not over yet

Uganda: High Court orders military to release Bobi Wine from house arrest

By Morris Kiruga

Posted on January 26, 2021 15:02

File photo of National Unity Platform opposition party leader Bobi Wine. (AP/Nicholas Bamulanzeki)
File photo of National Unity Platform opposition party leader Bobi Wine. (AP/Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

The Ugandan High Court has ordered security forces to release opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) and his wife, Barbara Itungo, from house arrest.

The 25 January ruling by the Kampala court said that: “The restrictions imposed on (Wine) are unlawful.”

In its defence, the Ugandan government had not disputed the presence of security forces at Wine’s home in Kampala, but said they were there “as a preventive measure with the aim of neutralising security threats”.

Security forces have also surrounded the headquarters of the National Unity Platform (NUP), Wine’s political party, where his teams were working on evidence of malpractice in the 14 January general election.

Under house arrest since the elections

Wine and his wife, and until recently an 18-month-old infant, have been under house arrest following the general elections.

READ MORE Bobi Wine cries foul in Uganda elections, Museveni declared winner

His would-be visitors, including his close colleague Francis Zaake and the US ambassador to Uganda, Natalie E. Brown, have been denied access by security forces imposing a blockade around his home. A government spokesperson accused Brown and the US of trying “to meddle in Uganda’s internal politics”.

Zaake, a 30-year-old member of parliament, who was first elected as an independent in 2016, was injured by security forces outside Wine’s home. He was hospitalised after what a police spokesman later described as a “scuffle”.

The news immediately fuelled rumours that he had been shot dead, leading to protests in a town near Kampala where more than 60 protesters were arrested after allegedly trying to set a bus on fire and attacking a police car.

State repression in 2021

The 2021 elections and their aftermath have so far mirrored Uganda’s 2016 polls in many ways, except for the main target of state repression.

After the 2016 elections, opposition leader and presidential candidate Kizza Besigye was also kept under house arrest before being transferred to a police station. This was primarily done to prevent him from beating the deadline to fill an election petition, which ended up being filed by Amama Mbabazi, who had come third after President Yoweri Museveni and Besigye in the polls.

READ MORE Uganda: Museveni’s arch rival, Besigye remanded in prison

“Robert Kyagulanyi and his wife, Barbara Kyagulanyi, are being held under house arrest without being presented before a judge and for a non-cognisable offence. This is also having an impact on his ability to challenge the presidential election results, in what appears to be a ploy to prevent the NUP from going to court in time,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southern Africa, said in a statement published on 20 January that also noted the parallels in the tactics Museveni used in both elections.

Different type of challenge

In Wine, Museveni faced a different kind of challenge than what he has experienced in previous elections. Wine’s NUP won more than 50 seats in the 529-seat parliament, taking over the main opposition role from Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). It also won over 90% of the elective seats in the capital city’s local government council.

READ MORE Uganda elections: Museveni wins, Bobi Wine the rising power in parliament

Time will tell the lengths President Museveni will go to stymie the 38-year-old opposition leader and his supporters, especially because of the change in the country’s demographics – with more and more young people eligible to vote.

In his victory speech, Museveni blamed his party’s loss in Buganda and the Central Region, on “sectarianism”. But several of his ministers who lost at the polls told a Ugandan daily that their electoral losses resulted from the constant “brutality and torture of Bobi Wine supporters” that turned the tide in the populous region.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.