In Summary

  • Criticism is a reminder that citizens trusted you to deliver on your promises.
  • I hope the government realises that citizens have the right to demand action and delivery of services promised.

Ngugi Wa Thiongo, wrote in Wizard of the Crow, “The condition of women in a nation is the real measure of its progress.” As I write this article, I cannot help but reflect on Dr Stella Nyanzi’s sanitary pad campaign and her subsequent suspension from Makerere Institute of Social Research. Is this suspension fair by any standard? Or is it another example of the powerful preying on the weak.
The Russian-American novelist Any Rand elucidated, “Do not keep silent when your own ideas and values are being attacked. If a dictatorship ever comes to this country, it will be by the fault of those who keep silent. We are still free enough to speak. Do we have time? No one can tell.”

In my humble opinion, Dr Nyanzi was calling out the government on their failure to deliver on the promise of providing school girls with sanitary pads. I think she was rightly outraged by the government’s continued hypocrisy. As a citizen, Dr Nyanzi has every right to critique and remind government leaders why they were elected to power. The Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka stated, “The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism.” Unfortunately, leaders in the Pearl of Africa will not condone criticism. It is very chilling that the leading academic institutions in the country suspended Dr Nyanzi. This is reminiscent of what ‘Marie Antoinette’ would have demanded. Why suspend a lecturer who criticises government leaders for not having the integrity to keep a promise as basic as that of providing sanitary pads?

I am forced to believe Makerere University is another tool being used to subjugate Ugandans. Last year, the university scrapped off courses such as Ethics and Human Rights, a course that equips students with the ability to criticise unethical practices and State violations of human rights. This decision was very chilling to many of us students. Our efforts to see this decision reversed fell on deaf ears.
Are we not free to speak up in our own country? When did criticising the government become a crime? On many occasions the top leadership has made outrageous statements such as, “I am not anybody’s servant.” Or, “Go eat your mother’s something something,” and gotten away with it. The much celebrated Nelson Mandela said, “I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people.” Perhaps our leaders should learn something from him.

Criticism is a reminder that citizens trusted you to deliver on your promises. I hope the government realises that citizens have the right to demand action and delivery of services promised. Citizens must speak up because failure to do so is a huge mistake. Leaders who fail to respond to the demands, cries, and suffering of their people lose legitimacy. We have a crisis at hand. The biggest challenge in this crisis is lack of good leaders. If we are to move forward, Uganda urgently needs leaders with integrity; individuals who are reliable, responsive, and transparent.
Brian Nasala,
brianasala@gmail.com