Bobi Wine: The Ugandan with a new political song

Wednesday August 15 2018

Ugandan Robert Kyagulani, commonly known as 'Bobi Wine', waves to his supporters’ moments after being sworn in as Kyadondo East MP on July 11, 2017. He is a critic of President Yoweri Museveni. PHOTO | ISAAC KASAMANI | AFP


Bobi Wine was already famous long before he won a parliamentary by-election in Kampala in June last year.

But that is because he was a singer, not a politician, who rose to fame mostly through his hit songs like "Sunda" (shake).

Locally, folks knew he was passing when his Cadillac Escalade zoomed past in the crowded streets of Kampala, its roaring engine punctuating his celebrity status.

Officially known as Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, Mr Wine had a chequered career in music beefing with artistes like Chameleon and Bebe Cool; as well as producing popular Ugandan dance music.


But for a man who wears sleek suits, flamboyant wrist watches and sometimes sunglasses— even at night— his beef with authorities was not initially political.


In 2009, he was accused of punching rival artiste Bebe Cool (Wine reportedly holds a professional boxing licence).

Then the Kampala Capital City Authority, the agency that runs the Ugandan capital, came for him one time, accusing him of constructing a building without following zoning procedures.

Somehow, he broke free of both accusations and his music flourished.

Then the politics started.


When Uganda went to elections in 2016, Wine stayed from the pool of artistes like Chameleone who had collaborated to sing a campaign song for veteran President Yoweri Museveni.

To him, there was nothing knew the old man was offering, having recycled policies, and failed to implement them, for three decades.

It was the first signal of what was to come.

In June 29, 2017, the musician joined politics proper after defeating National Resistance Movement (NRM) and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidates to win the Kyadondo East parliamentary seat as an independent candidate.

In Uganda, like most of East African nations, defections and disappointments at party primaries are common.

So a victory for Wine was seen as an opposition victory against the yellow movement party, NRM.

His speeches afterwards, though, showed a man with an eye on bigger things: revolution.


Legend has it that Ugandan senior citizens have often stuck with Museveni at the polls because they admire stability he brought, and fear new leadership could bring uncertainty.

Whether right or wrong, elections in the East African nation have also brought in claims of vote theft as witnessed in 2016 when observers refused to endorse the poll outcome.

Wine sees the solution as belonging to the Ugandans, not politicians.

His new slogan is "People Power".

"The people of Uganda are ready for a new kind of leadership, a leadership which truly represents them. A leadership of the people, by the people and for the people in its true meaning," he rallied in victory speech last year.

Wine has not necessarily indicated he wants to be Ugandan president.

But that has not stopped him crossing paths with Mr Museveni.

In 2017, they had days of arguments over what Uganda really needs.

"Our country’s former glory is gone," Wine wrote amid debate on age limit, accusing the presidency of running down fortunes since 1986.


But Museveni, in his characteristic mood for lectures, retorted with a lengthy article where he accused Wine of lying and drove through Uganda’s history of wars, which he argued he had ended.

"Where was the ‘former glory’ of our country when people had no salt, no sugar, no paraffin, no security of life or property?" he posed in a statement he signed off with an appellation as ‘Jajja’ (grandpa), perhaps to reinforce his lecture.

"Before colonialism, we had endless tribal wars; during colonialism, after a lot of bleeding, there was, eventually, peace in much of Uganda, but not in Karamoja; after colonialism, there was chaos and collapse until the NRM restored stability to the whole country about 10 years ago, after we defeated ADF (terror group Allied Democratic Forces), Kony et cetera and disarmed the Karimojong," Museveni argued, repeating the same response to challengers on his throne.

So why is he still popular in a society whose pulse has been controlled by NRM for year?

This week, Wine was accused of fomenting a confrontation with the police in Arua where he had gone to campaign for independent candidate Kassiano Wadri.

Mr Museveni claimed Wine and the candidate prevented his motorcade from moving, leading to a shooting to death of "an attacker"— Wine’s driver.

Wine denies the accusation.

Incidentally, the Arua seat fell vacant after vibrant NRM politician Ibrahim Abiriga was shot dead near his Kampala home in June.

Some commentators though claim his rise in popularity is offering a fatigued society a chance to breathe.

"Kyagulanyi’s win represents a situation in which young people are no longer seen as passive recipients of resources or as the cause of society's ills more especially in Kampala, but rather as vital contributors to their national development," Gilbert Buregyeya observed in the state-owned New Vision.

In an interview with NBS this week, Wine who still wears a rugged beard, argued his call was to ensure the Ugandans feel powerful to change things for the better, regardless of political party.

"The solution is people coming together, party or no party, because the problem we are facing is not unique to NRM, FDC, DP or any other party. It is a Ugandan thing," he told the TV station.

"People should feel powerful as citizens. And when they say it is our power, it is an assertion. We can no longer be limited by the walls of the parties, we can only realise that we’re all prisoners. We’re in the eater and eaten situation."

To defeat Museveni, he argued, "it will take more than one political party, more than one tribe, more than one religion and yes, more than one generation".

To him, a challenge against Museveni is like the oppressor and the oppressed.