Uganda’s president is fighting youthful opposition with old methods

Bobi Wine, in happier days.
Bobi Wine, in happier days.
Image: AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi
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Bobi Wine has always been able to pull a big crowd, but this week his popularity with his fans has led to clashes with police.

One person was killed and five others were wounded yesterday (Aug. 20) when supporters protested for the release of the popular musician turned member of parliament. The demonstrators, mostly young Ugandans, are said to have chanted “people power, our power.” Police labeled the protests riots as protesters barricaded streets in downtown Kampala and caused unrest in Mityana, a town 50 kilometers from the capital.

“Some groups of youths have participated in a riot and they are being handled…we’re stopping the riot,” police spokesman Emilian Kayima told Reuters.

Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, remains in detention in a military barracks as the hashtag #FreeBobiWine gains popularity. He was arrested last week after his supporters clashed with those of president Yoweri Museveni. Wine appeared in a military court on Thursday, showing what supporters called signs of torture. More than 30 people were arrested but the rest all appeared in civilian court.

“Bobi cannot stand on his own. He has a swollen face—very deformed,” his wife Barbie Kyagulanyi said in a statement. “At first sight, it is very unlikely that you would recognize him.”

Museveni dismissed news of Wine’s injuries as “fake news,” referring to Wine as an “indisciplined [SIC] grandson.”

“Anybody who is a friend of the young politicians like Bobi Wine should advise them that short cuts like cheating, importing voters, intimidating the voters of the other side, ballot stuffing etc. will lead them and Uganda to doom,” Museveni said.

In detaining Wine, Ugandan security officials have raised his profile. On Wine’s Facebook page, which has more than 800,000 followers, supporters shared heroic images of him as a man of the people. It’s a far cry from the sunglasses-wearing, tailor-suited celebrity who shoots a TV show from his lakeside mansion.

As a musician, Wine styled himself as the “ghetto president” and sang protest songs. Once in Museveni’s cabinet, he remained true to his constituency, releasing music that was banned by the very government he was now a part of.

The 36-year-old embarrassed Museveni in October when he exposed that lawmakers were bribed for their support in scrapping age limits for the presidency. Wine said he received 29 million Ugandan shillings ($8,000) and asked his bank to return it to the sender before exposing the corruption on social media.

In June, he came out strongly against Uganda’s new social media tax and urged young people in the region to speak out against increasing internet crackdowns in the region.

These positions, and now his detention, are creating the ideal anti-Museveni candidate ahead of next year’s elections.