A pop star turned politician, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, aka Bobi Wine, has mobilised the youth of the country behind him. Will it be enough to bring down the ruler of 34 years, President Yoweri Museveni?
With elections in Uganda less than a week away, the country is buzzing with political campaigns. The one candidate who has captured the popular imagination so far is Bobi Wine, a pop-star-turned politician who is running for president of Uganda, challenging incumbent leader Yoweri Museveni. The 38-year-old Wine’s real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, and he is known as the “ghetto president” as the BBC notes, mobilising young people with his campaign. His Twitter bio introduces him as “one Ghetto child who has something to say through Music.”
President Museveni, 76, has been in power for 34 years. He has won five elections since 1996. Election laws were changed to allow for politicians to serve as president for more than two terms in 2005, and the constitution was amended to allow candidates over 75 years to run, so that he may continue to remain in power if elected, the Guardian reports.
According to the Guardian, “it’s estimated that some 80% of Uganda’s population of 43 million was born after he first came to power in 1986.” Museveni is supported by rural residents and older voters, while Wine’s National Unity Platform party has the power of youth and the urban population behind it.
With the election only days away (Thursday January 14, 2020), the race has heated up and the opponents are hurling accusations at each other.
Bobi Wine has told Sky News in a recent interview that “he has been targeted with bullets and tear gas and ‘miraculously’ survived several attacks in the run-up to the vote.”
"It's not out of fashion to put on a bullet-proof jacket and a ballistic helmet," Wine said. "It was an effort to secure my life some more. That is after I survived gun attacks more than once, more than twice, I was targeted. My car was riddled with bullets, flattening old tyres. And on one occasion, the military shoot into the windscreen of my car.
"Miraculously, I'm still alive and nobody was shot dead in my car. However, many of my close allies have been shot dead."
On the other hand, speaking to the Guardian at his ranch in Kisozi, west of the capital Kampala, Mouseveni accused Wine of acting as “an agent of foreign interests” promoting homosexuality. “Western elements”, especially Europeans from countries he declined to name, were backing his rival, Museveni said in an interview.
“He gets quite a lot of encouragement from foreigners and homosexuals,” he said.
“Homosexuals are very happy with Bobi Wine. I think they even send him support.”
The Guardian notes that while traditionally, homosexuality was “tolerated” in Uganda, in recent years “evangelist pastors with a large following have whipped up hatred of gay people, turning it into a political issue.”
Homosexuals in Uganda may not necessarily prefer Wine over Museveni, since the former has also had expressed homophobic views.
As recently as 2014, gay rights activists asked Wine’s concerts in the UK to be banned because of his lyrics were against homosexuality. Both concerts in Birmingham and London ended up being cancelled.
Later, in 2016, Wine was asked if he had “renounced violence toward the LGBT community in Uganda?” by the ULC Monastery LGBTI. Wine didn’t give a direct answer, but tweeted that “in the past year I have advocated for peace and tolerance of different views. I despise violence.”
Wine was hauled out of his vehicle during an online news conference during which “he announced a petition to the international criminal court (ICC) to investigate rights abuses in [Uganda]”, the Guardian reports.
According to Wine, who wrote about the episode on Twitter on January 7, 2021 using the hashtag WeAreRemovingADictator, “The God we serve never sleeps! Today they arrested all the 23 members of our new campaign team & impounded the cars. They thought they had broken our back. I literally went to Namayingo alone. But this is how we were recieved! The wave is unstoppable!”
The God we serve never sleeps! Today they arrested all the 23 members of our new campaign team & impounded the cars. They thought they had broken our back. I literally went to Namayingo alone. But this is how we were recieved! The wave is unstoppable!#WeAreRemovingADictator pic.twitter.com/uMv17SCWcq— BOBI WINE (@HEBobiwine) January 7, 2021
According to the Guardian, Museveni, “who came to power in 1986 by defeating Milton Obote in a bush war, said he was still ‘a freedom fighter.’ After the atrocities committed by Obote and previously by Idi Amin, he stabilised the country and encouraged foreign investment. However, Uganda remains amongst the poorest countries in the world.”
Acknowledging that the youth of the country feel disenfranchised, nevertheless Museveni suggests that they owe their lives to him: “‘Those youth who feel marginalised, that’s a healthy internal force,’ said the president, pointing out that young people had only survived because of immunisation programmes he had introduced.”
Museveni told the Guardian “You think the problem of Uganda is because I’ve been in government for a long time. But we don’t agree with that – as long as it is decided on democratically.”
Wine, on the other hand, has told Sky News that the election "is being stolen and rigged", and suggested that it’s not the democratic gentlemanly game that Museveni claims it is.
"By the mere fact that I was arrested on the day of nomination, that I've been blocked from campaigns, that my posters are not allowed to be there, that I'm not allowed to have any billboards, that I'm blocked from radio and TV stations, that I'm a presidential candidate who's not allowed to drive on main roads or even to address people in towns - that's a rig."
Wine told Sky News he will not give up his fight: "This is our only opportunity," he said. "We are non-violent. So we are using this election as a protest to speak - and speak loudly."
Thumbnail file photo: Ugandan presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, reacts from inside a police van, in Luuka district, eastern Uganda November 18, 2020. (Reuters/Abubaker Lubowa)
Headline file photo: Ugandan opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine (C), is escorted by policemen during his arrest in Kalangala in central Uganda December 30, 2020. (Reuters)