The nude protest by Dr. Stella Nyanzi, a research fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), in response to the closure of her office by Dr. Mahmood Mamdani, her boss, has triggered an understandable public uproar. Yet she was not the first woman to use her nakedness as a protest against a “system” she felt had stripped her of her dignity as a human being.

There is a very long history of African women using nakedness to demonstrate their anger and frustration and to curse their perceived oppressors.

justice des hommes

Space does not allow even a partial listing of examples of perfectly sane women who resorted to nakedness in a desperate fight for justice. A few will do.

In 1949, about 2,000 women in colonial Cote D’Ivoire stripped naked and danced in a protest outside the prison in the city of Grand Bassam where their husbands were incarcerated because of their struggle for independence. Similar nude female protests have become a regular event in post-independent Cote D’Ivoire.

In 1990, South African women stripped naked when the Apartheid police attempted to raze to the ground the dwellings of poor Soweto women. The Transvaal Provincial Administration backed down and granted them the land.

In 1992, Kenya’s Wangari Maathai, together with seven rural women on hunger strike against the repressive President Daniel arap Moi, stripped naked when police attacked them with clubs and teargas. The police wisely fled, fearing deadly consequences of the curse of the naked woman, which included male impotence, madness, blindness and even death.

Maathai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, became a revered figure in East Africa and around the world. She was not mentally ill. Her nude protest was no different from Stella Nyanzi’s.

Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian woman stripped to protest the stalled peace talks during that country’s second civil war. 200 other women joined her in stripping.

In 2002, women in Niger Delta of Nigeria stripped to protest pollution and environmental damage and decay that were a consequence of untamed oil processing. It worked.

In January 2016, a group of women exposed their bare buttocks to the cameras at the Tshwane regional office of the African National Congress. They were protesting against the anti-democratic practices in their party.

In 2015, women in Apaa Village in Amuru District, Uganda, stripped naked in front of then Internal Affairs Minister Aronda Nyakairima and Lands Minister Daudi Migereko to protest against an attempted land grab by the government.

The two ministers literally retreated and the armed police were rendered powerless. The women got their land back.

Asked why they had used nudity to make their point, Magdalena Alum said: “I undressed because I am hurting a lot. This is my grandfather’s land. Now I have nothing.”

The total nudity of the Amuru peasant women did not generate the kind of uproar that greeted Dr. Nyanzi’s version in which she left her genital area covered.

Evidently in Uganda we have class-dependent moral differentiation. The naked bodies of our less educated and weather-beaten sisters are less sinful and less provocative than one whose owner has a PhD. So they don’t warrant an order of arrest from Rev. Father Simon Lokodo, Minister of Ethics and Integrity.

Take a look at the reaction of Uganda’s morality police to numerous incidents of gross injustice against citizens. The naked hypocrisy of the uproar against Stella Nyanzi’s nudity becomes very evident.

The Uganda police attempted to undress Kampala Woman MP Nabilah Sempala. They grabbed and fondled Ingrid Turinawe’s breast. They undressed Hamida Nassimbwa as they dragged her on the tarmac near Parliament Buildings in Kampala. The list is very long. In each incident, there was deafening silence from the clergy and most of our morally upright citizens.

The regular torture of Dr. Kizza Besigye does not register on the radar of the morality police.

When the militarized police beat and teargased Bishop Zac Niringiye in Mbale, there was not a squeal from his ordained Anglican colleagues or from the good Rev. Father Lokodo who wants Dr. Nyanzi arrested.

This is the same Lokodo who stated in a BBC interview in 2014 that raping of children was better than homosexuality. This was after he had informed the interviewer that his mandate was “to empower Ugandans to uphold moral values and principles.”

Presumably these moral values and principles exclude just governance and equitable sharing of the country’s limited resources.

The moral hypocrisy is everywhere in the land. One of Uganda’s bestselling daily newspapers is the Red Pepper whose specialty is feeding the pornographic desires of the same population that is up in arms because Dr. Nyanzi stripped. Yet her mission was not to arouse male hormones, but to shock the power centre at Makerere into acting on what she perceived to be an injustice.

There is something in Uganda called a kimansulo, which I gather is commercialized nudity that is patronized by the moneyed men of the land.

Then there is the epidemic of adultery by the same self-declared custodians of morality. Many children have been born to the girlfriends of the country’s married political elite, some of whom have been abandoned with their mothers. I personally know some.

I do not approve of public nudity regardless of one’s gender. It goes against my own values, my upbringing, my worldview and, above all, my Christian faith.

I frown at Stella Nyanzi’s profanities that pepper her otherwise brilliant writing. Had she sought my advice, I would have strongly urged her against stripping naked.

However, I recognize the historical reality of female nudity as a legitimate, powerful and effective mode of protest. Dr. Nyanzi just proved it once again.

Ms. Tep Vanny, one of ten Cambodian women who stripped off their clothes in April 2012 to demand land titles for residents evicted from an area that had been handed over to private developers of luxury homes, said:

“As Cambodian women with dignity we don’t want to be naked, but because of too much suffering we have run out of patience. Cambodian women are gentle, but we now have no patience. When we strip in protest, it means we are desperate.”

