Bobi Wine, born Robert Kyagulanyi, is a famous Ugandan musician-turned-politician. While at 38-years-old, he may seem young to be a presidential hopeful, he is still 21 years older than his average countryman. Uganda has one of the world’s youngest populations.
Bobi Wine’s Journey From Pop Star to Politician
Kyagulanyi grew up in the Kamwokya slum in Kampala, turning toward art in his teens and eventually pursuing a degree in music, dance, and drama from Makerere University. He began his music career making reggae and dancehall music in the early 2000s, quickly gaining popularity. Even then, his messaging centered on social justice and criticism of the current Ugandan regime.
Bobi Wine’s lyrics include such lines as, “When the going gets tough, the tough must get going — especially for when leaders become misleaders, and mentors become tormentors. When freedom of expression becomes a target of suppression, opposition becomes our position,” and, “What was the purpose of the liberation?
When we can’t have a peaceful transition? What is the purpose of the constitution? When the government disrespects the constitution? Where is my freedom of expression?” However, he didn’t stop at making socially conscious albums. Kyagulanyi entered politics officially in 2017 when he was elected to parliament. He initially ran on an independent platform before becoming the leader of Uganda’s National Unity Party.
Bobi Wine Freed from House Arrest
On January 26, Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine was freed from 11 days of house arrest. Soldiers surrounded his home the day that Wine lost the presidential bid to 35-year incumbent President Yoweri Museveni. Winning the 2021 general election with 58.6% of the votes, President Museveni is entering his sixth five-year term. The house arrest was ostensibly for Wine’s own security and to deter rioting. However, Wine had a different story, telling CNN that “I want the world to know that my life is in danger and I am not safe.”
He also painted a dire picture on Twitter, where he posted that he and his wife were stuck in their home with their 18-month-old niece, and that they had run out of food and milk. The troops were forced to withdraw on Monday when the Ugandan high court ruled that the government should present any real evidence against Bobi Wine in court rather than detain him in his home.
Wine denounced the election ruling on the basis that voter fraud, such as ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of his party agents, had occurred. International agencies also expressed concerns with the election; the US canceled its observer mission following denial of permissions to monitor the vote.
Uganda’s Election Battlefield
The recent house arrest is only the latest in a long string of conflicts between Bobi Wine and the current regime. Kyagulanyi’s rise to power in the political sphere has been punctuated by much violence, adversity, and suppression. His shows have been canceled, and his signature red beret has been banned.
On August 13, 2018, Bobi Wine and his supporters took to the streets in Arua, a town in Northern Uganda. Police cracked down, claiming that the group had been violent and had thrown stones at President Museveni’s motorcade. However, Kyagulanyi’s photographer alleged that supporters never attacked the president.
Kyagulanyi later tweeted a gruesome picture of a bloodied man in a car, accompanied by the words, “Police has shot my driver dead thinking they’ve shot at me. My hotel is now cordoned off by police and SFC.” This driver was identified as Yasin Kawuma.
That same night, Kyagulanyi was arrested and charged for unlawful possession of weapons. By the time he made an appearance at court, he had been so severely beaten that he was barely recognizable. One of his lawyers, Medard Seggona, told journalists that his injuries were such that he could not talk, walk, sit, or see, that “he couldn’t speak when the charges were read to him, and I believe he didn’t know what was going or understood the charges read to him.”
In November 2020, Kyagulanyi was briefly arrested over supposed violations of social distancing. Police killed at least 54 people following protests in his support. Kyagulanyi was arrested yet again in December during his presidential election campaign for allegedly “inciting violence, obstructing police officers on duty, violating the health and safety protocols, and various traffic offenses.”
What’s Next for Bobi Wine?
The ire Kyagulanyi draws from the government is reflective of the threat he poses toward the current administration. Known as the “ghetto president,” he is popular among young Ugandans, connecting to them through his music and message of hope.
The generational divide in Uganda is politically salient, and Bobi Wine provides the sense of dynamism and reform that many young people desire. Disillusioned with the current regime, corruption, and disenfranchisement, Bobi Wine is a fitting conduit for their desire to come to power.
Kyagulanyi has since filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking to annul Museveni’s victory. It remains to be seen how the Ugandan government will continue to treat Bobi Wine and how the international community will respond to this uncertain election.