How Bobi Wine Fractured Uganda's Opposition Before And During The 2021 Campaigns

Source: Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba, UK.

There is no doubt that of all the artistic anti-Museveni, Kyagulanyi Sentamu aka Bobi Wine was one of the most outspoken and explicit in his songs. Therefore, the 2020-21 elections must have been life-altering for him and perhaps for his fans. However, I believe a man is not punished for the good he does, but for the evil he does, and I believe these are some of the mistakes Bobi made to weaken Uganda’s opposition. The main mission of any opposition leader in Uganda should be uniting all forces of change, and ambition is supposed to take a second position. Yet Bobi was fixated on his own success and ego, and all others were merely minions to achieving that grand design, therefore they didn't count.

First of all, Bobi was a great deal more of a windbag, and less of an achiever. During the campaigns, he rarely outlined any alternative policy to the government. I could watch videos where he danced for a bit on one of his songs, then he would talk a lot of exciting stuff (often about himself) but not impactful. It was very hard to know what his ideas, which were always overstated and to some extent rhetorical, would have meant in practice.

Bobi’s biggest problem was his singular lack of gratitude to those who have been opposing Museveni for a long time, or at least his willingness to be a party to those that belittled them. While in Arua in 2018 campaigning for Kassiano Wadri, he remarked that FDC leaders are fighting for positions, they don’t want him to fight for himself; they want to fight for him. In an interview with Patrick Kamara (NTV), he insinuated that Besigye’s petrol stations were operating but he had been stopped from holding shows.

Let us remember that Napoleon, despite banning castrati from the Italian stage in the last years of the 18th century, was 'ravished' by the voice of the castrato Crescentini and arranged for him to come and live at his court in 1806. He made him a knight of the Order of the Iron Crown. So, who knows if Museveni will also later on find a way of compensating Bobi for closing his shows in Uganda, if he hasn’t already done so?

The idea that Bobi was handled and massaged to the top by powerful people in the regime to slice Dr.Kiiza Besigye’s popularity is widespread, beyond merely FDC propaganda. In fact I haven't read a substantial debunking of that notion. Bobi, like a vulture sitting in a tree, was eyeballing every move made by Besigye and FDC since 2017. Couple this with the fact that Bobi and his elder brother, Nyanzi, were extremely chummy with president Museveni’s NRM and his brother, Salim Saleh, his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, and former IGP, Kale Kayihura, before he expressed interest in standing for presidency. In fact, Gen. Tumukunde is on record ,while being hosted at capital Gang, insinuating that Bobi's campaigns as MP were mainly financed by NRM people. Bobi, himself, endorsed NRM candidates on various occasions at the expense of opposition candidates.

One has to take Bobi's occasional praise of Besigye with a grain of salt. This reminds me of his laudatory praise of him during a few press conferences before and after the elections, whilst at other times dismissing his success with statements, such as ‘“Don’t talk about democracy and stand four times and on the fifth time you say it doesn’t work, we believe it works’. It was 2019, and Bobi was speaking during an event in which the DP was signing a coalition agreement with Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Michael Mabike and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of Abed Bwanika.

In any case, apologists might be able to think up an excuse as to why Bobi didn't mean what he said, or meant it in some kind of metaphysical sense, but it doesn't take a Nazi to interpret Bobi's words as an invitation for Ugandans to insult, belittle and stone Besigye. Bobi's own self-aggrandizing propaganda has resonance with a dwindling band of hero-worshippers, led by activists such as Fred Lumbuye who has been based in Turkey till recently when he was allegedly deported back to Uganda.

Infact, he had plenty of indecent friends on and off social media throughout the campaigns, often notably unreasonable people like Eddie Mutwe, PengPeng, Sauda Madada, Koja Omugezi, Patricia Sewungu Joel Senyonyi, e.t.c; and the picture they've left is consistent and, with all his weaknesses, not unappealing. He was certainly devious and sometimes dishonest. He didn't seem to want ‘‘Besigyeist’’ around, and felt they were a corrupting influence that would ultimately upstage him.

