Bobi Wine: The Ghetto president behind Uganda’s new revolution
Nov. 20, 2020
For Robert Kyagulanyi, alias ‘Bobi Wine’, Kenya has always been home. It is where he had honed his artistry, recording in local studios for more than 10 years and became East Africa’s dancehall king.
He headlined several local concerts, won the respect of his peers and built a major fan base. He called Nairobi his second home and joked about relocating to the city.
In 2017, he moved away from showbiz and flashy showcases of his cars and houses and announced his arrival into elective politics. It was the latest interlude for the music, dance and drama graduate from Makerere University, who later studied law at the International University of East Africa.
He defied Uganda President Yoweri Museveni to emphatically win the Kyadondo County East Constituency seat as an independent candidate.
And a short three years later, aged 38, the singer-turned-politician has become the new face of Uganda’s opposition politics, putting him on a collision path with the 76-year-old president.
And on Tuesday, his arrest led to the country’s worst protests in a decade, with the police saying at least 16 people had been killed by yesterday.
Bobi Wine was detained in Luuku town, ostensibly for flouting Covid-19 protocols after his supporters failed to wear masks at his rally.
An administrator of his Twitter page announced: “Upon reaching Jinja, Hon Kyagulanyi has been detained at the famous Nabukenya torture house. The price of freedom is high but we shall certainly overcome.”
The arrest sparked protests in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, which then spread to other parts the country.
“Police officers have been deployed in all major towns. Kyagulanyi is still under police custody, where he says he has been denied access to his lawyers. It’s getting ugly here,” said Irin Ubalo, a resident of Kampala who spoke to The Standard.
“Our innocent mothers are dying on the streets. Police are shooting to kill.”
Bobi Wine found his niche as the voice of the oppressed, using his music to address poverty and take on the politics of his home country.
His lyrics resonated with his fans, and as he moved further away from his humble beginnings, he began visiting Uganda’s poor neighbourhoods to build pit latrines, construct drainage systems and lead garbage collection and cleanups.
Together with his wife Barbara, a social worker, he visited hospitals to meet health workers, and teamed up with humanitarian organisations to deliver aid.
The self-titled Ghetto president of Uganda gained ground as a budding leader, and became a role model to many who admired his generosity, ambition and growing fame. As an artiste and professional boxer, he solidified his philosophy: the Ghetto President born to liberate the poor.
Now Bobi Wine is seen as Museveni’s main challenger in the January 2021 elections, where he is looking to end the president’s 34-year rule.
His growing following has put him at odds with the ruling National Resistance Movement, and on several occasions he has been stopped from performing in public, detained and beaten up.
In August 2018, rights activists in Kenya held peaceful demonstrations in Nairobi to demand Bobi’s release after a political rally turned chaotic, Museveni’s motorcade was attacked and Bobi Wine’s driver shot dead.
Bobi Wine launched his presidential campaign three weeks ago as the National Unity Platform party flag bearer. He is riding on his popularity, especially among young voters clamouring for political change, not just in Uganda but across the region.
His latest arrest has unified the country’s opposition politicians who have called off their rallies until his release.
It has not escaped their notice that while they are being held to higher standard on Covid-19, the ruling party continues to hold rallies at will and without due regard to health guidelines. Photos posted online show Museveni’s supporters marching in large groups without masks on.
Bobi Wine comes from a family with deep roots in Uganda’s politics. His grandfather was active in the politics that pushed former President Milton Obote from power. He was later killed. His son, Bobi Wine’s father, has also been a political detainee who was sentenced to death but later released.