ANALYSIS Diana Kisakye 13 January 2021
On January 14th 2021, 76-year-old President Yoweri Museveni will face his most-unexpected rival thus far, 38-year-old Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu alias Bobi Wine. The musician-cum-politician has, over the past few years, shifted the focus of Ugandan politics from ethnic-regional to generational concerns. Wine has instrumentalised his opponent’s old age to insinuate frailty and senility in a bid to emphasise his strength and competence. This comes after Uganda’s Supreme Court upheld a decision to expunge the presidential age limit, which was capped at 75, allowing Museveni to run for a sixth term. Having been in power since 1986, Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) party are not keen on ceding power to the renowned “ghetto president”.
Bobi Wine – Musician-cum-politician
Wine broke into formal politics in 2017 when he emerged victorious in parliamentary elections. Soon after, he became the leader of the People Power Movement (PPM) and is now the presidential candidate of its political party – the National Unity Platform. PPM draws inspiration from other popular and youth movements such as Y’en a Marre (Fed Up) in Senegal and La Lucha (The Struggle) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Using populist rhetoric, supporters of Wine and his PPM are capitalising on the incumbent government’s overstay in power to challenge its policies, structures, and legitimacy. Wine, using his celebrity status and mass following on social media, has taken advantage of the populace’s frustrations to advocate for regime change, especially among the youth.
With more than 75% of Uganda’s population below the age of 30, the youths hold the reins to this election. Using coded language and slang, Wine actively mobilizes and engages them. One of such terms is the“struggle” – a catchphrase for the national protests that are sweeping across Uganda in the face of the upcoming election. The author traces the origins of this term to a popular song entitled “tuli mu struggle”. Appropriating this term, the PPM uses it to refer to the dire state of the current economic and political environment in Uganda – poverty, youth unemployment, violent crackdown on the opposition, and media censorship, among other grievances. Wine is positioning himself as a revolutionary whose primary interest is removing a “dictator” and as a champion of the “struggle” who will fight poverty and youth unemployment. Undoubtedly, Wine has brought more bravado, charisma and vigour than Museveni’s preceding competitors, and this has rattled the incumbent president. What does the Bobi Wine craze mean for Uganda’s upcoming elections and future political landscape?
The election: what now?
On the one hand, analysts paint a bleak picture for Wine’s chance at the presidency, reasoning that the opposition’s chances have always appeared bigger than they are. Longtime opposition candidate and the only potential threat to Museveni’s rule, Kizza Besigye, lost the 2016 presidential election yet it seemed like it was his for the taking. Subsequent allegations of fraud and voting irregularities by opposition parties were to no avail. This week’s election could see similar results – Museveni has garnered political experience and managed to steer the electoral institutional framework in his favour. Additionally, some observers cite the NRM government’s laudable role in the management of the pandemic bolstering their rule by providing incentives and services, and in turn, counting on votes from the citizenry.
[KD1] On the other hand, critics posit that despite the apparent success in managing Covid-19, the state has used haphazard measures to crack down on growing dissent through weaponizing Covid-19 regulations as a pretext for political repression. Furthermore, even though Museveni is still popular among some section of Ugandans who argue that despite his transgressions he is still better than his predecessors, the changing demographics are catching up with him. To Museveni’s dismay, the youth cannot be swayed by nostalgic accounts of a troubled past that they cannot relate to. Moreover, the state’s intolerance to their growing popularity and use of reactionary violence against the PPM has only served to reinforce its position as a credible but victimised challenger to the regime. Since Wine’s rise to political prominence, the government’s repressive tactics have skyrocketed: he has been arrested several times and violent attacks on his team have become a usual occurrence. A most recent bizarre attempt at censoring the opposition can be evidenced by the government’s request to Google asking to have Wine’s 14 YouTube accounts blocked. Despite numerous attempts to silence and humiliate them, the opposition has grown bolder and more radical in its demands.
The future of Ugandan politics: a prognosis
In sum, while there are peculiarities to the Ugandan context, there are also broad patterns evident in other popular movements elsewhere. Liberia’s ex-footballer president and America’s reality-star-president are examples of how the entertainment industry influences the political sphere. Likewise, even if Wine, whose political legitimacy stems from his musical legacy and a few years of active politics, does not win this election, the wave of popular movements that are sweeping across the continent has finally dawned on Uganda. Wine has awakened an angry and discontent youth who will go to great lengths to mobilize against government repression in the future. Therefore, even if the NRM were to win the election and resort to its old ways of stifling freedom of speech and hampering political pluralism, it would not be old-business-as-usual. The masses will be taking to the streets to express their discontentment even amidst physical torture, intimidation, tear gas and unwarranted arrests. At its best, the stoicism and unwavering endurance that PPM has exhibited in the “struggle” will continue to grow, and influence lasting change in Uganda, transcending the energy and charisma of Wine. A new wave of protesting state oppression has taken hold in Uganda and it is not going anywhere in the near future, no matter what the election results will be.
Diana Kisakye is a doctoral researcher in Political Science working on the project “Multiplicity in Decision-Making of Africa’s Interacting Markets: The Functioning of Community Law, the Role of Market Participants and the Power of Regional Judges” (MuDAIMa) within the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence at the University of Bayreuth. She is also a junior fellow of BIGSAS.
 The East African. April 18, 2019. https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/east-africa/uganda-s-top-court-upholds-ruling-to-remove-presidential-age-caps-1416174.
 Kiwuwa, David E. 2019. “Examining the Rise of Popular Protests: The People Power Movement in Uganda.” Brown J. World Aff. 26: 21.
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 Jason Burke and Samuel Okiror. January 1, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/01/bobi-wine-likens-uganda-election-to-a-war-and-a-battlefield.
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