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.
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