Regardless of whether Bobi was a mole working for Museveni, he had effectively managed to weaken FDC and Besigye before the 2021 elections. His behavior seemed rather predatory and spiteful towards other opposition leaders before and during the presidential campaigns, like, when he insinuated that Museveni had been standing against his ‘charlies’ (friends), and he was handling them differently. He fought with UPC over the red colour. He effectively put DP into comma after threatening to front NUP candidates against their candidates -- so, most DP MPs, like, Hon. Nambooze, Mpuuga, defected to NUP to save their political careers.

Bobi was financially predatory – most people had to reportedly pay huge sums of money before they could be endorsed to stand on NUP ticket. We have all heard scurrilous stories about celebrities - and believed some of them - even if we would never make any such claims in public. But here most people were merely echoing what they thought had been established at NUP headquarters.

A lot more could be said, but let’s look at his most important achievement -- my perspective (at the relative moment), he used music more effectively in campaigns compared to previous elections. Music can be hateful or prejudiced or anything else because of its content, but that's about the piece, not the creator. People, especially in the central, fell in love with his music and started worshipping his politics. For instance, In March 2019, two of the popular songs, “Tulyambala Engule” (We Shall Wear the Crown) and “Kyarenga”, were performed at the election campaigns at Makerere and Kyambogo Universities. As a result, the elections at both Universities were won by people allied to the People Power movement. In fact, at Makerere University, the NRM flag bearer, Osbert Alinda, polled a paltry 55 votes against the People Power candidates – the winner, Julius Katerega (3,922), and the first runner up, Joshua William Mukisa (3,365). Other songs that sold him were “Freedom” and “Tugambire ku Jennifer” (“Go tell Jennifer”).

“Tuliyambala Engule”, released in 2018, is based on a Christian hymn which promises Christians a crown of victory in the afterlife when their battle against Satan has been won. The song portrayed him as someone who certainly didn't believe in any real political structure at all, or any authority, other than 'the people' and his own authority. In the song, Bobi Wine and other pop stars – Nubian Li (Ali Bukenya), Dr Hilderman (Hillary Kiyaga), King Saha (Mansur Ssemanda), Irene Namatovu, Irene Ntale, and Pastor Wilson Bugembe – list several problems that are prevalent in Uganda: oppression, indignity, sectarianism, corruption, violent state reprisal and political impunity. Coincidentally, King Saha, Irene Namatovu and Pastor Wilson Bugembe had also featured in a 2015 song which was sponsored by President Museveni ahead of the 2016 Presidential elections. The trio continued supporting Museveni despite appearing in the ‘’Tuliyambala engule’’, which reinforces the belief that Bobi was also a ‘kiwanyi’ (fake).

If I can natter on for one more second, Pastor Wilson Bugembe sings the last verse of the song, cautioning the citizens to win the crown through peaceful means, not violence. “Do not fight,” he counsels, “All of you are God’s children /As Ugandans we are brothers and sisters.” He, indeed, continued to preach the same lines before and after elections, despite Bobi calling for protests before and after elections.

Bobi isn’t the first to compose a song based on the bible to fight political battles in Uganda. In the 1950s, activists such as Isaya Mukirane and his fellow fighters composed songs based on the Bible to denounce the oppression meted out to the Bakonzo and the Bamba people by the leadership of Toro Kingdom and the colonial government.

The song urges the youth to register for National Identity cards, commonly called ‘Ndagamuntu’, so that they can become eligible to vote. Unfortunately, the elections had the lowest voter turnout since the 2006 elections.

Besides the lyrics, the song’s political message is underscored by the reference to the inaugural speech made by Nelson Mandela when he was sworn in as democratic South Africa’s first president on 10th May, 1994. The most charitable interpretation is that he tried very much to portray himself as Uganda’s ‘Mandela’, somebody not seen before in our politics, which rightly made a lot of Besigye/ FDC supporters dislike him more, thus, leaving the opposition fractured up to today.

It is obvious to anyone with a functioning brain that Bobi is ill-equipped to deal with the myriad of problems facing the opposition. Their extremely toxic decisions have crippled and divided supporters. NUP's having of 57 MPs hasn't realistically changed the opposition because NRM remains dominant in parliament. For now, Besigye is generally quiet, mainly posting about Covid-19 and football. When the band music fades and the first shot is fired, things will hopefully change for the better. As Yogi Berra once said, this will be “déjà vu all over again.”