Museveni may be a devil but Stella Nyanzi is no angel

So Dr Stella Nyanzi is finally out of prison. That is good news for her, her family, fans and supporters of the Opposition. Prison is a very bad place to be, and no one should be jailed unless there are compelling reasons for their imprisonment.

The controversial academic and feminist was freed because the High Court judge who heard her appeal said the lower court mishandled her trial and that resulted in a questionable court decision, which he rescinded. But mishandling a trial is not the same thing as finding someone accused of wrongdoing innocent.

Since the disputed presidential election of 2016, Stella—I am using her first name since she has become some kind of a celebrity—has laid into President Museveni, firing off post after post on Facebook insulting him and his family.

Of course, many Ugandans know that Mr Museveni is not a democrat. He overstayed his political welcome. He runs Uganda like his personal fiefdom. He says Uganda is a democracy but allows security forces to harass and persecute the Opposition for merely talking to voters. He changes the Constitution whenever it becomes an obstacle in his quest for extending his rule. The list of his misdeeds runs the length of your arm.

Consequently, there are perfectly good reasons for opposing Mr Museveni. However, politicians and their supporters—Stella is a prize example—have completely debased politics by employing all manner of crude means to try to dislodge Mr Museveni from power. Mr Museveni does the same, but two wrongs do not make a right.

The Opposition are making some of us wonder whether they can be a good alternative. We no longer have any standard, a level of quality, especially one that people think is acceptable. Anything goes.

Stella has used shockingly disgusting insults and sexually explicit language in her campaign against Mr Museveni. Many of her fans and leading Opposition figures seem to be comfortable with what she is doing and just cheer her on. Yet none of them can use Stella’s verbal porn on social media; maybe not even in the privacy of their bedrooms. She has used words that even editors of porn publications would never use even if they were the only people remaining on planet earth.

To make matters worse, her verbal porn is hurled not just at people in power but also those who are related to them but do not even have anything to do with how the country is run. And her fans think that is cool. Stella also thinks that she should not be blamed at all and that the one person to blame is Mr Museveni, who is clinging to power.

I disagree. You can oppose Mr Museveni while also remaining civil and respectful. Obscene expletives and shocking sexual imagery dumped on social media in the name of opposing a power-hungry president are not alternative policies. They cannot propel Uganda forward.

I have never read a single Facebook post from Stella that discusses real issues that the Opposition needs to focus on. It is always insults and insults and verbal porn, which is surprising for someone who is highly educated and is gifted with strong writing skills.
The real problem is that the Opposition, who will one day be in charge of Uganda, although no one knows for sure when that will be, think it is perfectly OK to embrace Stella.

Politicians make laws that punish wrongdoing, but they want to get away with murder all the time. If you were a non-politician saying and writing the kind of things Stella dumps on social media, you would be very lucky to get anywhere near Kizza Besigye and other leading Opposition figures. Many people would simply shun you.

Politicians have led Ugandans to believe that Stella’s conduct is acceptable. But by embracing the likes of Stella, they are going to have a hard time cleaning up politics. Politicians are role models for many young Ugandans. Those Ugandans should remember people for good campaigns, not videos on the internet with obscene words.

In 2017, Stella ran a successful campaign to secure sanitary pads for impoverished female Ugandans who cannot afford them. She did what the government had failed to do. That was commendable. And she managed to get people to contribute funds without using obscene words. But that is not what Ugandans remember when you mention Stella’s name. They remember her for her sexually explicit language. That is not a good way to be a role model.

The writer is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
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