantation violence

Mangdelena Nakamya, once a proud farmer, now lives on church land

Mariam Nakteeko, Rose Nantume, and Magdalenea Nakamya grew up on Bugala Island, in Kalangala District, on Lake Victoria, Uganda. They farmed, tended to their families, prepared for the future, and supported their community of farmers and fisherfolk. They lived on land that had been family land for generations. That was until two giants – Wilmar International and Bidco Africa – decided to turn the island’s diverse environment into a monoculture palm oil plantation.

Kenya-based Bidco Africa boasts, “We exist to serve daily consumer needs to enhance Happy Healthy Living by Branding, Transforming and Distributing the goodness of Mother Nature.” Singaporean-based Wilmar promises, “Wilmar remains a firm advocate of sustainable growth and is committed to its role as a responsible corporate citizen.” What could go wrong?

Everything. Ask the women.

From its 2005 launch, the project has reeked of corruption, refusal to consult, and the ordinary violence that accompanies mass dislocation. In 2009, local residents and environmental activists documented widespread illegal forest clearing and use of fertilizers. Beatrice Anywar, then-shadow environment minister, explained, ”We are replacing natural forests with palm trees and this is bad for our country. But this goes on because the investors have the backing of the president. They don’t listen. We should begin listening to scientists because we are already witnessing floods and severe droughts.” The president himself agreed, “I invited the investors to start this project here, though some people wanted to block it because they wanted to protect butterflies instead of development. But butterflies can go and live elsewhere.”

Butterflies can go and live somewhere else. So can people, apparently.

In July 2011, 64-year-old farmer Magdalena Nakamya owned and farmed seven acres. One morning, four years ago almost to the day, Magdalena Nakamya awoke to find “yellow machines” turning up her land and razing her crops: “No one came to talk to me before they destroyed my crops. I heard that some people were given money, but I didn’t receive anything.” In February 2015, she joined a hundred other local displaced farmers in a lawsuit for restitution and compensation. The farmers talk of land and money, but when you look into their eyes, the struggle is the restoration of their dignity.

Rose Nantume’s family farmed 40 acres. She was saving to build a new home, and had already laid the foundation when the bulldozers came and took everything away. Now her family of ten live in a two-room shack: “Bidco took our land but paid nothing at all. The situation we’re in is so bad. Our house is in a bad condition and our children cannot study because there’s no money. We thought the money from our gardens would help us but ever since the land was taken, our situation is very difficult.”

Mariam Nakteeko explains what happens when the men are forced to leave: “Our husbands had to leave us to find work elsewhere. After we lost our land, we have nothing, not even enough food.”

Kalangala farmers are working with the National Association of Professional Environementalists, NAPE, and Friends of the Earth – Uganda, to reclaim their land, lives and dignity.

Meanwhile, Wilmar claims everything is fine, no one was coerced into taking money, and no one was evicted. How could they have been when Wilmar has had a clear No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation Policy since 2013? Surely, they say, these women are delusional, except they don’t even say that. Why would they? It’s just smallholder women farmers on some island in the middle of Lake Victoria, and hey, they got a ferry out of the deal.


(Photo Credit: Alon Mwesigwa / The Guardian) (Video Credit: YouTube / Nape Uganda)

Amid the Stench of Human Feces, Ugandan Prisoners Earn Diplomas and Assist Peers

Susan Kigula and Pascal Nakuru graduate

With 42,000 prisoners and an official capacity of 16,000, Ugandan prisons are the most congested in East Africa and the 9th most overcrowded in the world, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies. These prisons are not only severely over-capacitated, but also have poor infrastructure and sanitation. Inmates are often denied a mattress or bedding, running water, electricity, adequate meals, and health care. As of last week, 40 prisons in Uganda still use the “bucket system,” which requires inmates to relieve themselves in a bucket during the night. The combination of stagnant urine and fecal matter in an overcrowded cell causes unhygienic conditions and a breeding ground for disease.

Many blame the country’s inefficient criminal justice system that fails to process cases in a timely manner, causing a severe backlog of cases. According to Human Rights Watch, “It’s clear that overcrowding and pretrial detention are interlinked.” In Uganda, 55% of inmates are on remand, meaning they are arrested and detained without having a trial. Many have never been convicted of an offense or sentenced to serve prison time. Some wait years or even decades in custody for their cases to be heard in court.

Uganda’s former Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki stated, “There is no doubt that [the case backlog] violates the right to a fair and timely trial, especially for the poor and marginalized, who spend their hard-earned resources [on legal support] only to be told that their cases cannot be heard.” More than 90% of prisoners have no legal representation and must defend themselves, despite the fact that the Ugandan constitution guarantees every citizen the right to a state attorney.

Yet, Susan Kigula and two other inmates at Luzira Maximum security prison in Kampala are now qualified to help their fellow prisoners navigate the Ugandan legal system. The three inmates were the first ever in the country to earn a Diploma in Common Law from the University of London while incarcerated, studying through a correspondence course supported by the African Prisons Project. Kigula intends to use her degree to provide legal counseling and assistance to her peers.

A survey of Ugandans found that only 0.3% were aware that they had the right to a fair and speedy trial. While Kigula and her fellow graduates now possess the knowledge to raise awareness about basic human rights in prison, more needs to be done. Today, there are 23,000 people held in pre-trial detention in Uganda’s prisons. They cannot demand a timely trial or a state attorney if they do not know that they deserve one.


