Our great honorary Kenyan, Gado, once put out a cartoon depicting a Ugandan family portrait. The family was that of Yoweri Museveni.
One line of captions showed their place in the family — husband, wife, son-in-law. The other showed their collective control over Uganda — president, Cabinet minister, military general.
Simple and effective, it made its point, making us laugh out loud. But what that collective control is doing is no laughing matter.
As evidenced yet again by events over the past week in Uganda. These events show how far Museveni has moved from the promise articulated in Sowing the Mustard Seed. Here is a timeline of events:
The unjustifiable action: Saying that one cannot meet a campaign promise to provide sanitary pads to schoolgirls because the state has no money. While, at the same time, providing from the state budget, just over three quarters of a million dollars for one’s state residence.
The over-the-top sensitivity to public critique: Having, on April 7, arrested and charged Dr Stella Nyanzi on charges under the Computer Misuse Act, 2011 of insulting the president and violating his right to privacy by referring to him as a “pair of buttocks” on Facebook.
The cause of Nyanzi’s upset? His reneging on his campaign promise. Which she did more than criticise — she also set up a “pads for girls” campaign, crowdsourcing money from the Ugandan public.
For her efforts, she was beaten upon arrest, denied access to legal counsel for almost a full day and also — ironically — denied sanitary pads herself.
The utter detachment from reality: Also having the state prosecutor resist her application for bail by ordering a mandatory psychiatric evaluation — under the Mental Treatment Act, 1938! The irony apparently lost, Nyanzi is now remanded in the maximum security Luzira Prison until April 25.
That to freedom of expression is under threat in Uganda was further evidenced by the abduction on April 8 of journalist Gertrude Uwitware for publicly expressing her outrage at Nyanzi’s arrest the day before.
Uwitware was beaten, her head shaved and she was threatened with torture if she continued to criticise the president’s family.
Nyanzi has the right to express herself in the ways she deems fit, that right only being limited by whether or not such expression materially harms anybody else.
“Obscenity” and “indecency” are such morally laden and subjective terms, they’re of no use in determining material harm to anybody else.
Frankly, Museveni does have “a pair of buttocks.”
The point she was making was that his campaign promise amounted to no more than what comes out of “a pair of buttocks.”
Does that make her crazy? Or is what’s happening what typically happens to women who dissent in ways that make us uncomfortable? We get called insane; remember here how former president Daniel arap Moi referred to Prof Wangari Mathaai for her efforts to preserve Uhuru Park? He called her “a woman with insects in her head.”
There is a long and global history of the use of supposed mental health problems to contain and control dissenting women. It is appalling that Uganda’s First Family, through the state, is resorting to that sexist and shameful history to try to control Nyanzi now.
L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes