Robert Kyagulanyi, known by the stage name Bobi Wine, has emerged as the biggest threat to President Yoweri Museveni as a hugely popular figure among the vast majority of the country’s people. His life was threatened and he has been charged with treason, but a Ugandan pop-star-turned-politician is on a mission to do what nobody else has managed for over 30 years: topple the president.
Robert Kyagulanyi, known by the stage name Bobi Wine, has emerged as the biggest threat to President Yoweri Museveni as a hugely popular figure among the vast majority of the country’s people: the young, a third of whom are jobless or not getting an education. His loose motion of fans from across the political divide is proving to be a conundrum to Museveni, who has had little trouble in the past routing conventional opposition parties.
“We all know that people power is more powerful than the people in power,” Kyagulanyi, 37, said in an interview in his house in the capital, Kampala. “We aren’t into this for formality. We’re into this to change our nation.”
He gained prominence as a self-styled”ghetto president” singing about the plight of ordinary people and won a seat in parliament.
Wearing his trademark red beret, Kyagulanyi and his German Shepherd welcome guests into his home, about 15 km (9.3 miles) from central Kampala. Guests such as fellow musicians and lawmakers wait at a tent to meet up with him.
“President Idi Amin declared himself life president, he didn’t perish president,” he said. “Qaddafi was apparently invincible. He didn’t die a president.”
Museveni seized power in 1986, after years of political upheaval such as Amin’s bloody dictatorship, and restored multiparty politics nearly 15 years back. But in recent years, advocacy groups such as Amnesty International say he’s presided over a deterioration in the East African country’s human-rights circumstance. Opposition leader Kizza Besigye has faced repeated arrest and beatings from the authorities from the run-up to elections within the last two decades.
Since Uganda’s 2021 general election approaches, there are indications that Museveni might be planning to intensify a clampdown on his opponents. The government increased its security budget 75% this year to nearly $1 billion, to be spent on training and equipment.
‘Safety for All’
State Minister for Internal Affairs Obiga Mario Kania said it is not a fact that the government aims its opponents.
The authorities have detained Kyagulanyi several times in the last year. He has been charged with treason, following his supporters allegedly threw stones in Museveni’s convoy, inciting violence and disobeying lawful orders. This past year, Kyagulanyi received therapy in the U.S. for injuries he stated were sustained while under arrest.
“President Museveni and his regime do not see their strength in convincing people any more; they see their strength in coercing,” Kyagulanyi said Aug. 13. “Now is a year since the assassination attempt on my life. Since then many individuals have been arrested. Several have been murdered.”
Traditionally an agriculture-dependent nation, Uganda is on the cusp of getting an oil producer from areas owned by firms such as Tullow Oil Plc, Total SA and China’s Cnooc Ltd.. The beginning of output was repeatedly postponed, and a final investment decision that was anticipated in 2018 was postponed over different views on taxation between the government and the firms.
“Uganda’s slow move in the petroleum industry isn’t slow from warning; we should have profited from the oil yesterday,” he said. “The contradictions and scandals emanate from the fact that the country is under the control of a single person. Literally it is not the Ugandans that own Ugandan oil, but Museveni and his cabal.”
Under his rule, Kyagulanyi says that he would ensure government institutions are placed at the forefront of negotiating and managing the petroleum industry, together with other strategic national projects. He also envisages the government providing more support for agriculture.
Any possibility of him winning the next election will probably require stronger policy suggestions, together with possible alliances with other opposition leaders such as Besigye, said Jared Jeffery, an analyst in Paarl, South Africa-based NKC Africa Economics.
“We’ve argued previously that he needs to formalize his People Power movement into a coherent organisation which stands for something more than deposing Mr. Museveni and contains a roadmap to attaining it.”
Even if he succeeds in his quest to oust Museveni, Kyagulanyi could go back to his artistic roots one day.
“Music is my first love and it’ll be the past, but this is a calling which I can not say no to,” he said. “However, it’ll be more than a joy to return and do what I used to love especially at a free Uganda. So as a former head of state, I will return to the point and will fire up the audience.”