Bobi Wine: The unlikely candidate who rose to become face of the Opposition 

Sunday January 17 2021
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NUP candidate Robert Kyagulanyi (centre) is blocked by the army as he enters Kasese District in December 2020.

By Isaac Mufumba

Months before March 5, 2019, when Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, announced that he would stand for the presidency, two time-presidential candidate Abed Bwanika declared that he was the man to lead the Opposition.

“(Bobi Wine) is the one who has the electricity to cause change,” Bwanika suggested.
At the time of his emergence, Prof Sabiiti Makara, a lecturer of Political Science at Makerere University, pointed out that Mr Kyagulanyi’s strength lay in the fact that he was relatively cleaner, at least politically, and unencumbered by the past.

“FDC like the NRM has many contradictions. On the other hand Kyagulanyi has no contradictions,” Prof Makara argued.
The deputy secretary general of the NRM, Mr Richard Todwong, thought that he was just a passing wind.

“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 said. 
He might not have emerged winner, but he was not the weakling that Mr Todwong sought to portray.

Kyagulanyi’s key promises
Mr Kyagulanyi rode on a promise that focused on improving the welfare of Ugandans across the board.
With the massive unemployment and underemployment at the back of his mind, Mr Kyagulanyi promised to create 500,000 jobs in the first two years of his office through improving the investment environment, industrialisation and commercialisation of agriculture.

Other promises included enhancement of the livelihoods of security personnel by giving the least paid and lowest ranking man or woman Shs1 million; improvement of the health sector by placing at least two health centre IIIs in every sub-county; fighting corruption; and fighting of smuggling by making the East African Community (EAC) more proactive.

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He also charmed the farming communities with a promise to boost the sector by way of reviving the cooperatives, sensitisation and research; strengthening the disarmament exercise with a view  to stamping out rustling in Karamoja sub-region and improving education though the four ‘As’ : academics, athletics and arts and agriculture.

Appeal to young voters
At 38, Mr Kyagulanyi appealed to the mostly youthful voters.
Dr Patrick Wakida, the head of Research World International, a social research firm that has conducted several opinion polls in the run up to previous elections in Uganda, told Sunday Monitor before the polls that demographics were in his favour.

“Mr Kyagulanyi will defeat Mr Museveni in Kampala, most urban centres and central region. Bobi has been on the music scene for a long time and he appeals to the young people. Young people want to be like him – the young muzukulu who is challenging the grandfather,” Mr Wakida says.
Mr Crispin Kaheru, the former coordinator of the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), agrees with Mr Wakida that demographics were always going to favour Mr Kyagulanyi.

“It is not necessarily because he is originally from Buganda, but because Buganda hosts the biggest population of young voters. Robert Kyagulanyi has adopted a message that seems to resonate with the young generation,” Mr Kaheru argues.
Little wonder then that results have turned out showing that Mr Kyagulanyi put up such a strong show in Buganda and that his NUP ran away with more than three quarters of the parliamentary seats in the region.

Rise of Bobi
Mr Bwanika’s earlier conclusion set the stage for attacks on former FDC president Kizza Besigye, who had until his declaration in August last year that he would not take a shot at the presidency, been the face of the Opposition in Uganda. Dr Besigye first challenged Mr Museveni for the top job in 2001.
Sections of the Opposition seemed to believe that Dr Besigye had had a predatory effect on whoever had tried to emerge in the Opposition. None seemed to have the capacity to emerge from his shadow.

“I have heard one person who has now perpetually become a presidential candidate and wants to become one again. I have decided, whether I will remain alone, I will ensure that Ugandans don’t vote that presidential candidate again,” Dr Bwanika said in April 2019 during the signing of a memorandum of understanding by the Democratic Party (DP), Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Peoples Development Party (PDP) at Hotel Africana in Kampala.

Kyagulanyi attacks
By then, the biggest contention in the Opposition was whether elections work. Dr Besigye argued that “you cannot have a fair rules or laws under a military regime” and that it is not possible for the Electoral Commission (EC) to declare any person other than Mr Museveni winner of an election in which Mr Museveni is a participant. 

