Out of the blue, we have seen entertainers morph into politicians and take on key government offices. Yet, what sets aside Bobi Wine, a Ugandan reggae vocalist vying for the country’s presidential seat, is the fervour with which he’d sought to oust Yoweri Museveni, who has been in office since 1986.
From sporting dreadlocks and rocking oversized black sunglasses around women in music videos, the ghetto-bred musician, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, had started out rattling Museveni. However, the political tussle would climax after he went against the incumbent leader in Uganda’s 2021 elections, which kicked off last Thursday.
Museveni, a 76-year-old former rebel leader who is vying for a sixth term in office, had seized power 35 years ago after the fall of Idi Amin, a Ugandan military dictator considered one of the most brutal despots in world history. While the septuagenarian is known for bringing stability to the African country, he has also been criticised for his tendencies to use violence against his political opponents including Wine. But with this year’s election, he faces his toughest challenger to date.
As results of the election continue to trickle in — with Museveni garnering more than 65 per cent of the tallied ballots — Wine took to his Twitter to exclaim: “We are under siege. The military jumped over the fence and has taken control of our home. None of these intruders is talking to us. We’re in serious trouble,” he added.
Wine’s music career and an acting stint
Wine, 38, began his music career in the early 2000s and his first singles ‘Akagoma’, ‘Funtula’, and ‘Sunda’ (with Ziggy D) brought him success in the East African music scene. His music has been dubbed dancehall, and afrobeat, often with socially conscious themes. He was the leader of the group Fire Base Crew until it disbanded.
He later started a new group known as the Ghetto Republic of Uganja. Wine has since put out more than 70 songs over 15 years. And in 2016, ‘Kiwani’, one of his hit songs, was featured on the soundtrack for ‘Queen of Katwe’, a Disney movie. Wine is also an actor, mainly starring in Ugandan movies like Cleopatra Koheirwe’s drama film ‘Yogera’.
‘Ghetto President’ & Museveni critic
Amid his campaign, Wine has been beaten and repeatedly detained. But his tumultuous political emergence had started long before then. In August 2018, supporters of Kassiano Wadri, an independent candidate for parliament, were alleged to have obstructed and attacked President Museveni’s convoy in the northern town of Arua, near Gulu.
It was alleged that Museveni was pelted with stones, leading to clashes between security forces and protesters. Wine, who had been an outspoken critic of Museveni, would later reveal that the police had shot at his vehicle and killed his driver. The singer had endorsed Wadri’s candidacy against the official pro-Museveni candidate in Arua.
In the same month, Wine was arrested on accusations of possessing firearms and inciting violence, after which he was brought in front of a military court and charged the following day. It was later claimed that Wine was beaten before appearing in court but the government repeatedly denied allegations of torture.
Protests began in no time demanding Wine’s release and the Ugandan prosecution withdrew the charges filed during his second appearance in front of the general court-martial in Gulu. Upon release, Wine was rearrested and charged with treason in a civilian court. He, however, later left for the US after he was set free on bail.
Even at that, the government banned his supporters from gathering on the day of his release and return from the US. He eventually addressed his fans outside his home upon his return in September 2018. In August 2019, he was charged with “intent to alarm, annoy or ridicule” Museveni for his role in the Arua incident the previous year.
Wine’s presidential bid & 2021 election
In July 2019, Wine announced his 2021 presidential bid. He would subsequently join the National Unity Platform (NUP), becoming elected as its president and presidential flag-bearer. In November 2020, he launched his campaign manifesto in Mbarara but was later arrested for flouting COVID-19 guidelines on crowd size, giving rise to protests.
Bobi Wine was arrested in December 2020
At least 57 people were killed, several others injured, and 350 arrested during the demonstrations that followed. Francis Senteza, Wine’s bodyguard, was killed in December last year, after being run over by a truck belonging to the police. This was after he was attacked while transporting a journalist injured by tear gas during one confrontation.
About 48 hours to the Ugandan polls, reports gained traction that the country’s authorities ordered a shutdown of social media. In another tweet, Wine wrote: “Conspiracy by the dictator & his electoral commission is in a new phase. A plot to rig is set, the internet is completely shut down & the media censored. But the people of Uganda are firm.”
Wine is married to Barbara Itungo, his wife who he met while studying at Makerere University. Their wedding took place in August 2011. They have four children: Solomon Kampala Nyanzi, Shalom Namagembe, Shadraq Shilling Mbogo, and Suubi Shine Nakaayi, all of whom are believed to reside in Magere village, Wakiso district of Uganda.