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Ugandan Poet Taking on Politics With Poetry

Ugandan Poet Taking on Politics with Poetry
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Ugandan poet Stella Nyanzi was released in February after spending over a year in prison for a post she made on Facebook that insulted President Yoweri Museveni.

Ugandan Poet Taking on Politics With Poetry
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Ugandan poet Stella Nyanzi was released in February after spending more than a year in prison for some words she wrote on Facebook. Uganda’s government says those words insulted President Yoweri Museveni.

While in prison, Nyanzi wrote a book of poems, called "No Roses from My Mouth." Her writings have influenced other people to use poetry to express their political opinions.

Now, Uganda’s government plans to appeal her recent acquittal.

Before her release in February, Stella Nyanzi was serving 18 months in prison for cyber-harassing the Ugandan president.

She was jailed last year for writing on Facebook in 2018 that she wished Museveni had died as a fetus. She blamed him for her country’s many problems.

“I sit on the...prison beddings spread on the floor, lean against the wall…and write whatever I please…what freedom to write," Nyanzi said. She added that her writings were often taken by prison guards during body searches, but she continued to write as a form of resistance.

After her sentencing, some Ugandan writers were afraid to criticize the government. Free speech was quieted.

Nyanzi supporters were pleased by her decision to use her poetry to take on politics. But others are still too frightened to publish.

Danson Kahyana works for the Department of Literature at Makerere University. He says he wrote a book that he decided not to publish because he does not have the courage of Nyanzi.

“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 officials repeatedly have detained Nyanzi for criticizing Museveni, who has served as president for 34 years.

Although a high court canceled the cyber-harassment charge against her, Uganda’s public prosecutor continues to say that Nyanzi’s Facebook post were illegal.

Jacquelyn Okui is spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office. She said the government is appealing the high court’s ruling and will continue bringing legal action against Nyanzi.

Other poets like Daphine Arinda are learning what it means to try to speak freely 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.

Arinda has written poetry about Nyanzi.

"Nails darkened from a walk amongst trees, that’s her, that’s her, ask no more who she is, who, who, who she is,” she wrote.

For now, Nyanzi lives at her home, waiting for her next court appearance. No one is sure when that will be.

I’m Ashley Thompson.

VOA’s Halima Athumani reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

acquittal – n. the decision that someone is not guilty

cyber-harass – v. to use online resources to annoy or bully someone

fetus – n. a human being just before it is born

lean – v. to arch one's body against something

courage – n. bravery

prosecutor – n. one who represents the state or the court in a criminal case

confidence – n. the belief that one can succeed

pursue – v. to chase, or to try to achieve