After lots of drama surrounding her, many have described her in different ways. But who exactly is she?
A hitherto relatively unknown entity, Dr Nyanzi was thrust into the spotlight during the political campaigns last year, when she used her Facebook page to denigrate President Museveni with unparalleled profanity, while also praising Kizza Besigye with language peppered with vivid sexual innuendo.
Although Ugandans tend to be expressive and like to use sexual innuendo in their conversations, many feel that Nyanzi’s expletive writings have crossed the line.
Nyanzi has more than 53,000 followers on Facebook. Her favourite quote, she posts, is by George Carlins: “Those who dance are called insane by those who cannot hear the music”, a quote that probably defines how she lives her life.
The majority of those who follow her, seem to be so only because they love to read the lengthy and epic posts about her social life and politics. They have attracted admiration and disgust in equal measure. But unruffled by the ruckus her Facebook posts was causing, Dr Nyanzi startled all and sundry last week when she stripped to the knickers as quarrels between her and Mahmood Mamdani-the head of Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) hit fever pitch. The matter is currently being investigated by a committee at Makerere University, the home of the institute.
If the long-winding invectives Dr Nyanzi puts on her Facebook page are anything to go by, you would think she is a boisterous, loud motor-mouth. You would be wrong.
Stella Nyanzi: through friends’ eyes
According to Keem Love Black, as he prefers to be called, a man who has been friends with her since 2011, Dr Nyanzi is a humble and reserved lady.
“I met Stella in 2011. She was doing research at Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) at that time. I happened to be part of the research. From that time, she struck me as a very humble person. She is not as talkative as people think,” he says.
Emmanuel Muhereza, is of the same view. In a room piled with loads of books and reading materials, dotted by cables hanging from a table and snaking from three big desk tops to the ground, the bespectacled man offers intriguing insights into the stuff that Dr Nyanzi is made of.
He says, “I was one of the few people who joined MISR in 2011. I had joined as a research assistant. Since the first meeting, I have always known Stella as a very quiet person. She is not verbose. She writes more than she talks. If you pick up an argument with her, she will write all night if it’s a written one. She expresses herself better through writing and many will agree she writes pretty well. She has inexhaustible energy in writing.”
Among those who think Nyanzi is a good writer is Ms Maggie Lukowe, a communications specialist and her former schoolmate. “Back then in Gayaza high school, Stella was very articulate. She is still,” Lukowe says.
Keem, an unsullied Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activist says Nyanzi is very intelligent as well. What anyway would you expect of a PhD holder?
Like Keem, Lukowe says Nyanzi had an intellectual understanding of things. “Stella was three classes ahead of me. I was in senior one while she was in form three. She had unique ways of breaking down very hard things. She always made things seem simpler.” Moreover, Lukowe adds, she was a very good person and generous too. Like the others say about the doctor, Lukowe also notes that Nyanzi was not outgoing and was not in any group or click like those a typical high school girl would join, but those who were close to and interacted with her found her charming.
At the centre of her quarrel with the MISR management is a demand to take up teaching duties. She insists her letter of appointment does not include teaching; the University opines otherwise.
Muhereza explains that out of her “big brains” she designed a complex course called “Queer Politics”-that was rejected by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE)-triggering the current impasse.
“It [the course] is basically about destabilising what we have come to accept as the norm. The council faced difficulty in digesting it. She therefore refused to teach because of that. Stella in most cases is not compromised,” he says.
Interestingly however, he hastily adds that she is a virtuous person. “She is always smiling and I have never seen her angry. No wonder, people like Stella.”
Nyanzi is also described as a friendly and respectful person by those who know her. Keem says, “She is very friendly and respectful regardless of one’s status. He recollects, “She loves people equally. My fondest memory of her is when she defended us [the LGBT community] when the world was against us”.
Nyanzi’s seemingly number one fan adds that her busy and hardworking lifestyle notwithstanding, Nyanzi is a traveler and likes travelling to various countries.
He also says, “She is also a strong family person. She was very close to her parents before they passed on. She still holds on to her dad’s memory. She wears his yellow shirt to important events. She loves her family; her three sisters and as a single mother, she has given her three children [the twin boys and daughter] a good life. They seem comfortable and barely miss their father.”
Nyanzi is also described by a friend Fred Guweddeko as a ‘culturalist’ who wants to conserve her culture. She is also a lover of music and Guweddeko, a research associate and doctorate fellow says Nyanzi’s favourite song is a classic by Dr Hook, Sexy Eyes—in its lyrics, ‘if a girl enters an office and wants something, just give it to her…the world would be a better place if everybody had sexy eyes’.
Lukowe echoes the doctor’s love for music. “Back then at Gayaza High School, Stella and I had a mutual passion. We loved music. She was a pianist and I was a vocalist,” recalls Lukowe adding that she loves music to date.
In addition to being intelligent, Guweddeko believe she has intellectual courage. He says she does not fear opposition and always stands on her ideology.
But, there is another side to Nyanzi, a side both her friends and foes find hard to understand. Although they say she is all the above and many more likeable things, they cannot comprehend some of her actions.
Guweddeko says according to Nyanzi, people communicate through sexuality. They communicate through the way they dress. “Therefore stripping is normal,” he says.
He notes, “She has been engaging with people who have different sexualities. She wants to practice theories from books. She did her field work in Zambia where there is sexual tourism. Women import men from Gambia to have sex with them. She is an activist and believes things which are abnormal in the world are absolutely normal—that’s her queer theory. She is queer too!”
And although Lukowe and the doctor kept in touch, the communication dried up along the way. “We initially kept in touch. I followed her on social platforms such as Facebook until I could no longer follow her beliefs- she had become a gay protagonist. I lost track of her,” Lukowe says.
Muhereza meanwhile says she has a second face. “Now I think she is two faced. Very double faced. When she throws tantrums, I just don’t get it. I am shocked. I think I don’t know her anymore,” he mutters.
However, Nyanzi does not seem remorseful about all the negativity about her actions and lifestyle. An excerpt from her April 5th Facebook post reads: “You are not supposed to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.” This also seems to define Nyanzi’s life. She might be a calm and collected person but once she feels she has been wronged, Nyanzi will not care about keeping others warm.