When Bobi Wine is released, the young and outspoken MP will likely be welcomed by even bigger crowds than he left behind.When Robert Kyagulanyi – better known as Bobi Wine – was elected to Uganda’s parliament last July, the opposition’s excitement around the iconic musician’s victory was palpable. But it was also tempered with skepticism.
On the one hand, Bobi Wine was young and charismatic – a rarity in Ugandan politics. He had won the urban Kampala constituency by-election by a landslide.
He was an articulate and charismatic opponent of the government, a defender of the poor, a man known popularly as the “Ghetto President”. His arrival in parliament would surely be a breath of fresh air.
On the other hand, however, some were wary. They noted that Bobi Wine was untested and inexperienced. He was not the first musician to join Parliament, and his lack of a party affiliation could leave him isolated.
His ascension was perhaps worth celebrating, but many did not expect much from the young man beyond his symbolic electoral victory.
Yet just one year later, even those with the highest hopes may be surprised at the extent to which the new MP has shaken up Ugandan politics. Far from being an ineffectual sideshow, the 36-year-old has become the face of the opposition.
He led efforts last year against the ruling party’s plan to amend the constitution. He recently spearheaded protests against a new social media tax. And the candidates he has supported in elections have triumphed, trouncing nominees backed by both the ruling NRM and the main opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
As he has toured the country, the crowds at his rallies have continued to swell. There is already talk in opposition circles of him challenging President Museveni in 2021.
The rise of Bobi Wine
Bobi Wine, who grew up in a Kampala slum, was a musician for 15 years before going into politics. Yet his songs were often political as he criticised the government in his lyrics and defended the poor. He built a reputation as a brave defender of social justice and as a son of ordinary Ugandans.
Soon after he joined parliament, it was clear that he was going to do things differently. Barely a month after taking his seat, he embarked on a tour of the country. He waved the Ugandan flag wherever he went and was greeted at every town by large processions.
He took every opportunity to appear on media platforms, both locally and internationally, using his fame to speak out against Museveni’s authoritarian rule.
Bobi Wine was vocal and articulate, spreading his slogan of “people power” and urging the youth to forget their partisan differences and unite around a common goal of removing Museveni. But the musician did not just speak. He also managed to mobilise the youth through calls his to action and by giving them something to (literally) sing about.
While marching alongside his fellow citizens in street protests, he has also continued to use his music to energise supporters. He has sung hopeful songs of political freedom followed by romantic tunes of love.
In songs like Freedom, released late last year, he calls for popular resistance to the constitutional amendment that saw the presidential age limit of 75 removed, allowing Museveni rule beyond 2021.
In Time Bomb, he warns the government of an uprising if there is no solution to rampant corruption, inflation and tribalism.
The videos of both songs show crowds gathering with placards, an unmistakable call to revolution for the many Ugandans who have lost faith in the electoral system as a potential vehicle of change. As a fellow artiste remarked, Bobi Wine’s gun is his music.
By Michael Mutyaba
The Continental Radio Station (CRS) is an online radio station run by African media savvies targeting the African and world audience.