PEN Prize Winner Kakwenza Rukirabashaija Brutalized Again in Uganda

He was first arrested in 2020, and last year shared his story in an interview with us. He was rearrested this new year.
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Kakwenza Rukirabashaija. Photograph - English PEN

Kakwenza Rukirabashaija. Photo credit: English PEN.

The Ugandan novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was again arrested and physically assaulted by the government in late January 2022. Kakwenza, who is 33, has been detained and tortured and released over the past two years for his criticism of his country’s totalitarian president, Yoweri Museveni, and his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba, a military general primed to take after his father, the country’s leader since 1986.

Open Country Mag interviewed Kakwenza in October 2021, after he was chosen by Tsitsi Dangarembga as the PEN International Writer of Courage. Following the April 2020 release of his novel The Greedy Barbarian, about political corruption, he was jailed and tortured. He was arrested again, that year’s September, for “inciting violence and promoting sectarianism.”

“I went through a lot,” Kakwenza said in his interview with Open Country Mag. “I was tortured to almost death. Hanging, waterboading, beatings. I was committed to court later, after seven days, pursuant to the writ of habeas corpus that had been issued by the high court and other organizations like Amnesty International and PEN International which advocated for my release.”

In his memoir, Banana Republic: Where Writing Is Treasonous, Kakwenza writes of his experience in Busesa Prison, where he spent 15 days. The next time they came, it was three days in a dungeon.

Since 2000, Kakwenza has criticized the Ugandan government, and has been persecuted like other writers—Professor Stella Nyanzi, most notably—with views against the dictatorial Musuveni.

After his most recent arrest, Kakwenza shared pictures of his body, his back crisscrossed by torture-induced scars. He captioned the Tweet: “How they secured my future.” On Facebook, he’d written, “For clarification, these are my photos. This is my newly decorated body. I won’t talk about the case now because I respect the court’s order not to discuss it.”

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In a comment to Open Country Mag, a person close to Kakwenza revealed that he is now out of detention on bail. “He is in much pain from the severe torture he underwent in custody,” they wrote. “He is getting the medical attention he needs.”

Kakwenza has previously said, “As they say, if you want to understand a country, read its writers, especially fiction. You cannot arrest a writer for simply mirroring the society in which he lives.”

Emmanuel Esomnofu
Emmanuel Esomnofu is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. He is a culture journalist and has written extensively on Nigerian music and on several moving parts of popular culture. His writing appears online in Native Mag, Okay Africa, Kalahari Review, Praxis Magazine, and elsewhere. He was published in print in The Muse, the oldest student journal in West Africa. In December 2020, he worked on "Fuji: A Opera" as a copywriter, creating informative and exciting stories from Fuji's rich history.

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