Mr Kyagulanyi was of a contrary view. He believed that elections work and encouraged people to either register or pick their national identity cards. 
In March 2019, Dr Besigye while appearing on a talk show on NBS, Endabilwamu, declared that “those who think they shall use national IDs to remove Museveni do not understand the man.”

The Hotel Africana meeting presented the perfect opportunity for Mr Kyagulanyi to respond and he did.
“Don’t talk about democracy and stand four times and on the fifth time you tell people democracy doesn’t work. We believe it works. On that point, I will assert that democracy actually works and anybody who despises democracy is despising the people of Uganda,” Mr Kyagulanyi said.

Stage set
As the English say, “Be careful what you ask for, you (just) might get it.” Dr Bwanika’s and Butambala County MP Muwanga Kivumbi’s wish not to have Dr Besigye on the ballot was answered, setting the stage for the possibility of Mr Kyagulanyi becoming the new face of the Opposition.
Having rebuked Dr Besigye for saying that democracy does not work and having publicly stated that he believed that democracy actually works, the onus was on Kyagulanyi to prove through this election that Dr Besigye was wrong to say that democracy does not work.

Mr Kyagulanyi had already tried to size himself up against Dr Besigye when the two campaigned on opposite sides in the Bugiri and Arua municipalities. Mr Kyagulanyi’s candidates, Mr Asuman Basalirwa (Jeema) and Mr Kassiano Wadri (Independent) had on both occasions emerged victorious.
The minimum that was expected of him was to either equal what Besigye achieved in the polls from 2001 to 2016 or do better.

Tenacity
Mr Kyagulanyi has proved quite tenacious ever since he joined elective politics.
In a space of less than five years, Mr Kyagulanyi has led demonstrations against the over-the-top (OTT) tax; fought in Parliament in defence of what he described as the sanctity of the Constitution during the age limit debate; come face to face with death on at least two occasions; been arrested on charges of possession of firearms and treason and; brutalised; received subtle warnings and; been impeded from travelling around the country. But all that did not stop him.

In August 2018, shortly after he had given a hand to Mr Wadri in beating NRM candidate Nusura Tiperu to the Arua Municipality seat, Mr Kyagulanyi, whose driver was shot dead in the town under mysterious circumstances, was arrested and arraigned before the General Court Martial on charges of unlawfully possessing firearms. 

The General Court Martial in Gulu later dropped the charges against Mr Kyagulanyi, but he was rearrested and taken to the Chief Magistrate’s Court where he was on August 23 charged with treason. The charge stemmed from an accusation that he and 30 others, including MPs Wadri and Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality), among others, stoned one of Mr Museveni’s armoured cars.

The charges seemed to be playing out from a script that the security agencies have always read from whenever       someone seemingly strong emerges to challenge Mr Museveni for the presidency. 
In 2005, shortly after his returned from self-imposed exile in South Africa, Dr Besigye was arrested and charged with treason and rape. 
He was nominated as a candidate in the 2006 elections while in prison and even when he was released, he was forced to shuffle between the campaign trail and attendance of court sessions.

Brutalised, warned, barred
Mr Kyagulanyi was brutalised while in detention, which Mr Museveni, who had previously denied the claim inadvertently owned up to during a March 14, 2019, meeting with youth at State House Entebbe.

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“Your artiste, when he was in West Nile, the soldiers boxed him. Oh! They really reported to the Whites. They think the Whites are gods. I called the soldiers to tell me. They said they beat him because he beat them first when they went to his room where he was hiding. I told them there is no case,” Mr Museveni said.
During the same meeting, Mr Museveni warned Kyagulanyi to forget his presidential ambitions, saying politics is not like singing.

“Bobi Wine; that is an artiste. This [politics] isn’t singing. If you are an artiste, go to Suzanna and Nakulabye,” he said. Suzanna was a popular nightclub in Kampala in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In January when he attempted to carry out nationwide consultations about his presidential ambitions, the police invoked sections of the Public Order Management Act (POMA) and other excuses to bar him even when EC had cleared him to consult.

Swimming against the tide
Mr Kyagulanyi was along the way dragged to court over the acquisition of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party. There was also an attempt to have court issue an order that would have stopped the EC from nominating NUP candidates. He thereafter was like a man swimming against the tide.
He was shortly after his nomination on November 3 violently arrested and bundled into a car and driven to his home where he was practically placed under house arrest.

