Museveni, Besigye, Bobi Wine and Uganda’s personality cult

Sunday July 26 2020

President Museveni (left) and Opposition leader

President Museveni (left) and Opposition leader Kizza Besigye (right). PHOTOS | FILE 

By Timothy Kalyegira

Traditionally, politics follows personalities. It starts with a charismatic figure emerging.
This founder figure attracts a small inner circle of loyalists, and then the group is later formalised into a party or movement.

Anybody who challenges or seeks to contest against this founder is viewed as a threat and disloyal.
The current Head of State, Yoweri Museveni, started off with the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa) in the early 1970s.

Fronasa as both a political organisation and military wing would revolve around him, although there was a leadership wrangle and contestation in 1975 in which Museveni emerged victorious.

When Museveni made a presidential bid in 1980, a new party called the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) was formed with Museveni as its head and presidential candidate.
UPM was at heart Fronasa, plus university students and some intellectuals and civil servants mostly from western Uganda.

When he launched a guerrilla war in 1981, a new armed group called the Popular Resistance Army (PRA) is the one that attacked the Kabamba Army Barracks in Mubende.
That same year, the PRA merged with the Uganda Freedom Fighters (UFF) of the former president Yusuf Lule to create the National Resistance Movement (NRM).

The NRM came to power in 1986 with Museveni as both its political and military head.
For as long as Yoweri Museveni is alive and still interested in politics, he will be the chairman of the National Resistance Movement.


Benedicto Kiwanuka was named prime minister of the self-government period after DP’s general election victory in 1961.
After Kiwanuka’s death in 1972, he was replaced by Paulo Ssemogerere who in the 1960s had been the DP’s Parliament Secretary.

Ssemogerere was the DP’s presidential candidate in 1980. Had Kiwanuka lived, he would in all likelihood have been president-general of the DP and its presidential candidate in the 1980 general election.
Kiwanuka’s successor as Uganda’s prime minister, Milton Obote, followed the same path. He came to dominate the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party.

The UPC’s philanthropy and enterprise arm, the Milton Obote Foundation, was named after him in the 1960s.
He died in 2005 still as the party president and in the emotional aftermath, his widow and former First Lady Miria Obote was unanimously elected UPC president.

Much of the tension within the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party is over the shadow still hanging over the party by its founding president Kizza Besigye.

Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi
Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine.

In trying to set an example of good governance, the FDC put in place term limits on its president and has since discovered how much easier democratic principles are on paper than in practice.

The FDC has so far failed to fill the charismatic shoes of Besigye. In 2016, unable to find a viable presidential candidate, the party persuaded Besigye to run again and the enthusiasm of the crowds showed why he is an indispensable figure to the party’s brand.

Daily Monitor recently reported in a front-page story how sections of the FDC were trying to get Besigye to run again in 2021.
So, we can expert Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, to follow in these social and political footsteps.

The fact is, People Power is Bobi Wine. If one asked a million Ugandans to name any People Power officials they know, 95 per cent would only manage to name Bobi Wine.
The remaining five per cent would name the People Power Spokesman Joel Ssenyonyi and at most one other official, and that’s it.

If they had their way, Bobi Wine and the other People Power stalwarts would have retained that as both their movement and political party.
However, an NRM supporter and music promoter Balaam Barugahare registered People Power as his political party, and by that hijacking the name from Bobi Wine’s group.

Since Electoral Commission rules and procedures favoured formal parties over pressure groups, People Power procured the name and rights of a little-known party called National Unity Platform (NUP) from a little-known person called Moses Nkonge Kibalama.

Therefore, NUP is more a tactical creation than a conventional party.
It is the unit of People Power intended to go around the restrictions and obstacles the State would put in People Power’s path.

So, for all intents and purposes, People Power will contest the 2021 general election through its subsidy, the National Unity Platform.
The NUP’s arrival on the scene will inevitably further complicate the political landscape.

There is no doubt that the public mood and momentum is now with Bobi Wine. That’s the reason why many DP, FDC, Jeema, Conservative Party and independents hitched their 2021 bids onto the People Power brand.

Many can be expected to formally leave their parties and register as parliamentary and LC candidates under the NUP.

To profess dual loyalty to DP and People Power or Jeema and People Power will not seem like hypocrisy.
Some, such as the Jeema president Asuman Basalirwa, are in a particularly complicated position. As the president of a political party, he obviously cannot resign from it.

And yet his election to Parliament in 2018 was made possible by the personal campaigning of Bobi Wine and the many People Power activists.

Basalirwa and others will have no choice but run on their party tickets, while at the same time claiming a moral allegiance to People Power as a uniting brand for all Ugandans who seek change from state corruption and nepotism.

However, this has the potential to cause the first cracks in the goodwill enjoyed thus far by People Power.
People Power made it possible for political actors to enjoy the best of both worlds: Ride on the popular new wave in town, but retain their formal, card-holding positions within their respective parties.

It also benefitted People Power a lot that MPs and activists from the established political parties chose to identify with it. There were many voices that initially dismissed People Power as a mishmash of school dropouts, drug abusers and slum dwellers.

When respected DP, FDC and Jeema MPs started identifying with it, People Power’s image underwent a makeover and it became a virtuous cycle – People Power’s massive popularity attracted MPs and activists from the established parties; these MPs and activists in turn helped lend a more respectable image to People Power, leading it to become even more popular as a result.

Now that one had to definitely belong to the NUP or not, there will be a crisis. Whom does one vote, a popular DP/People Power candidate from Mpigi, Masaka, Mukono, Iganga or Luweero, or an NUP/People Power candidate?

Obviously, it is vital that People Power makes it clear to its supporters that while their allegiance it to the pressure group, their actual vote will be cast for the NUP and, for the presidency, for Robert Kyagulanyi and not for his music stage name Bobi Wine.
Without that clarify, Bobi Wine and the NUP could lose a substantial number of votes through wasted ballots.

If People Power is disassembled into the various parties, pressure and interest groups that form it, it will lose its uniting aura and sense of mission.
Therefore, it will be important for Bobi Wine and the other People Power leaders and activists to retain that allegiance to People Power as the uniting theme for Ugandans who thirst for change from decades of a ghetto life and state corruption.

At a tactical, operational level, respective candidates for parliamentary and local council seats can campaign under the card of their respective parties, but at a strategic level they can continue to mobilise public support by appealing to the overall national message of People Power.