/ 26 May 2020

“I was just running along with police as they dragged her”

Uganda Health Virus Demonstration
Stella Nyanzi (C), a prominent Ugandan activist and government critic, is arrested by police officers as she organised a protest for more food distribution by the government to people who has been financially struggling by the nationwide lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Kampala, on May 18, 2020. (Photo by SUMY SADURNI / AFP)

“It all happened quite fast,” recalls photographer Sumy Sadurni, who took the photograph above. It was Monday in central Kampala, and she was covering a demonstration being led by Stella Nyanzi: the academic, poet, activist and virulent government critic. This time, Nyanzi was protesting against Uganda’s coronavirus containment measures, which she says are inflicting disproportionate suffering on the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

“She got dragged by police almost as soon as she started her demonstration, with around 10 supporters that were with her,” said Kampala-based Sadurni, a Women Photograph member and stringer for AFP. “With that specific picture I was just running along with police as they dragged her. They stopped for a second as they were opening the police van so I kneeled down and I wanted to get her face close up, but wanted to include her pulling away from police — so that was the fast thinking behind the framing.”

The police said that Nyanzi has been arrested for inciting violence.

The image has already received widespread acclaim. “Iconic,” declared writer Rosebell Kagumire. “What a photo, what a fighter!”

“I think the impact is because she’s representing how many, many Ugandans are feeling right now,” said Sadurni. “She’s angry, so are many Ugandans. She’s frustrated, so are Ugandans and she’s desperate, as everyone else is. The government did a good job with locking down fast, and they’re testing effectively and are also good with tracing contacts. But the economic impact on people here has been extreme, and food distribution has been very slow unfortunately.”

This article was first published in The Continent, the new pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here