The prosecution of controversial Makerere researcher Dr Stella Nyanzi sparked a firestorm on social media platforms, information pills with government officials admitting that the situation should have been handled better.
International media houses quickly picked the phrase “pair of buttocks” as stated on Nyanzi’s charge sheet thus attracting global attention.
While Nyanzi was a little known local activist, visit web yesterday’s events gave her an international platform to ravage the President’s reputation.
Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said police and prosecutors while seeking to enforce the law, “in my view unnecessarily introduced hyperbole by specifically drawing in the President’s name when there are instances Nyanzi has used the same harassment against other persons.”
Several intellectuals have argued that Nyanzi should have been ignored and would eventually lose steam.
Dr Muniini Mulera, an influential opinion leader said, “Whoever chose “a pair of buttocks” as the charge against Stella Nyanzi either had a wish to insult the president or has a challenged IQ.'”
Opondo told ChimpReports in an exclusive interview on Tuesday afternoon that if government “was better coordinated, it has information which should have been thrown in the fray to make better news, and sink-out Nyanzi and publicity antics of her lawyers and supporters in court or media.”
Opondo, however doesn’t believe that Nyanzi is being penalized for her criticism of government or President Museveni but rather “going overboard with profanity that many see as offending common norms and values.”
He somehow departs from several observers’ view that government should entirely ignore Nyanzi.
Opondo said Nyanzi insulted Museveni a public figure and that tomorrow “she or another person could do the same to a private citizen.”
Asked what he makes of the entire saga, Opondo observed that social media is a good tool like any other but “is being exploited by all sorts of people sometimes to settle unknown scores well knowing it’s hard to catch them.”
Many liberal-minded Ugandans say irrespective of Nyanzi’s obscenities, she articulates issues that affect the common man such as need for sanitary pads for school girls.
Some sections of the public further argue that Nyanzi won the public’s heart for speaking out against Museveni’s stay in power.
Opondo said the Nyanzi situation “tells us that there are people with afflictions or grievances that government should pay attention to even when flimsy.”
He added: “Also, that perhaps government officials are slightly out of touch with the inner feelings of those they lead, so sometimes even valid criticisms may be taken to mean an affront on authority hence some of the apparent high-handedness.”
While human rights groups blasted government for arresting Nyanzi, Opondo maintained that Uganda respects freedom of speech and expression which “shouldn’t be denied, and abused by citizens. We should have decorum to promote a vibrant and healthy discourse of public affairs. In that sense, the available laws should be enforced.”
Asked whether government had learnt lessons from the Nyanzi saga, Opondo said after thirty years of leading in very difficult situations government especially president Museveni “shouldn’t apply the laws mechanically, he has developed a thick skin to let certain criticisms just pass after all Nyanzi was saying nothing new or obnoxious to many ears.”
He then admitted: “But we the responsible officials or state organs have let down the President and government by acting foolishly overzealous thereby upgrading a would-be non-issue like Nyanzi or her campaign for pads like has been with Kizza Besigye in many instances. If ignored some of these people or causes would have fizzled out naturally with time.”
Opondo laughed at the idea that Nyanzi was being used to attract attention to critical issues affecting society and then gradually gain the weight of the critical mass behind opposition forces to oil the wheels of a possible revolution.
“I doubt Nyanzi or the forces behind her which is Besigye and company plus the LGBT lobby can sustain an extended political fight with us government on any issue,” said Opondo.
“She will cool down. As we say, every storm eventually subsidies,” he concluded.
Nyanzi was remanded at Luzira prison on charges related to offensive communication.