Bobi Wine and the birth of regional politics

Tuesday January 26 2021
By Nicholas Sengoba

To the end of the 2021 Presidential Election, we have come and so too, to the beginning of a very contentious issue. A sensation was caused by a first time presidential candidate, who has been in elective politics from only 2017.

National Unity Platform (NUP’s) Robert Kyagulanyi, whose entertainment industry name is Bobi Wine, came in second, leading a six -month old political party. 

The Electoral Commission said he scored 34 per cent of the vote. Incumbent Yoweri Museveni got 58 per cent, which in numbers is 5.8 million votes, down from the 5.9 million the President got in 2016. This is despite the fact that the number of voters increased by about  three million. 

On top of sweeping the votes in the central region, which has traditionally voted for the ruling NRM party, NUP came with 61 MPs nationwide.

 Many of the victims of the NUP wave in Buganda were long standing big wigs and ministers in Museveni’s government. Luweero, the Mecca of NRM, is now without a single NRM MP. 

Bobi Wine and NUP’s successful feat is ascribed to tribalism by his detractors. 


That Bobi Wine being a Muganda and sweeping about 62 per cent of the votes in an area dominated by Baganda, is a testament to this.

In the western region from where Museveni originates, his NRM party voted as a block (as usual) and won with more than 80 per cent of the vote. 

Worse still, NUP has no MP in this area yet Museveni’s NRM got many in the central region. What should we call that? Then all the NRM MPs in the west are westerners whereas NUP that is accused of tribalism, has MP-elect such as Derrik Nyeko, a Japadhola (Makindye East). 

Prior to the election, before social media and the Internet was shut down, there were messages on WhatsApp groups to the effect that if certain candidates were voted in, it would lead to genocide, arson and total mayhem. I must add, they were not speaking favourably for Bobi Wine. 

The fear-mongering was based on whipping up tribal sentiments and it showed in the overall trends countrywide.

The disappointment within the NRM camp is understandable. Museveni spent a lot of money on especially the youth in the central region in skilling, equipping carpentry shops, donating sewing machines, boat engines, car washing equipment, financing Saccos etc. 

He also recruited and heavily funded mobilisers from the ghetto such as  Bebe Cool, Full Figure, Butcherman, Basajjamivule, Ronald Mayinja, etc, all of whom failed to make a sale.

But it would be risky for the NRM to take shelter and find solace in the tribalism argument as the cause of their predicament in the central region. 

This region has always had Baganda presidential candidates, including Paul Semogerere, Kibirige Mayanja and Abed Bwanika, but they have always voted for Museveni and NRM.  Why not this time round? 

It starts with the difficult task of marketing the NRM after 35 years in power basing on the tale of restoring peace and stability. Telling this to a young population that on average is less than 30 years old may not sell. 

Then the majority of that population is out of work. Yet it comes from a semi or urban cosmopolitan setting with high expectations. They have been exposed to the lights of the city, which have become a mirage. It is not going to be easy to convince them.  

It is still in the central region that most of the land grabbing that has taken place, has left many people landless and on the brink of poverty. 

People who used to send their children to school from the proceeds of their farms are now forced to sell their land to send them to school. 

Yet many of them end up jobless. The fact that people invest in children to act as their retirement benefit and social safety net has overtime caused antipathy towards the government. 

Why, one may ask, didn’t this happen countrywide or at least in northern and eastern Uganda? It is because of the past record of patterns in elections. 

The north and east have always voted favourably for the Opposition only to be ‘let down’ by the south and Central where Opposition leaders such as FDC’s Kizza Besigye originate.

Many people in the north and north east felt that the regions were being used to defy the NRM by following Opposition leaders such as Dr Besigye, whose home areas voted for the NRM. This put them on collision course with the government and affected service delivery in their areas. It became futile to invest there without political returns.

Now that the central (and parts of Busoga) have overwhelmingly done what the north and Teso Sub-region and West Nile have done over the years by voting in big numbers against the NRM, we await the 2026 election on two issues:
First, whether there will be a contagion effect that will see those areas revert to voting as a block against the NRM because the areas in the central that hitherto let them down, have now followed suit.

 Second,  we wait to see if in these regions, particularly Bugisu, Teso, Acholi, Lango and West Nile, de facto regional leaders will rise with a block political base like Bobi Wine appears to be and have at the moment in the central region. 

Such developments would be significant in shaping the future of politics in Uganda. You are likely to have increased competition among leaders in regions to have a following. This would better their credentials at national level for the sake of their bargaining power. 

Second, those vying for national leadership at the centre will have to reach out to regions to form alliances in order to win election. 

The emergence of Bobi Wine has changed the political landscape. He is the biblical stone that the builders ignored, but which eventually became the head cornerstone. 

Twitter: @nsengoba