Is Bobi Wine shaking up Ugandan politics?
YES.Uganda’s President Museveni has always been alive to the impact of Uganda’s changing demographic architecture on the nation’s politics. And his ability to placate particular voting groups to derive political advantage are hitherto unmatched. In the run up to 2016 elections, he turned into a rapper-in-chief (R-I-C) instantly appealing to young voters. The image of him demonstrating bottle irrigation and carrying grass on a bicycle to mulch a “presidential” demonstration farm is testimony to Museveni’s political ingenuity. Everything looked that way until the Arua Municipality by-election in August 2018. The crude arrest and brutalization of “opposition” MPs and torture of women political activists by soldiers and gunmen believed to be part of the Special Forces Command shook Uganda to the core. The targeted attack on Bobi Wine has turned him into an instant game changer. At 36 years, he has emerged as the voice of millions of young people who live on the margins of Uganda’s economy and politics, stack in the ghetto or graduating into two decades of jobless growth. That today, over 78% of Uganda’s population is comprised of young people below the age of 30 is fact. That in Bobi they are finding a voice is also a fact. To counter the people power movement, Museveni almost turned into the nation’s blogger-in-chief (B-I-C). Downtown Kampala, he is handing over cash and dummy cheques to placate the young people who are demanding for better. All because Museveni is one man who knows that Bobi and the people power movement have changed Uganda’s politics forever. ●Godber Tumushabe, Associate Director, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, Uganda
YES.During the 56 yearsUganda has been independent, it has tested multipartyism, military rule, one-party rule and even no-party politics. Each time some kind of formal organisation has propelled the leadership that emerged. Since it returned tomultiparty politics in 2005 there have been instanceswhenpoliticians not aligned with any political party have emerged. These, however, have never hadmuchof an impact in terms of rallying people or forcing political parties to counter them or forge alliances.Musician-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu, aka Bobi Wine, is the first politician with no formal links to any political organisation or party to truly shake uppolitics in Uganda. First, he has managed to rally large numbers of Ugandans, old and young across the country, tohis cause of seeking change fromthe increasingly unsatisfactory status quo presided over by 74-year-old Yoweri Museveni to a new, hope-filleddispensation. Second, his mobilisation capacity has forced parties that have long battled to remove the Museveni government and failed, to seek not only his support but also formal alliances with him in a bid to increase their chances of finally dislodging Uganda’s ageing autocrat. He may never stand for the presidency. He may evennot win if he does so. However, that he has truly shaken up the political terrain is beyond dispute. ●Frederick Goloo-Mutebi, Researcher and analyst, Uganda
MAYBE. No doubt Bobi Wine, the young parliamentarian in Uganda has sent shock waves in the President Yoweri Museveni’s dynasty albeit with consequences like torture and a treason charge. After treatment abroad he came back to a more tightened space but he continues to rally citizens around the slogan “people power”. He has expressed no interest in running a political party as this would present Museveni and his state machinery a well-known challenge that can easily be infiltrated and dehorned as seen with the current squabbles in top opposition parties. In avoiding to form a political party, Bobi Wine is trying to circumvent the challenges of political organizing that has largely not worked to fulfil the hope of many young Ugandans. But what new ways will he use to galvanise Ugandans to bravely face Museveni’s security that no longer fears to stage broad day kidnapping of people off the streets? In a country where large numbers of youth are unemployed, lack of rule of law is a hallmark of this chapter in Museveni’s rule. Bobi Wine comes at a crucial time in Uganda’s politics. He has age on his side, a life story similar to majority of Ugandans who will be a deciding factor in the 2021 vote. He maintains his stance on the need to work with wider opposition to build on what is achieved so far at a time when opposition is seemingly in disarray and divided. Bobi Wine rises above it all and shows he work with all actors with divergent views. The question remains if Uganda has hardly seen a free a fair election when stakes were even lower for Museveni, what will the 2021 elections look like? He has already deployed violence against Bobi Wine, his regime refuses the musician from holding concerts in fear of an insurrection in a country where right to protest hardly exists. Will young Ugandans continue rallying around him through unconventional means to organize and defy a dictatorship? What tactics he chooses onwards will either keep Ugandans engaged in this new wave and organizing towards a post-Museveni future or they will have to wait for another wave. ●Rosebell Kagumire, Ugandan writer
NO.There is no doubt that Bobi Wine has a bright future in Uganda’s politics. A lot of variables are working in his favour. He is charismatic. His route to politics was smoothed by the fact that he was a famous reggae star. At 36, three quarters of the population is in his age bracket. Many are educated but unemployed, unemployable and frustrated, in a large part because Uganda’s weak, $25bn economy (GDP) cannot support 41 million people. Poverty levels are very high. Wine however is currently not a decisive threat to the regime and I think those too excited are probably naïve. Here is why: Mr Museveni still has total grip on the country. His patronage system still permeates the entire socio-political and cultural fabric of Uganda’s society. He has used his 32 years in power to effectively deploy political clientelism to entrance himself. His being in power is of enormous benefit to rich and powerful individuals in the regime who are mostly appointed on account of their tribal, cultural, religious and demographic clout. These by extension have enormous influence on the rest of the (mostly rural) population to which they extend some crumbs off the patronage table. Some people’s entire livelihoods depend on Museveni being at the helm of power. They will fight to ensure he doesn’t go. Museveni is the mlitary and the military is him. He has it under his total grip largely because he personally formed it from scratch to fight a five year guerrilla war that brought him to power in 1986. If Bobi became a real threat, they would not only throw the kitchen sink at him, but the entire kitchen like they have done with other powerful opposition figures notably Kiiza Besigye. They are treading carefully now (from confronting him) because they realised post-Arua that doing so makes him a bigger figure than he is. He has no political base, no appeal in the establishment (unlike Kizza Besigye), so he cannot dismantle the behemoth that is the Museveni regime now. Regardless, he is a welcome addition to the forces of change in Uganda, and will definitely be a considerable headache to the regime in Kampala for the foreseeable future. ●Bernard Sabiti, Ugandan researcher and political analyst
NO. The most interesting dimension of Bobi Wine is an increasingly wider contention by Uganda and other governments of the politicisation of age and its potential ramifications. Age has been activated in Uganda before, and Bobi Wine did not invent the inclusion of young people – sometimes illegally and immorally – into political struggles. Uganda in the 1990s held the spotlight for child soldiers within the ranks of the National ResistanceMovement, Museveni’s army, which took power in 1986. That tradition was infamously continued by Joseph Kony of the Lord’s ResistanceArmy. Bobi Wine’s appeal is a different dimension of young people in political struggle. He may articulate their frustrations with jobs and the violence of poverty and urban fragility, but I do not think ‘People Power’ without an organisation behind it can impact the current political order in any significant way. His tool is not revolutionary struggle but rather a broadening of the political arena and greater efficiency in government services. He does not want to change the system – only the leaders – and will take to the ballot not the bullet to see it through. At most, People Power will highlight upsets in the 2021 election and deliver higher-octane pressure on the presidential poll. But it is not yet a movement capable of putting young people in charge with a different vision for the country. ●Angelo Opi-Aiya Izama, Ugandan journalist and analyst
Fromthe November 2018 print edition of The Africa Report