#rp24 speaker Stella Nyanzi: On resistance and human dignity

25.03.2024 - Stella is a dissident poet and activist from Uganda – and an ardent defender of the freedom of expression, digital rights, internet democracy and online freedoms.
Stella Nyanzi trägt ein Tuch um den Kopf. Sie blickt nach links unten ins Bild.
Photo Credit
Rick Burger Photography, Berlin – www.rickburger.com

“My Facebook posts may be tacky, / But they grab the balls of the tyranny. […] My pen never stops writing; / I will write myself to freedom!“ Stella Nyanzi wrote these lines between 2019 and 2020 from Luzira Women’s Prison in Kampala. For the second time, she was imprisoned in a maximum security facility because of her dissident writings published on social media: this time she had insulted the President of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, in a poem.

While Stella was still in jail, the first batch of her celebrated collection of poems “No Roses From My Mouth” was released and shared on social media platforms under the hashtag #45Poems4Freedom. After her release, she fled to Kenya at the beginning of 2021 out of concern for her safety. She has been living in Germany in exile since 2022. From there, she continues to speak out on social media platforms and writes poems with biting humour to denounce the injustices in Uganda.

Digital platforms have always played a key role in her activism: after losing access to her office space at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) in 2016, she staged a naked protest at MISR premises, from which she shared photographs on her Facebook page. In doing so, she located herself within a tradition of radical African protest that utilises the body to condemn injustice and oppression. Within academic as well as LGBTIQA+ activist circles, Stella Nyanzi is renowned for her outstanding scholarship on sexualities as a medical anthropologist and is a leading authority in African Queer Studies, or Queer African Studies. She has published widely on sexual and reproductive health.

Stella Nyanzi is a scholarship-holder of the Writers-in-Exile program of the PEN Centre Germany, and a fellow of the Center for Ethics and Writing jointly organised by Bard College and the Artists at Risk Connection of PEN America. She is an opposition politician belonging to the political party Forum for Democratic Change in Uganda. She was awarded for her human rights activism by Solidarity Uganda in 2018 and honoured with the PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression in 2020.

At #rp24, we look forward to inspiring insights into Stella's activism and the lives of LGBTIQA+ people and dissidents living in dictatorships.



#WhoCares: An interview with Stella Nyanzi.

The Motto of re:publica 24 is „Who Cares?“. Whom or what are you currently caring about?

Currently, I am caring about how to effectively reclaim our freedoms, human dignity and equality for all citizens living under militant dictatorship in my home-country Uganda. I am deeply concerned about the wellbeing and safety of LGBTIQA+ people living within Uganda's homophobia which birthed the Anti-Homosexuality Act (2023) which includes the death penalty and life imprisonment among several other penalties. And I am passionate about freedom of expression which is deliberately dissident and critical of oppressive power.

What do we care about too little as a society?

As a society, we care too little about people who are different from ourselves - be it in race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, spirituality, class, social status, educational attainment, profession, age, generation, gender diversity, sexual orientation, ability, etc.  Difference makes indifference, dismissal and dehumanisation easy.

Is there a person, movement or institution that inspires you in their care for a particular issue?

Two dead women leaders, both ex-prisoners for causes they spearheaded against repressive governments, inspire me. These are Nawal el Saadawi, the Egyptian dissident author and Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan founder of the Green Belt Movement. Both Nawal and Wangari consistently spoke dissident truths to oppressive power, against several odds.

What would you like to talk about at re:publica?

I would like to ask who cares about LGBTIQA+ people and dissidents living in homophobic dictatorships such as Uganda, and why we should care.