After braving teargas and police blockades in many a district where the campaign took him, Mr Kyagulanyi was on November 18 arrested in Luuka District for allegedly defying EC guidelines on Covid-19 and was two days later charged with doing an act likely to spread infectious diseases, under Section 171 of the Penal Code Act before being granted bail.

Stinging Museveni
Mr Kyagulanyi whose campaign has also involved Twitter exchanges with Mr Museveni’s son, Maj Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the commander of the Special Forces Command (SFC), who he has often told that his (Muhoozi’s father) – who he refers to as “a dictator” – will be defeated, used the appearance in the Iganga Chief Magistrate’s Court to sting Mr Museveni, claiming that his only crime was to offer himself to lead the ouster of “a dictator”.

“This case should not be Uganda against Kyagulanyi, it should be Uganda against Museveni. It should be Museveni in this dock,” he told court.
Mr Kyagulanyi has also had to contend with at least two additional arrests, being barred from FM stations and having to spend at least two nights in cars after being denying access to hotels into which his local campaign teams had booked him, but the biggest ones were off the campaign trail.

Prof Makara warned at the time of Mr Kyagulanyi’s emergence that much as he was an instant hit, especially among the youth, most of whom are too preoccupied with finding jobs or finding start-up capital for income generating to listen to tales about Uganda’s political instability of years past and wars gone by, Kyagulanyi needed “structures in order to engage in sustainable politics.”
The acquisition of NUP seemed to have set him off towards establishing those structures. That was followed with calls for unity in August when he introduced the 21 MPs that quit other parties to join NUP.

“A party which thinks they will end President Museveni’s dictatorship alone are lying to themselves. I would like to call all forces of change, especially those that are bent upon ending Mr Museveni’s leadership to come together and we surmount him,” he said.

Parties offended
However, the decision by DP MPs such as Mathias Mpuuga, Muwanga Kivumbi, Betty Nambooze, Medard Lubega Sseggona, Moses Kasibante and Mr Latif Ssebaggala to join NUP served to sour relations between NUP and DP.
Besides, as the campaign progressed, there was a feeling among supporters of other parties that Kyagulanyi was undermining the contributions of other Opposition figures such as Dr Besigye who had been fighting to remove the NRM from power. That did not endear him to many.
At the same time, NUP did not have enough in terms of funds. 

“We are receiving so many calls from candidates, especially in western and northern Uganda who risk not being nominated because they don’t have the required Shs3 million... we have seen so many candidates who had wanted to run for MP but they simply cannot afford this money,” Mr Kyagulanyi pointed out in an October appeal.

A fundraising drive that he launched could only raise Shs117 million, some of which was used for opening offices in different parts of the country. The result was that NUP could only get 242 people nominated compared to FDC’s 281 and the NRM’s 487 candidates.

Museveni onslaught
Last month while speaking at Duhaga Primary School where he addressed NRM leaders and flag bearers from Hoima District, Mr Museveni vowed to obliterate Mr Kyagulanyi’s team, which he claimed was being backed by foreigners to destabilise Uganda.

“I will capture Kyagulanyi’s group, you just wait. I work underground but I will finish them. As you are up shouting hooray, I am working underground,” Mr Museveni vowed.
The other was the arrest of members of his campaign and security teams, which left him devoid of support staff and manpower for vote protection. 
Could Mr Kyagulanyi;s luck have under the circumstances panned out differently? Methinks not.


Brutalised 
Warned

 Mr Kyagulanyi was brutalised while in detention, which Mr Museveni, who had previously denied the claim inadvertently owned up to during a March 14, 2019, meeting with youth at State House Entebbe.
“Your artiste, when he was in West Nile, the soldiers boxed him. Oh! They really reported to the Whites. They think the Whites are gods. I called the soldiers to tell me. They said they beat him because he beat them first when they went to his room where he was hiding. I told them there is no case,” Mr Museveni said.
During the same meeting, Mr Museveni warned Kyagulanyi to forget his presidential ambitions, saying politics is not like singing.
 

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