Will Bobi Wine live to overshadow Besigye?

Saturday August 18 2018

On Thursday, Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu was frogmarched before the General Court Martial in Gulu and charged with two counts of possession of firearms and one count of possession of ammunition.
The charges seem to be following a script akin to the one that played out in November 2005 when Dr Besigye, who was a candidate in the general election due early the following year, and 22 other people were dragged before the same court and charged with treason and terrorism.
This has propelled Mr Kyagulanyi, a man whose only claim to fame had until June 2017 been music and his spats with fellow musician, Moses Ssali, best known as Bebe Cool.
That changed on June 29 when the man who is best known by his stage name, Bobi Wine, was declared winner of the Kyadondo East seat having defeated the NRM’s William Sitenda Ssebalu, FDC’s Apollo Kantinti and fellow independent candidates Nkunyingi Muwada and Dr Sowedi Kayongo Male. He bagged 25,659 votes, while his closest challenger, Mr Sitenda Ssebalu, took 4,566 votes.
The “Ghetto President” as he calls himself, first took to penning articles critical of Mr Museveni before joining the group of MPs that caused chaos in Parliament in September in a futile attempt to block moves to table a Bill to facilitate the amendment of Article 102 (b) of the Constitution which barred citizens below the age of 35 and above the age of 75 from contesting for the presidency.
On September 28, 2017, he appeared on Al Jazeera television to condemn what had happened in Parliament before issuing a statement a day later in which he vowed to go down fighting.
“We shall not be spectators while our country is being killed, plundered and destroyed. We owe it to the present people of Uganda and the generations to come,” he vowed.
His actions provoked Mr Museveni into making a response to the many previous missives that he had sent out.
On October 6, 2017, Mr Museveni wrote an article in which he accused Bobi Wine of having attempted to hijack the Mandela Memorial Day and turn it into what he described as an “anti-NRM, anti-Museveni” affair. Mr Museveni said although he had ignored them, he had taken note of the “indisciplined, uninformed, but arrogant way” in which they had gone about their intentions.
Bobi Wine, however, seems to have engaged a stronger political gear ever since he attended a course in leadership in the 21st Century at the prestigious Harvard University. The course is aimed at preparing young politicians for leadership positions. Well, since his return he has been at the centre of every activity that is anti NRM, right from campaigning against it in the countryside right up to participating in demonstrations to protest pieces of legislation.
In March this year, he was part of the team that campaigned and delivered victories for the Opposition in Jinja Municipality in March and in Rukungiri in June where FDC’s Paul Mwiru and Betty Bamukwatsa Muzanira won the hotly contested races.
Following a disagreement between FDC and Justice Forum (JEEMA) on the possibility of fielding a single candidate for the Bugiri Municipality parliamentary seat, he supported JEEMA president, Mr Asuman Basalirwa, who subsequently won the July 28 poll while Dr Kizza Besigye campaigned for the FDC candidate, Ms Eunice Namatende.
In Arua he campaigned for the eventual winner, Kassiano Wadri, while Dr Besigye campaigned for the FDC flag bearer, Mr Bruce Musema.
Ever since the Bugiri polls in which Dr Besigye’s and the FDC’s candidate came third, there has been talk of Bobi having emerged as the new leader of the Opposition, which seems to have gotten so much onto his head that he dared lead a procession past Bruce Musema’s last rally in Arua as Dr Besigye was addressing it.

Military streak
Ugandans seem to believe that only those with a military background or those who adopt a militaristic approach to the politics are best suited to break Mr Museveni’s stranglehold on power. This seems to have been instrumental in shaping the approach he adopted since his return from the United States.
His new approach began at a time when Dr Besigye seems to have had a tactical rethink. While he had been at the centre of every major protest between 2006 and 2016 and declared a defiance campaign, he has not led any protests in the last many months, leaving both supporters and critics wondering what he is up to.
On the other hand, Bobi Wine was at the centre of the altercation that occurred in Parliament during the constitutional amendment debate and led last month’s protests against the introduction of taxes on social media and mobile money. He has gone around campaigning with the slogan “People Power, Our Power” reverberating wherever he has been.

