National Unity Platform (NUP) president Robert Kyagulanyi (left) and Dr Kizza Besigye of the People’s Front for Transformation (PFT) at an event. PHOTO | FILE


Bobi Wine or Besigye: Who can galvanise Opposition unity?

What you need to know:

  • If anyone knew that political novice Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, would become an Opposition figure, they should have been able to tell of a looming tension between his camp and that of founding FDC president Kizza Besigye right from the 2017 Kyadondo East by-election that ushered Bobi Wine into elective politics, Derrick Wandera writes.

At least the chorus line by Opposition politicians, well-wishers and political tacticians since the 2011 presidential elections has been rallying together as one force to take on President Museveni’s three-decades old rule.

Until the collapse of The Democratic Alliance (TDA) three weeks after its formation in 2015, as the country geared up for the 2016 presidential elections, political commentators viewed this as one of the most successful attempts of getting a single candidate for the Opposition.

At the time of its collapse, TDA had been christened ‘The Delaying Alliance’, ‘The Disorganised Alliance’, ‘The Doubting Alliance’, ‘Tulemese Dokita Akalulu’ (let’s deny Dr Besigye the vote), among other names. 

But when Col (rtd) Dr Kizza Besigye one evening stormed out of one of the meetings, it marked the end of the attempt to bring the Opposition together. 

Ms Miria Matembe, a political activist and one of the founders of TDA, says the other alliances before 2015 were insignificant and never gained steam to galvanise the Opposition.

“When TDA failed, I came to learn that coming together as the Opposition is something hard given the self-centredness of our politicians,” Matembe, once a minister in the Museveni government, says. 

The entrance of political novice Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, into the already divided Opposition had shone a flicker of hope, given the relationship he had had with four-time presidential candidate Besigye.

When Besigye was released from prison following his incarceration after swearing himself in following the controversial 2016 presidential elections, many politicians paid homage to the Opposition leader, among them was pop star Bobi Wine.

The musician-cum-politician would then compose a song Situka Tutambule (rise, let’s move on) for Besigye as a tribute for his contribution towards opposing the 35-year NRM rule. Social media was also awash with photos of Bobi Wine playing a guitar and Besigye singing along. This friendship seemed unbreakable.

Cracks emerge

If anyone knew that Bobi Wine would become an Opposition figure, they should have been able to tell of a looming tension between the two leaders right from the 2017 Kyadondo East by-election that ushered Bobi Wine into elective politics.

Besigye, the founding president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), at the time said he respected the party position to support Mr Apollo Kantinti who was the official flag bearer. 

Bobi Wine, who ran as an Independent candidate, said the existing political parties had denied him a flag.

“This was the specimen for an Opposition working together, but when it failed then it was clear there would never be a chance,” says Matembe. “Because all Opposition parties rallied behind Bobi Wine, save for FDC, and that already shed some light on a continued disunity in the Opposition.”

Although there was a semblance of Opposition unity in 2018 during the Jinja East by-election, the Bobi Wine and Besigye camps fell apart in the by-elections thereafter in Bugiri Municipality, Arua Municipality, and in the Hoima District Woman MP race.  

Political analysts say this was the time for Bobi Wine’s position as a leading Opposition candidate to be felt.

His side had registered victory in Kyadondo East, Bugiri Municipality and Arua Municipality even when chaos and torture had been meted out to his camp by security forces. FDC candidates in these elections had trailed after those fronted by the ruling NRM.

Some people asked questions as to why Bobi Wine and Besigye had not come together as an Opposition front in these by-elections, but the latter explained that he respected the party position while Bobi Wine said he followed the power of the people.

“Since Besigye has been here and seen everything in politics, why is it that when Bobi rose up and took over all that support, Besigye did not move to Kamwokya and tell this young man that I can work with you and we move together?” Ms Matembe asks. 

Public weighs in

At the launch of the transition agenda of the People’s Front for Transition, a loose Opposition coalition led by Besigye, former Rubaga South MP Ken Lukyamuzi on Tuesday took a jab at Bobi Wine, saying they did not need to consult the former presidential candidate and his National Unity Platform (NUP) party before forming their organisation.

“I want to assure the people fighting us that we don’t need to consult you before we form the front. You formed People Power,” Lukyamuzi said as the crowd cheered him on. “Did we say anything? Mr Bobi Wine, don’t you have songs in your albums praising Dr Besigye and I? We have been here so what are you talking about?”

Such has been the attacks aimed at each camp since the recent formation of the Besigye-led People’s Front for Transition (PFT). Leaders of PFT accuse Bobi Wine of going to rest after being defeated by President Museveni in the 2021 elections, saying he has not exerted pressure on government.

Opposition leaders at the launch of the People’s Front for Transition in Kampala last month. PHOTO | FILE

On another occasion, NUP deputy spokesperson Waiswa Mufumbiro responded to a tweet by FDC president and PFT member Patrick Oboi Amuriat that NUP didn’t have to lead the struggle against the dictator if they didn’t wish, were not prepared or had no capacity.

