Is Bobi Wine shak­ing up Ugan­dan pol­i­tics?

The MP for Kyad­dondo East, Robert Kyag­u­lanyi Ssen­tamu, known by his stage name Bobi Wine, has be­come an icon for op­po­si­tion in Uganda with his slo­gan of “peo­ple power” and re­fusal to be si­lenced by thug­gery.

The Africa Report - - THE QUESTION -

YesDur­ing the 56 years Uganda has been in­de­pen­dent, it has tested mul­ti­par­ty­ism, mil­i­tary rule, one-party rule and even no-party pol­i­tics. Each time some kind of for­mal or­gan­i­sa­tion has pro­pelled the lead­er­ship that emerged. Since it re­turned to mul­ti­party pol­i­tics in 2005 there have been in­stances when politi­cians not aligned with any po­lit­i­cal party have emerged. These, how­ever, have never had much of an im­pact in terms of ral­ly­ing peo­ple or forc­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties to counter them or forge al­liances. Mu­si­cian-turned-politi­cian Robert Kyag­u­lanyi Sen­tamu, aka Bobi Wine, is the first politi­cian with no for­mal links to any po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion or party to truly shake up pol­i­tics in Uganda. First, he has man­aged to rally large num­bers of Ugan­dans, old and young across the coun­try, to his cause of seek­ing change from the in­creas­ingly un­sat­is­fac­tory sta­tus quo presided over by 74-year-old Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni to a new, hope-filled dis­pen­sa­tion. Sec­ond, his mo­bil­i­sa­tion ca­pac­ity has forced par­ties that have long bat­tled to re­move the Mu­sev­eni gov­ern­ment and failed, to seek not only his sup­port but also for­mal al­liances with him in a bid to in­crease their chances of fi­nally dis­lodg­ing Uganda’s age­ing au­to­crat. He may never stand for the pres­i­dency. He may even not win if he does so. How­ever, that he has truly shaken up the po­lit­i­cal ter­rain is be­yond dis­pute.

NoThe most in­ter­est­ing di­men­sion of Bobi Wine is an in­creas­ingly wider con­tention by Uganda and other gov­ern­ments of the politi­ci­sa­tion of age and its po­ten­tial ram­i­fi­ca­tions. Age has been ac­ti­vated in Uganda be­fore, and Bobi Wine did not in­vent the in­clu­sion of young peo­ple – some­times il­le­gally and im­morally – into po­lit­i­cal strug­gles. Uganda in the 1990s held the spot­light for child sol­diers within the ranks of the Na­tional Re­sis­tance Move­ment, Mu­sev­eni’s army, which took power in 1986. That tra­di­tion was in­fa­mously con­tin­ued by Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Re­sis­tance Army. Bobi Wine’s ap­peal is a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion of young peo­ple in po­lit­i­cal strug­gle. He may ar­tic­u­late their frus­tra­tions with jobs and the vi­o­lence of poverty and ur­ban fragility, but I do not think ‘Peo­ple Power’ with­out an or­gan­i­sa­tion be­hind it can im­pact the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal or­der in any sig­nif­i­cant way. His tool is not rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle but rather a broad­en­ing of the po­lit­i­cal arena and greater ef­fi­ciency in gov­ern­ment ser­vices. He does not want to change the sys­tem – only the lead­ers – and will take to the bal­lot not the bul­let to see it through. At most, Peo­ple Power will high­light up­sets in the 2021 elec­tion and de­liver higher-oc­tane pres­sure on the pres­i­den­tial poll. But it is not yet a move­ment ca­pa­ble of putting young peo­ple in charge with a dif­fer­ent vi­sion for the coun­try.

FRED­ER­ICK GOLOOBAMUTEBI Re­searcher and an­a­lyst, Uganda

AN­GELO OPI-AIYA IZAMA Ugan­dan jour­nal­ist and an­a­lyst

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