This Ugandan reggae star just became an MP

“Ghetto President” Bobi Wine brings his crusade for social justice and equality to Uganda’s Parliament.

Photo by: (AFP)
Photo by: (AFP)

Bobi Wine transformed himself gradually from party-loving, flashy popster to a champion of ordinary Ugandans and a crusader against the social status quo.

Ugandan reggae star Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, also known as Bobi Wine, has taken the oath of office on Tuesday as a member of Parliament for Kampala’s Kyaddondo East Constituency in central Uganda.

Thousands of Wine’s supporters took to the streets to escort him to the Ugandan Parliament for the swearing-in ceremony.

Wine gained 77 percent of the votes as an independent candidate in a by-election held on June 30, defeating established candidates from both President Yoweri Museveni's ruling NRM and the main opposition FDC parties.

For many who call Wine the “Ghetto President”, he embodies the struggles, frustrations and hopes of the young, poor and marginalised in a nation where elderly rulers can often seem dismissive of their plight.

A very personal transformation

His victory marks a remarkable personal journey for the charismatic reggae star from brash, slum-dwelling youth to a sharp-suited and savvy political operator.

“As an independent, he may find it difficult to push through any agenda he has. And it’s not yet clear what that might be," Jamie Hitchen, a policy researcher at Africa Research Institute told TRT World. "He has spoken with passion on the campaign trail but turning words into deeds might prove difficult.”

The 35-year old star grew up in Kamwokya, one of Kampala's poorest slums. After working as a backing singer, he studied music and drama at the country’s most prestigious centres of learning, Makarere University.

Wine rose to prominence about a decade ago with catchy, upbeat tunes in an East African reggae style, quickly becoming a tabloid sensation.

But he transformed himself gradually from party-loving, flashy popster to a champion of ordinary Ugandans and a crusader against the social status quo.

His hit songs touched on issues of poverty, social justice and human rights violations.

Bobi Wine is a critic of President Museveni and has amassed huge public support which won him a seat in parliament by an overwhelming majority. (AFP)

Wine champions causes

President Yoweri Museveni extended his 30-year rule last year by winning a fifth term in the presidential election amid allegations of intimidation and vote fraud.

During the election week, opposition candidate Kizza Besigye was arrested at least five times.

However, when other Ugandan stars got on the stage to sing for Museveni's 2016 election campaign, Wine refused the cash and withstood the pressure.

Instead, he released a song Dembe, which means "freedom" in the local Luganda language, calling for non-violence in a country where elections are a time of tear gas, gunfire and heavy-handed police.

"I feel as if I know him somehow and I appreciate the things he has done for us. He's been singing about the dictatorship and their brutality," 27-year old Hamidu Mubiru, a market trader said.

Turning words into deeds

However, Hitchen is sceptical whether Wine's victory can be replicated across the country.  

“For those who think that Wine's victory points towards a reinvigorated youth engaging in politics across the board, it is also important to remember that Wine's election was unique in many ways,” Hitchen said. “His ability to self-finance and personal popularity were two key factors in his victory – making it hard to see how his model of success could be replicated in other parts of Uganda.”

In addition, he will have to work hard not to disappoint the impoverished, urban youth who look to him for hope and change.

Author: Mucahid Durmaz

TRTWorld and agencies