Mufumbiro said the new front was old wine in new glass and did not bring forth any new ideas.

But Matembe, just like many politicians, believes that the fights in the Opposition have been blown out of proportion by the media.

“There is time for everything, if the Opposition can’t unite now, they will do after some time. Besigye had his time as the Opposition figure and things went bad. Now it is this young man Bobi. However, what is killing the two sides is the fact that they are fighting to be principals at the same time, which is not going to help us as Ugandans,” Matembe says.  

But Mr Wafula Oguttu, the PFT spokesperson, says unity in the Opposition is not possible because they are using different methods to end President Museveni’s long rule and all playing should take their own path. 

“NUP believes in elections and that they can remove Mr Museveni through an election, we don’t believe in that. At the launch of PFT, we said no one in the Front will participate in any form of the election unless they have left the organisation,” he says.


The public fights between the Besigye and Bobi Wine camps started a couple of years ago.  

During the Arua Municipality by-election in 2018 that led to the death of Bobi Wine’s driver Yasiin Kawuma as they canvassed support for Kassiano Wadri, Bobi Wine is said to have beckoned supporters of FDC candidate Bruce Musema to join his group as Besigye addressed his supporters. A good number did respond.

“Those who call themselves Opposition have come to disrupt Musema’s rally,” Besigye commented before he left the rally.

Before the Arua wounds would heal, the Democratic Party (DP) later that year launched what they called the DP Bloc coalition at Hotel Africana in Kampala and Bobi Wine was invited. 

In his speech, the Kyandondo East MP at the time confronted Besigye for dismissing elections as a way of changing leadership in the country.

“You cannot participate in an election for four times and on the fifth time you come and say that democracy doesn’t work,” Bobi told the ululating supporters. “We believe democracy works. A shaky win gives Museveni chance to steal the votes but we are going to give him a knockout.”

At that time, Bobi Wine had started to believe that he could take on President Museveni and analysts say he was cementing his foot in the Opposition.

In 2019, he launched a pressure group, People Power, with unique paraphernalia and slogans. He appealed to the population with ease, especially the young people.

A fresh war between the two Opposition camps broke out on social media, but this time the two principals were determined to quell the squabbles. 

Sources told this reporter that a meeting sat in Kasangati, Wakiso District, at Besigye’s home to devise mechanisms on how they would move forward without fighting.

As the meetings were taking place, one morning youth wearing People Power T-shirts attacked Besigye as he exited a radio station in Mengo after a talk show.

Bobi Wine in response said he had no control over his supporters and quickly blamed the attack on State operatives, saying they could have planted detractors to derail the Opposition unity they were working towards.

In 2020, Besigye and Bobi Wine launched what they called the United Forces of Change, and the two principals agreed on a few activities to work on together, including a protest over the mismanagement of Covid-19 funds. 

The protests lasted only a few days before police thwarted them. The Bobi Wine supporters said they had been arrested during the protests as the Besigye group stayed away. 

The United Forces of Change faced a stillbirth before it achieved its intention of ousting President Museveni before the 2021 presidential election.

Another source privy to what was going on behind the scenes says as these meetings were taking place, another team of Besigye allies from the FDC, led by former Leader of Opposition in Parliament Wafula Oguttu, party president Amuriat, party chairman Waswa Biriggwa and Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, among other leaders, stormed Besigye’s home and persuading him to stand for president. 

“They told Besigye, ‘why are you giving this ghetto boy a lot of time? We shall not leave your compound until you tell us that you are going to stand for president.’ Besigye convinced them that he would give them an answer in two weeks and that is how they left,” the source, that asked not to be named so that they could talk freely, says.

Launch of NUP

When People Power morphed into NUP, the wars between the two camps became more bitter. Some FDC members such as Stella Nyanzi, who had subscribed to the People Power pressure group, retreated and went back to FDC.

Makerere University political scientist Sabiti Makara says the talk of the two principals working together was elusive and an illusion that would never come to pass.

“Bobi Wine has come and we have not seen much of the efforts to unite the Opposition, even when Besigye tried to do the same, his ambition was always to be the principal. That makes the whole idea difficult to take on,” he says.   

Another political analyst says what is happening is clearly a disruptive adaptation within Opposition politics. 

If NUP and FDC are not careful, they may be playing in the favour of the NRM.

“Such cross-purpose moves could shift the electoral playing field to NRM’s benefit. There are by-elections coming up; there are local government elections coming up, bare-knuckle fights can only mean one thing, that the Opposition fortunes will be splintered in the upcoming electoral contests,” an analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of their job, says.

“At this point, I doubt that one of the two can lead the Opposition to a semblance of Opposition unity. Both Besigye and Bobi have got to leverage their strength to lead an Opposition coalition. I think each of those leaders has exceptional abilities. They need to find a common multiple upon which they can cooperate for the benefit of the larger Opposition. In fact, they both need to be amenable to conversing with the other leaders within the Opposition and beyond,” the analyst adds.