Ms. Vanny and colleagues were not mentally ill. They felt pushed against the wall. They won the fight – with their naked bodies.




24 Responses to “Stella Nyanzi’s nudity and the hypocrisy of the morality police”

  1. Julius Mulera

    Muniini….I hear u loud and clear my brother. However in this case I strongly suspect Ms Nyanzi is mad…!

    • I totally agree with you Julius Mulera. I think by trying so had to disprove her mental issues, we are not only unknowingly adding to the stigma that mental health has, but also denying the best way forward in terms of management. For example, if it was malaria or any other non stigmatising illness, few would take as much interest in trying to prove whether she is sick or not. The signs exhibited prior to her nudity, pointed to a pre morbid personality for some of us who didn’t know her. Later actions, as is expected of such individuals at places of work, simply points to something not right….the best we as a public could do is not to try so hard to prove that someone is normal…it’s important for a proper assessment by clinicians..mental health ones least to avoid a missed opportunity.

      • Muniini K. Mulera

        You make interesting observations Lydia. Of course you may be right. However, we can only base our assumptions on what we observe and historical precedents. Furthermore, I think that to understand Stella Nyanzi, we must first study her world – her professional world.

        What intrigues me is that had she been the conformist type and agreed to teach in the PhD program, this situation would probably not have arisen. Clearly Mahmoud Mamdani did not consider her insane. To the contrary, he considered her worthy of the privilege to stand before PhD scholars.

        I always tell medical learners that one of the mistakes one can make in medicine is to start with a diagnosis and then fit in the evidence to support it. The shock of Dr. Nyanzi’s nudity and her language have compelled people like Julius Mulera to diagnose mental illness. Finding the symptoms to fit the diagnosis is easy.

        Confession: I have lived in North America too, too long to be shocked by the profanities that people breathe out like CO2. If we were to use language as a diagnostic criteria, then the New World would be apsychiatric nightmare.

  2. Hypocrisy just, hanling issues whoch are less important to the citizenly

  3. When peasant women stripped naked infront of Aronda Nyakairima in Apaa village, he did not live long. Their curse was too strong him. Now Dr. Stella Nyanzi has done the same, l fear for the life of Dr. Mamdani because Ugandan women nudity is a very strong curse.

  4. George Bhima

    The historical, social and political background of the stripping protests has been well explored and contextualised. There is also the ‘doublespeak oxymoron’ of a minister for ethics and integrity pronouncing on the matter. I would posit that neither ethics nor integrity are the governing motives behind the call for a citizen to be arrested.

    • Muniini K. Mulera

      George, it amazes me that a minister, in complete disregard of the Constitution, empowers himself to order the arrest of a citizen and is not called out on it.

  5. Michael Kakuru

    Ebya Lokodo tiwabireba omu Kampala sun. Kwiba abakazi Ba abandi. He is quick to point out other people’s “speck in the eye” ayegwire impimbi omu lisho.
    (There allegations against Lokodo in a Kampala newspaper which, if true suggest a deep hypocrisy.)


    Brilliant post. I also highly doubt whether Nyanzi’s stripping was the peak of immorality in Uganda as has been reactions by the so called morality crusaders. Yet like Mr Munini, I also frowns at her ‘profanities that pepper her otherwise brilliant writing, ‘

    • Muniini K. Mulera

      Thank you Oscar. One thing we should bear in mind is that Dr. Stella Nyanzi’s subject of study and expertise is human sexuality and queer theory. I will have something to say about this in a few days.

    • I don’t think that multiple wrongs make a right…other God would have looked the other way in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah . No her writing is fixated on profanity….let me spell it out…coprolalia as is evident in this case, the burning urge to revenge, the lack of respect for superiors, and of course compounded by nudity without a care in the world all together points to one thing….mental illness. That is what I go by. Doctors are taught to use history…signs and symptoms as well as investigations all help to reach a final diagnosis…but remember, it is history and a very good one that points to which way to go, with what to look for and how to investigate. In this case, if you had back up history from close friends, relatives and other association, you might have been in a much better situation to make a meaningful conclusions. For now, the examples of nude revolutionalists, are not in any way related to this particular case….

  7. Beatrice Hamujuni-Smith

    An excellent piece once again Daktari while agree with the method of protest, I am yet to see evidence that Stella had exhausted all avenue available to her as an employee.

    • Muniini K. Mulera

      Thank you Beatrice. I think that is part of the process under investigation now. The report will be interesting and instructive.

  8. Rog Kalen

    Awesome piece of information, worthy reading and meditating of Uganda’s actions and responses towards a peaceful demo.

  9. Moses Katumba

    I thank you Dr. Mulera for this piece of dimension on the case of Dr. Stella Nyanzi. However, as I read through your responses to your beloved audience here, I developed a sense that she may be accused for not exhausting all the available avenues before protesting. I believe that Dr. Stella Nyanzi knows the nature of cause of her troubles and how hard it would be to get back the office. I find that some normal procedures of settling disputes have become academic. Take for example the issues of the lord mayor of Kampala! To this end she chooses the hardest solution. “Semusotagulimuntamu”. “Ennyanja ekutta omira”

    • Muniini K. Mulera

      Ndugu Katumba, so that I do not mutilate the language, kindly translate the two Luganda sayings into English.


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