Kampala- During his countrywide tour that followed his election as Kyadondo East MP, Bobi Wine had no problem being recognised by a big number of Ugandans. The key thing he had to introduce, perhaps, is his real name – Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu. Most Ugandans knew him by his stage name.
There are a few other things Mr Kyagulanyi had to work on to get Ugandans accustomed to. One of them was being well kempt, wearing short hair and sharp suits. Ugandans were used to the dreadlocked “Rasta man” he had cut himself out as. The other thing people needed to get used to was his ability to speak fluent political language, targeting President Museveni’s rule, now into its fourth decade.
Bobi the kingmaker
By the time Mr Kyagulanyi got to Arua towards the end of the recently concluded campaigns for the by-election to replace Ibrahim Abiriga, who was mercilessly torn up by assassins’ bullets on June 8, he had nearly perfected his new-found role of kingmaker.
Since his election to Parliament in June last year, an election in which he floored candidates of the ruling party and the Forum for Democratic Change, Mr Kyagulanyi has never been on the losing side – he campaigned on the sides of winning candidates in by-elections in Jinja Municipality East, Rukungiri Woman MP race, Bugiri Municipality and now Arua Municipality.
Before he joined politics, Mr Kyagulanyi cut out a role for himself as “Ghetto President”, leading a group of less educated youth to build a sort of music empire he called Fire Base.
From his headquarters in the Kampala City suburb of Kamwokya, Bobi Wine worked to dominate the music scene, getting into a scathing rivalry with fellow artistes, especially Moses Ssali aka Bebe Cool.
He won many battles as an artiste, transforming from virtually a no-body into a relatively prosperous and famous Ugandan.
Foray into politics
Much of the music that endeared him to crowds was in reality protest music targeted at what he sees as discrimination and exploitation by those in power, often targeting President Museveni.
He remained predisposed against Mr Museveni’s politics and towards the 2016 general election when most of the leading artistes united under the “Tubonga naawe” banner to campaign for Mr Museveni, Bobi Wine was among the few that remained aloof. He would a year later seize the opportunity presented by a by-election to enter Parliament as an Opposition-leaning “Independent”.
In his new-found role as kingmaker, Bobi Wine has adopted a more definitive message targeting President Museveni’s rule, something he communicates to his audiences with increasing efficiency.
At one of the rallies he addressed in Arua as he campaigned for eventual winner Kassiano Wadri, for instance, Mr Kyagulanyi’s ability to connect with the audience was in evidence.
“When I say ‘People Power’; you say ‘Our Power’,” he coached the audience. The drill was very well performed for about a minute, with the audience reacting with gusto.
Mr Kyagulanyi told the audience that he had only made his trip to the northwest late during the campaigns not because he had not been thinking about them, but that because the race was crowded with five change-seeking candidates (out of a total of 12) and he needed to first study each of the five to reach a decision on the most suitable candidate.
He proceeded: “The election in Arua is a very unique election. We find ourselves in a situation where we have been postponing a problem hoping it will solve itself, until a time has come for us to do what we must do…
“It is not a secret anymore that we are trying to unite and remove Museveni from power. I said what we are doing is not a joke; we are not here to enjoy ourselves. We are here to remove Museveni from power. And if we are to complete that mission, then the people of Arua have an important part to play..
“This is not a clash of political parties; I said this is not a clash between parties. And this is not a clash of generations. This is a unification of the oppressed against the oppressors,” Mr Kyagulanyi said, to roars from the crowd.
Mr Kyagulanyi did not refer to Ms Nusura Tiperu, the ruling NRM party candidate, but in a further elaboration of his mission, he told his audience that electing Mr Wadri would just be the beginning.
He said: “After Kassiano Wadri wins, it is not going to be the end. It is going to be the beginning. We are making a strategy for 2021. We know that the country is behind us; and we also know that President Museveni and his NRM are planning to rig. But we also have another plan. Do you know what we are planning? (No, roared the crowd). Do you know what we are planning? (No, the crowd roared again). That is our own business.”
Mr Kyagulanyi then handed over the microphone, leaving the crowd in anticipation of what he and his colleagues are planning.
At political rallies, there is perhaps very little time for thinking about the message and substance behind the slogans, and it is likely very few of those present gave any thought to whether indeed Mr Kyagulanyi is up to anything potent.
Unease in Opposition
Consistent. What is important is that Mr Kyagulanyi has had a similar message for the whole year he has been an active politician, and he has continually drawn crowds and the candidates he has backed have won.
After the election in Bugiri Municipality that returned Jeema president Asuman Basalirwa as winner, with FDC’s Eunice Namatende coming a distant third, reports indicate that there was unease during a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of FDC the following week, with a number of members fearing that the appeal of their party, especially epitomized by the popularity Dr Kizza Besigye has enjoyed for close to two decades, was threatened by Bobi Wine.
In Bugiri, attempts to front a joint Opposition candidate had failed, turning the campaigns into an affair between FDC and those allied with Mr Basalirwa, who was anchored by Bobi Wine. NRM’s John Francis Oketcho, who eventually beat Ms Namatende to second spot, was hardly talked about during the campaigns.
On social media, there are occasions when some fans of the Opposition, especially those who back Dr Besigye, have appeared to attack Bobi Wine, although those who back Bobi Wine as the “new kid on the block” seem to attack Dr Besigye more often.
When Dr Besigye addressed a press conference on Thursday, however, he was keen to dampen talk of a rift or rivalry between players on the Opposition front, saying that it is a campaign that is orchestrated by people he did not name.
“There has been a choreographed presentation of a state of confrontation between Opposition groups; which I believe is deliberate; which I believe has ominous intentions,” Dr Besigye said.
He moved to defend Bobi Wine and the other politicians and individuals who were arrested in Arua, saying the State is looking to manufacture charges against them, like he said charges have been manufactured against him and other Opposition players in the past.
Dr Besigye said: “The idea that we now see being choreographed again in the media that people had guns (in Arua) must be dismissed. I think at this stage with contempt, because if there had been a situation of people having guns, there should have been a more transparent way of exposing such a matter in a politically charged environment like we had in Arua.
There is absolutely no way the regime can convince Ugandans that having killed people, it is not covering its tracks by trying to plant evidence against our people.”