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Fierce rights activist, but gentle parent

Many know Ugandan Dr Stella Nyanzi as a fearless human rights activist. But beyond her thick skin is a broken heart, an ex who turned gay and a loving single mother of three

 

Dr Stella Nyanzi is fearless, sometimes controversial. The academician and human rights activist would do anything to drive her point home. Just two years ago, she staged a half-nude protest against Mahmood Mamdani, Director of Makerere Institute of Social Research after being locked out of her office for refusing to teach; a requirement outside of her contract.

Dr Nyanzi at one time referred to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as a ‘pair of buttocks’ in a Facebook post, which saw her charged with making a remark that was “obscene or indecent.”

But away from this, Dr Nyanzi is a loving mother of three children. When pursuing her PhD in Social anthropology, Sexualities, Youth and Health Policy from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, she was in a relationship with a Gambian man. Their love culminated in the birth of her firstborn daughter, Baraka, born in London in 2005. She returned to Uganda in 2008 pregnant with twins. According to plans, her husband was to follow later, but he didn’t.

A few days after her return, she got a phone call from her him. And she received the most shocking news of her lifetime. “He revealed to me his long kept secret. He was a homosexual. He said he was going to seek asylum in the UK. He explained that the Gambian president had threatened to behead gay people found in his country, and therefore, it was easy for him to get asylum in UK,” Dr Nyanzi recalls.

She was devastated. “I nearly died. I cried for many days on end. I was puzzled about a million things in my marriage. I wondered how I got married to a bisexual without knowing. I wondered how to explain all this to my family and my children. I was so depressed that I had three miscarriage threats in my first and second trimesters. I survived the crisis only because of the unconditional love and support from my late father, mother and three sisters,” the 44-year-old who was in the country recently adds.

And then one day, just before delivering the twins, she decided to arise and thrive against all odds. “I killed my husband mentally and purposed to live resiliently as a widow with three young dependants,” says the single mother.

She is happy she has a great support system. Bringing up my three children as a single mother is a combined effort from family members and other people around my life, including my nanny, driver, among others,” she reveals, adding that she has had one housegirl for the last 10 years. Her driver beats Kampala traffic to ensure the children get to school on time.

And to Dr Nyanzi, no talk is a taboo. “I had the ‘condom talk’ with my daughter when she was 11. I explained the dangers of unprotected sex, without blinking,” she says.

And after 12 years of physical absence, her baby daddy recently announced he would come to see his children. “The children are excited. I, on the other hand, do not know whether to laugh or cry … You see, he has never seen our twin sons who are now gentle giants. His physical connection with them ended when he planted them in my belly. He last saw our beautiful teenage daughter at Heathrow Airport when she clung to him and cried loudly at their parting…When she was young, she strongly believed he was going to come for her. It was tough watching her little heart crash whenever she asked whether it was her fault that he was no longer in our lives,” she recalls.

Dr Nyanzi, however, says balancing activism and parenting is never easy. “I have been arrested several times. During these times, my family has always helped in taking care of my children,” she adds.

What about the nude protest? Was she afraid her children might come across her photos? “I had to prepare my children prior to going for the demonstration. I called my children and told them what I intended to do,” she says.

As Dr Nyanzi  admits, raising children while at the front of liberation struggle is not easy. She even teaches her children how to organise a peaceful demonstration. They also join her in some demonstrations. “My children are growing in this system that I am fighting. I cannot shield them from it,” she concludes.

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