(Photo Credit: KonnectAfrica)


Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera: “I am no longer criminal, today we have made history”

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera

Some days the news is good. Today, that’s the case from Uganda. Last December, when the Uganda Parliament passed `ethics laws’, that, using the most vague and hence lethal language, threatened the LGBT communities with life in prison while also outlawing miniskirts, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, founder of FAR-Uganda, Freedom and Roam Uganda; Julian Pepe Onziema and Frank Mugisha, leaders of SMUG, Sexual Minorities of Uganda; joined forces with Professor Joe Oloka-Onyango, MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, veteran journalist Andrew Mwenda, Prof. Morris Latigo, Dr. Paul Nsubuga Ssemugoma, indigenous civil society organizations, the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) and the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD). Together, they sued the Attorney General. Today, they won. The constitutional court declared the passing of the anti homosexuality bill into an act as null and void.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera and all the activists know the struggle is not over. They know that the LGBT communities, and especially their leaders, will be attacked with even greater vehemence. According to Kasha Jacqueline, “Many people are going to retaliate and attack community members. People are going to retaliate — not just the members of parliament and anti-gay groups and religious leaders, but in the community as well.”

But they know something else as well. You only win by pushing back and pushing forward. Kasha Jacqueline knows in advance that the government will petition the decision, as it did instantly. She knows that same-sex relationships, again still codified in the most ambiguous and hence lethal language, is still illegal. But she knows as well the great work of having faced down the State, the President, the Parliament, and everyone else who said she must just die, and the sheer joy of hearing the phrase “null and void.” The actions of those who would nullify her, of those who cast her into the void, are now null and void.

And Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera can laugh and cry and say, “I am no longer criminal, today we have made history for generations to come”. Some days, thanks to the work of women like Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, the news is good. Today is one of those days.


(Photo Credit:


Uganda protects women to death

This past Tuesday Uganda’s Parliament passed something called the HIV Prevention and Management Bill. The law will not prevent the transmission of HIV. Everyone knows this. It will worsen the lives of all living with HIV. It will threaten the lives of LGBTIQ persons, and in Uganda, gay and lesbian identity is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not about being gay; it’s about being called gay. This law will have particular and catastrophic effect on women.

The law institutes mandatory HIV testing for pregnant women and their partners. Ostensibly it’s meant to `protect’ women and younger girls whose sexual partners conceal that they have Aids or are HIV-positive. It doesn’t protect women and girls. It endangers them.

The law also allows doctors to reveal the HIV status of those who have been tested. In Uganda, where HIV prevalence is higher among women and much higher among younger women, activists argue, the combination of mandatory testing and sharing of information is an invitation to domestic violence and even murder, at the hands of a partner who claims the woman brought the virus into the home.

That’s what protecting women looks like.

According to the International Community of Women Living with HIV, Eastern Africa: “The passage of the HIV Prevention and AIDS Control Bill represents a dangerous backslide in Uganda’s efforts to respond to HIV. While the bill may have been intended to facilitate and improve the HIV response in Uganda, the bill contains many poorly conceived and fear-induced provisions that have no place in a public health and human-rights-based response to HIV. As passed, this bill will actually weaken Uganda’s HIV prevention efforts and will have a detrimental and disproportionate impact on the rights of women and girls and in particular women living with HIV.”

Long-term HIV activist Milly Katana put it more succinctly: “All I can say now is doomsday has landed on all the people of Uganda. You will see fewer and fewer people testing.”

Margaret Happy, the Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Officer of the International Community of Women Living with HIV Eastern Africa, agrees: “Uganda is already facing a serious backslide from its early advances in responding to HIV, Uganda is currently one of three African countries experiencing increases in their HIV prevalence rates previously from 6.5% to 7.3 %. The passages of this Bill will only serve to increase this backslide and the President must save Uganda from this backlash.” Lillian Mworeko, Regional Coordinator of the ICW Eastern Africa, adds that the legislators “chose to act out of fear and unfounded hysteria.”

“For Uganda to address its HIV epidemic effectively, it needs to partner with people living with HIV, not blame them, criminalize them, and exclude them from policy making. The president should not sign this bill and instead ensure a rights-based approach, recognizing that people living with HIV will prevent transmission if they are empowered and supported,” said Dorah Kiconco, executive director of Uganda Network on Law, Ethics & HIV/AIDS.

Dr Lydia Mungherera, of TASO, The AIDS Support Organization (TASO), explains: “This clause is taking us back centuries when all the progress we have made in fighting this pandemic is going to be ruled out. They are criminalizing people who are having consensual sex.”

Finally, Dianah Nanjeho, from UGANET, Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS warns that the bill will force HIV positive people, and especially women, underground: “The only path by which someone gets onto treatment is by taking a HIV test. People who don’t know their status are going to shun the health system and say ‘look I can’t go to take a HIV test because the results are going to be displayed in court some day. We will have someone who is HIV positive in the docks but without any justice system to fend for them.”

In every way, this Bill attacks women, and women know this. But Museveni will almost undoubtedly sign the Bill into law. Why? ““Because he knows the voters are going to like this bill it will be popular with him.” Who cares about science? Who cares about the knowledge of those, largely women, who have toiled in the fields for decades and dedicated their lives? Most importantly, who cares about the women? Really, all one must do is claim that protecting women is one’s goal, and it’s all good.


(Photo Credit: ICWEA)