Third force
While the country had 15,277,198 registered voters when it went to the polls in February 2016, only 10,39,131 voters or 67.61 per cent of the registered voters turned out to vote.
Last February, the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) wrote to President Museveni attributing the low voter turnout to the citizenry’s lack of faith in the electoral process.
“Your government’s reluctance to consider popular progressive electoral reforms, in order to address electoral deficits that have afflicted previous elections, has dented the credibility of electoral processes,” the letter signed by CCEDU’s coordinator, Mr Crispy Kaheru adds.
Earlier in September 2017, Afrobarometer had released findings of a survey that revealed that only 22 per cent of the population believes that Uganda is either a full democracy or a democracy with minor problems. CCEDU suggested that only reforms could cure the perception that elections were a ritual that would never amount to anything.
However, another school of thought believed that voters were staying away because they were tired of both Mr Museveni and Dr Besigye and that it would require another force to bring them out. Could Bobi be that third force?
“The people want a new leader who can mobilise. We need a transition leader who will help the country return to constitutionalism,” says Mr Francis Gonahasa, the FDC MP for Kabweri County in Budaka.
Mr Gonahasa belongs to the FDC faction loyal to Gen Mugisha Muntu and actively campaigned for Mr Asuman Basalirwa in Bugiri and Mr Kassiano Wadri in Arua.
Has Bobi Wine been identified as the leader who will lead that force that Mr Gonahasa talks about?
“We haven’t yet identified a leader. For now we simply work together, but I know that the people want a leader who can mobilise. He (Bobi Wine) is humble and he is a good mobiliser. If he stays alive, he can lead the country,” Mr Gonahasa says.
Prof Sabiiti Makara, a lecturer of Political Science at Makerere University, does not rule out the possibility of Bobi Wine ever rising to the highest leadership positions in the Opposition, saying that “leadership is something that we learn”, but hastens to add that he needs structures in order to engage in sustainable politics.
Prof Makara says his strength lies among the youth, most of whom have a bone to pick with the NRM on account of poverty and unemployment, especially among graduates. Besides, he comes with no unwanted baggage.
“FDC like the NRM has many contradictions. On the other hand Bobi Wine has no contradictions, but he still has a long way to go because the State is targeting him, he has no organisational structure and he is still an amateur politician,” Prof Makara says.

Is he a threat?
“The way they (government) are treating him, suggests that they think that he is a threat,” says Prof Makara, but NRM’s deputy secretary general Richard Todwong differs.
“He is not a threat at all. The politics of Uganda is very structured. You need to have grassroots structures in order to have an impact. He needed to study and understand the politics of Uganda, but he seems to be in a hurry. He came with popularity from the world of music and took it to be popularity in the world of politics. It is like rain in the dry season. It never penetrates the ground,” Mr Todwong says.
Since the events in Bugiri, Bobi Wine has been touted as the emerging new leader of the Opposition, but can he knock Dr Besigye off his perch as the most powerful man in the Opposition?
Prof Paul Wangoola, a former Makerere University don who was a member of the National Consultative Council (NCC), does not think so.
“Those who think that Dr Besigye is expired have to tell us whether what he stands for has expired too. Dr Besigye is a phenomenon. He is a vessel that embodies the belief in civilian authority just as Museveni is a vessel of guns and teargas. What phenomenon does Bobi Wine come with or stand for?” he asks.
Well, Dr Besigye has had to work very hard since October 2000 when he first declared his intention to take on his former boss.
Dr Besigye has had to operate at 100 degrees centigrade. He has suffered arrests and has been prosecuted on tramped up charges. He has been brutalised and dragged to courts in every corner of Uganda. Can Bobi Wine match that?
His appearance before the General Court Martial on Thursday set him off on a path similar to the one that Dr Besigye did tread. The question is whether he will stay the course.