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Stella Nyanzi and the body of the condemned

If weaponizing the body to challenge society were a sin, it is not original to Stella Nyanzi.

It is not original to terrorists either. It is original to humanity – and governments. The body has been starved [hunger strikes] to challenge exploitation and deliver a political statement. It is starved for religious purification.

The body has been undressed in protest; immolated in cases of suicide [and suicide is a form of protest itself], cut to pieces as punishment, and other times burned. Bodies have been punished even in death. These acts make the human body a site for social-political negotiation and struggle – not simply labour, pleasure and beautification.

Thus, governing bodies through specific codes such as dressing, beautification, confinement [say in prisons], and other cultural confines is a technology of government. Like in moments of pleasure when the bodies are manipulated for pleasure, in moments of anger against the state, or in in the face of exploitation, individuals have tended to break this cycle of control – weaponizing their bodies in expression of their longing for a different course of life.  They may commit suicide, immolate themselves, starve or undress. 

The result is not a radical transformation – say collapse of government or the capitalist exploiter – but rather bringing upon discomfort, ignominy, chastisement and embarrassment on those oppressing their lives. Denigrated and embarrassed, the powerful are forced to slow down on their selfish exploits, and drop from their assumed high ground. To this end, Stella Nyanzi is winning.

The body of the condemned: In the 1600s, the Catholic church in Europe had mastered the art of turning the body of the condemned into cinematic spectacle. The guilty were exposed to the most excruciating pains and bodily torment imaginable.

Newspapers of this time are replete with stories where the guilty are practically burned alive from the feet upwards; burning wax would be placed on their skins, their limbs would be dismembered from their bodies using horses pulling in different directions.

Parts of their flesh would be opened with sharp piercers, and quickly after filled with boiling iron.  Their eyes would slowly be gorged out one by one, momentarily allowing the full-scale of pain to sink in. 

Grown-ups would weep like babies, begging for pardon and priests overseeing the procedures never flinched a single bit. Before their bodies were drained of all life, they would be dragged through the streets, living solid traces of blood and excrement.

But that was never the end. Even in death, the body would still be punished, a regicide or heretic, after a brutal death would be left to decompose above ground as scavengers, vultures and wild dogs feasted on their dead bodies in the open.  The stench of rotting human flesh of the condemned engulfed entire towns, sending a powerful “pastoral” message.

With the rise of the Enlightenment, which gave us the French revolution of 1789, the church gave way to the liberal state. But the infrastructure of punishing and focusing on the body remained. Torture, prison cells, death sentences – may not be a spectacle anymore – but have remained unchanged.

By throwing the condemned in jail, just like the church, present states still target the body of the victim, seeking to deprive it of the pleasures of life. The body is thus deprived of intimacy, copulation and movement. Is it not strange that this technology of depriving the body of these pleasures is meant to reform the individual – and offer others lessons?

Anyways, before these afflictions could be meted out onto Stella Nyanzi’s body – as she had been condemned - this iron lady offered to turn this logic of punishing bodies onto its head: to the excitement of her cheering fans, she turned her body into the institution condemning the state itself.

Before her body would be deprived of its pleasures, she weaponised it. Playing on the moral airs of the judiciary [by extension the state] as the vanguard of good, she offered the absolute chastisement of this institution.

One can say, Nyanzi actually punished the body of the judiciary depriving it of its appeal as an honourable institution. In her singular act, the body of the judiciary became the condemned, and hitting the presiding judge with an empty water bottle simply completed the symbolism.


The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.


+1 #1 Akot 2019-08-07 14:42
In short, there is no justice for Ugandans, but the fake justice ensures Museveni rules for life without opposition, without defiance!

It's high time tribal leaders, army, police, justice demand rise in pay as they serve Museveni with pride, perfection, even without him asking them to!

It will be so so stupid if Ugandans vote in mps again!

Not bringing down the tribalistic system, no UNITY against Museveni means Ugandans still need/want him!

So why go for another fake presidential election when he is the only winner?

