KAMPALA - Ugandan poet Stella Nyanzi was released in February after spending more than a year in prison for a post she made on Facebook that insulted President Yoweri Museveni. Defiant, Nyanzi used her time behind bars to write a book and is inspiring others to use poetry to express their political opinions. But Uganda’s public prosecutor plans to appeal her acquittal.
Before her release in February, Stella Nyanzi was serving 18 months in prison for cyber-harassing Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
She was convicted last year for a 2018 Facebook post that used graphic language to say she wished Museveni had died as a fetus for what she says he has done to Uganda and its people.
Nyanzi says being in jail gave her time to write a fresh book of poems, aptly titled "No Roses from My Mouth."
“I sit on the meager prison beddings spread on the floor, lean against the wall, pull out my pen and notebook and write whatever I please. Arrggh, what freedom to write," she said. "Although my writings are often confiscated by prison staff during spot ward searches and routine body searches, I insist on writing as a form of resistance.”
After her conviction, some Ugandan writers were weary of offending the government with lewd comments.
Nyanzi supporters responded to the chilling effect on free speech by applauding her use of prose to take on politics.
Danson Kahyana, a senior lecturer in the Department of Literature at Makerere University, says he wrote a book that he decided not to publish because he does not have the courage Nyanzi has.
“She’s our hero. I think we shall celebrate her. One day, there will come a time when we shall say Stella, you are the reason we are better governed because your fighting has given us all these beautiful fruits,” he said.
Ugandan authorities repeatedly have detained Nyanzi for criticizing Museveni, who has been president for 34 years.
Although a high court acquitted the poet of cyber-harassment, Uganda’s public prosecutor insists Nyanzi online post was illegal.
Jacquelyn Okui, spokeswoman for the directorate of Uganda’s Public Prosecutor, said: "As a result, we have appealed to the court of appeal against the acquittals, and we intend to pursue a record of proceedings on the judgment and come up with grounds of appeal, which we shall argue to prove our case.”
Hopeful poets like Daphine Arinda are learning what it means to speak their minds in Museveni’s Uganda.
“So, I am terrified, I can’t lie, but I also have the confidence and also the inner will to know that if I’m strong about something, then I can pursue it to its end,” she said.
Meanwhile, Nyanzi herself has become the subject of poetry.
“A reject of the day’s civilization, they want to sieve her, throw out the chaff that her golden crown, wild hairs, tangled in cotton fabric debris, armpits musky after days’ work," said Arinda. "Nails darkened from a walk amongst trees, that’s her, that’s her, ask no more who she is, who, who, who she is.”
For now, Nyanzi lives at her residence in the Wakiso district, awaiting her next court hearing, which is not yet scheduled but is sure to come.