STELLA NYANZI: The Brash Activist

Stella Nyanzi, born 16 June 1974, is a Ugandan human rights activist, poet, medical anthropologist, feminist, queer rights activist, and scholar of sexuality, family planning, and public health. She was arrested in 2017 for insulting the Ugandan president.


Stella Nyanzi received her Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication and Literature at Makerere University where she studied from 1993 to 1996.

She received her MSc. in Medical Anthropology at University College London where she studied from 1999 to 2000.
She received her PhD in Anthropology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where she studied social anthropology, sexuality, and youth and health policy from 2003 to 2008.
She has conducted research on youth sexuality in Uganda, and also in The Gambia in 2005.

Stella Nyanzi began her career in 1997 as a Social Science Research Associate at the Medical Research Council (UK) Programme in Uganda ,where she worked until September 2002.
She then received a new position working as Local Anthropologist at the Medical Research Council Laboratories, The Gambia, where she worked for one year.

She left that position to pursue her PhD in London.
In 2009, Stella Nyanzi began at Makerere University as a Researcher at the Law, Gender & Sexuality Research Project, as a member of the Faculty of Law, where she worked until December 2013.

She then worked as a Research Fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research until 2016. While there, she was asked to lecture in the new PhD programme, called the Mamdani PHD Project, but declined. Her office was closed and, in an example of the West African feminist cultural practice, she made a nude protest against her boss.
After her arrest in 2017, she was suspended from Makerere University.

She appealed the decision with Makerere University’s appeal tribunal, which directed that she be reinstated, promoted to the level of a research fellow with immediate effect, and paid back wages. The university refused to abide by its tribunal’s decision. So, she filed a lawsuit against the university requesting reinstatement and back wages. In response, in December 2018, the university dismissed her, along with 45 other academics, arguing that her contract expired.

Stella Nyanzi has also done consultation work for various social research organizations outside of Uganda and The Gambia.


Stella Nyanzi is notorious for what scholars have called “radical rudeness,” which is a traditional Ugandan strategy of calling the powerful to account through public insult. It was developed during the colonial era, as “a rude, publicly celebrated strategy of insults, scandal mongering, disruption, and disorderliness that broke conventions of colonial friendship, partnership, and mutual benefit.”
She has campaigned for the rights of Ugandan women, youth, and LGBTQIA+ people.
On 6 March 2017, Stella Nyanzi launched the Pads4girlsUg Project, due to her concerns about girls missing school because they could not afford menstrual products.

She collected thousands of re-usable pads and distributed them to school girls and also offered lectures to school children about menstrual health.

She remains one of Africa’s most prominent activists, despite attempts by the leadership of the Ugandan government to stifle her voice and make life tough for her. Upon the reelection of Yoweri Museveni as Ugandan President, she went on exile in order to protect herself from potential harassment from his administration.

By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi

Oluwamayowa Akinyemi

Oluwamayowa Akinyemi is a digital and web content developer with experience in web content development and management as well as research and writing. He is an avid reader of random subject matters and a sucker for movies and video games. He is also passionate about youth empowerment and is a global affairs analyst and enthusiast.

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