Amin, with practically no education, was cleaverer & more man than Museveni; didn't need tribal leaders nor parliament/mps!

So, when is Museveni dissolving posts of tribal leaders, closing parliament & just rule a people who want him & no other, not even young mp Bobi Wine?
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0 #2 juwait kali 2019-08-07 15:19
The last article you wrote was in support of this Government and how muhoozi would make a good president.

Now you are mourning about Stella nyanzi and the injustices. Soon it will be you. At least Uganda gave your parents a home when they first arrived from Burundi.
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+1 #3 WADADA roger 2019-08-07 18:37
There are cases be it civil or criminal that lag in court for years due to absence of witnesses, what is or what was special about Nyanzi's case that it had to be concluded immediately just because she had failed to provide witnesses to defend her case, I think she had all the reasons however unfortunate to behave the way she did during sentencing.
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0 #4 Lakwena 2019-08-08 10:24
Thank you Yusuf for the graphic expression of what human beings are capable of doing to teach other, in the name of enforcing conformity to subjective and unjust norms (inhumanity).

I just hope they don't turn it upside down, into accusing you of "offensive communication and cyber harassment" of the state.

In other words, even deep inside the penitentiary, Dr. Nyanzi is un-punishable. it is as futile like threatening a suicide bomber with instant death.
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0 #5 Lakwena 2019-08-08 10:32
Eventually, when many Ugandans reach the state of Dr. Stella Nyanzi's resolve, maybe then, maybe- those in position of abusing power will start leaving town.

Eish! This is because even violence meted out and deaths executed with precision will not deter Ugandans from marching on to the promise land: freedom where there is not not milk and honey but human dignity.
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+3 #6 Lysol 2019-08-09 01:58
Any struggle needs sacrifice, suffering and sometimes even torture( death) and humiliation.

Stella is setting an example here. If you persevere God may answer your prayers. Unfortunately there are a few Ugandans like her who can do the same.
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+1 #7 sula 2019-08-09 11:47
No doubt there is a lot that has gone wrong and still continuing to go wrong in our country.

1- The likes of Kizza Besigye have taken a ballot route, they are brutalized.

2-Mbabzi took the court route injustice ,
3- The Bobi Wines ,the ordinary supporters are flogged to death !

So ,So , If Nyanzi is wrong what avenue should she use ?
Secondly those who criticise her , what has been their contribution towards making things better ?
Congrats Stella , may God give you more strength.
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0 #8 Jwariakoli 2019-08-12 18:34
The Stella Nyanzi case has got me to think really hard.She has done what she believes is right, and has been subjected to a humiliating suffering for it.

I was expecting the usual moralists, human rights activists, womens rights activiists, academicians, literary giants, religious leaders - in short people who claim to be very learned, reasonable and care deeply for others, to come to her aid.

But, Alas! none of them showed up, not even a single person, probably fearing to be contaminated by her 'foulness'

Of course, there are more stinking saints outside. Surely, Stella can not be as bad as this! Certainly, she deserves much better.

This clearly shows that if there is going to be a fight for a better Uganda, it will have to come from the 'wretched of the country' but not the elite. Stella baby, courage my dear! Time to know your real people.
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0 #9 Lakwena 2019-08-13 09:10
Quoting Jwariakoli:
The Stella Nyanzi case has got me to think really hard.She has done what she believes is right, and has been subjected to a humiliating suffering for it.

... This clearly shows that if there is going to be a fight for a better Uganda, it will have to come from the 'wretched of the country' but not the elite. Stella baby, courage my dear! Time to know your real people.

But Jwariakoli, I think Dr. Stalla Nyazi is a mile ahead or above any form of humiliation. What insult and/or maltreatment can humiliate Nyanzi?

In other words, if she could and can still humiliate Mr. M7, who and what can humiliate Dr. Nyanzi? E.g., undressing Nyanzi in the Square can't humiliate her.

If ever they identify with Dr. Nyanzi; those you mentioned hereabove can't step forward because they risk irreversible humiliation.
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