Over the past year, MP Robert Kyagulanyi, commonly referred to as Bobi Wine, has been the face of Uganda’s opposition. He has become a fiery opponent of the oppressive Museveni government. As his local support base increases and international support spreads, the Ugandan government has clearly demonstrated they will intentionally and publicly suppress the opposition in the country.
Who is Bobi Wine and why is the Ugandan government trying to suppress him?
Bobi Wine is a Ugandan musician who became Member of Parliament for Kyaddondo East Constituency in 2017. For the past year and a half, he has become increasingly critical of the Ugandan government, claiming that President Museveni has not done enough to help Ugandans in his 32-year presidency. During his short political career, he has galvanised the youth to actively participate in politics, more so than any other previous politician, showing that he has become a force to be reckoned with.
Since last August, Bobi Wine has faced numerous attacks from security forces under the premise that he is a threat to the country. It all started when he and 32 opposition members were illegally and arbitrarily arrested for allegedly obstructing and attacking the President’s convoy in Arua when they were all campaigning for their respective candidate. As the security forces attempted to capture Bobi Wine, they shot at his car, killing his driver. The opposition leaders, dubbed the Arua 33, were tortured while in police custody, allegations that the government has denied. Many of them required immediate medical attention either in Uganda or abroad. The Arua 33 were charged with treason and are currently awaiting an unfair trial before a military court. Just last week, President Museveni has urged the Inspector General to charge police officers who were responsible for security during the election chaos that led to the arrest of the Arua 33. The police spokesman responded to the government saying that once funds are made available, responsible officers will be tried in disciplinary courts.
After returning to Uganda from receiving medical treatment abroad, security forces have continued to harass Bobi Wine by limiting him and his supporters’ ability to exercize their freedom of assembly and expression – two key principles of modern day democracies. These principles allow citizens to come together privately or publicly to express and defend their common interests in a peaceful manner (freedom of assembly) and to freely express and communicate their opinions and ideas (as long as it does not inflict harm on others) without fear of persecution from the government (freedom of expression).
Since the end of September, all his concerts have been arbitrarily cancelled or shut down by the Ugandan police who claim Bobi Wine did not acquire proper documentation to stage them. The police spokesperson has also said that some of his concerts could not happen due to fear that his supporters might cause chaos. The latest attempt to restrict their freedom of assembly was on Christmas Day where not only did the police cancel his Boxing Day concert but also dispatched officers and army personnel to surround his house to ensure that he did not leave his premises. His frustrated supporters violently clashed with the police both in Busabala beach and Kampala. A week before this incident, police and army stormed the City Hotel in Jinja in an attempt to stop him from performing in the town. He narrowly escaped arrest but some of his entourage were not so lucky.
What is to come next for Bobi Wine?
Over the past six months, the Museveni-led government has demonstrated that it is willing to use its agencies to commit human rights violations and abuses. The government has also demonstrated to its people that they will continue to limit the opposition’s right to freedom of assembly and expression. Moreover, it has demonstrated that it will continue to target Bobi Wine specifically.
At the same time, Bobi Wine has shown that he will continue to fight to build a better Uganda for all despite the numerous attacks from the government. 2019 is going to be an even more challenging year for him as his court case comes up. At the end of the day, Bobi Wine has shown that he can confidently establish himself as the new face of the opposition in Uganda.