Obama: “We Can.”
Bobi Wine: “You Must.”
When Ziggy Wine died… No, I will not start there.
Slogans have a way of drawing and galvanising large numbers of people for a cause where reasoned speeches may not always work, even when we do not know exactly what a particular slogan means!
When Barack Obama was seeking the US presidency in 2008, he (or his camp) came up with his famous catchphrase: “We can”.
It was a classic example of rhetorical minimalism. But what did those two little words mean? What was it that they (the Americans; the Black Americans; the Democrats?) could do? Was it just to take power; or do a whole rack of things to make America in some way ‘different’?
The power of “We Can” partly lay in its ambiguity.
But do slogans significantly increase the appeal of a cause or a candidate; or is it the strength of the cause or candidate that makes their slogans gain popular appeal?
In other words, talking specifically about politicians, do the masses respond to the slogan and follow the politician, or do they respond to the politician and chant his slogan?
It works both ways. A magnetic politician sells the slogan, and a catchy slogan sells the politician. In varying degrees!
A slogan like Obama’s, which sounds cute and instantly includes and emboldens whoever chants the two words may greatly help a hitherto not-very-well-known raider like Obama.
Enter Bobi Wine with his slogan: ‘Webeereremu’ (singular), or “Mwebeereremu” (plural).
Uganda is much smaller than America, with less money, and fewer people exploiting their creative talents to the full. Uganda has far more glorified thieves than celebrated singers or painters. In Uganda’s circumstances, a person of Bobi Wine’s recognition may not benefit from his slogan as much as Obama did from “We Can”. Why; because Bobi, the man himself, is never physically very far away from anyone.
Furthermore, Bobi’s slogan is more challenging than Obama’s.
To attempt a translation: “Webeereremu” roughly means: Stand on your feet; lift, raise yourself by your own boot strings; take responsibility; the struggle is your struggle.
Either because of incompetence and corruption in the NRM government, or maybe a deliberate policy to impoverish the masses and keep them dependent and docile, many Ugandans now expect all manner of ‘facilitation’, ‘assistance’, ‘incentives’ and plain handouts from top politicians. Hospital bills, funerals, weddings, dubious Saccos; there is always something waiting for the moneyed politician.
MPs, ministers, et al strive to earn, steal and blackmail the President to amass the millions to give voters before the next general election.
The President strives to collect enough taxes to make the above scenario possible; not to mention the bags of cash associated with his meet-the-people tours.
So, in a sense, we deserve the thieves we have got.
If you think about it, Bobi Wine’s slogan partly aims to change that. But dependence is a difficult disease to cure.
When Ziggy Wine got injured and eventually died in mysterious circumstances, Bobi Wine was apparently not fully briefed about the fate of his young admirer and music industry associate, and he was unable to help in time. But nobody else – including the State - was able to help.
The charge that Bobi was uncaring is, therefore, rather unfair. Especially now, in his politically complicated circumstances, Bobi Wine cannot be everywhere to finance and micro-manage every issue involving people connected to his cause or name. Above all, he cannot afford to be reckless. As his slogan suggests, it is time for everybody to take (reasonable) responsibility.
Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.