‘I’m Bobi Wine.’ The Ugandan pop star taking on the president

Sally Hayden on the campaign trail with singer seeking to oust long-time leader Yoweri Museveni

Sally Hayden in Kampala.

Popstar and opposition leader Bobi Wine speaks at a campaign event in Mpigi, Uganda. Photograph: Sally Hayden.

It’s not hard to find Ugandan popstar-turned presidential candidate Bobi Wine. His northern Kampala residence, a white house surrounded by coconut trees, is listed on Google maps.

That’s surprising because of the danger he’s in. In slightly more than a year, Wine has been tortured in police custody and his driver shot dead with a bullet Wine says was meant for him; his friends have been arrested and his concerts and meetings shut down. His life is a constant game of cat-and-mouse with the police.

Wine’s home is gated, but once I’m inside he greets me at his door, extending a tattooed arm with a slight smile and a totally unnecessary: “I’m Bobi Wine.”

Wine, a thin 37-year-old whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, is leading a potential revolution in Uganda. His slogan is “people power”. His supporters wear trademark red berets.

In 2014, Wine was denied a UK visa after activists protested over homophobic lyrics in one of his songs, which appeared to call for gay men to be attacked

It’s been two years since he entered politics, becoming the MP for his constituency Kyadondo East, on Kampala’s outskirts, after winning a byelection.

In July, Wine announced he will run for president in 2021. He’s feeling confident. “Chances are I will be president,” Wine says. “We have seen from east to west, from north to south, Ugandans are yearning for change.”

The self-proclaimed “ghetto president” is playing with fire. Uganda’s 75-year-old leader, Yoweri Museveni, has been in power for 33 years – longer than most of the country’s population have been alive. While Museveni also originally preached democracy and said he wanted to give citizens control, he has overseen the removal of term limits and the scrapping of a presidential age limit.

“There’s no doubt that I will beat Museveni hands down at the vote,” says Wine. “Where the questions is is whether or not he will accept the voice of the people.”

Bobi Wine leaves a campaign event in Mpigi, Uganda. Photograph: Sally Hayden.
Bobi Wine leaves a campaign event in Mpigi, Uganda. Photograph: Sally Hayden.

Catchy music

We’re driving to his first campaign stop of the day, a Muslim funeral in Mpigi, southwest of the capital.

From the car, some of the graffiti ubiquitous across Kampala is visible. “#FreeBobi”, it says, referring to Wine’s arrest last year, when he was locked up and tortured by Ugandan security forces. His treatment drew national and international attention to his campaign, in a way the country’s leadership seemingly hadn’t foreseen.

Source The Irish Times.

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