As the newly elected Member of Parliament for Kyaddondo East, Kyagulanyi Robert Sentamu, 35, sets about his new role, he will most certainly be under constant scrutiny over the extent to which he lives up to his promise to infuse a fresh sense of purpose into the House and challenge fellow legislators towards better public service.
Mr Kyagulanyi, a famous ragga/dancehall/afrobeat artiste better known by his stage name of Bobi Wine, said his campaign and victory were not limited to his constituency. Rather, it was the start of something bigger: A renewal of leadership across Uganda. The win, according to him, is necessary and timely, to ensure future stability and progress in the country.
“People are tired of politics and want leadership because the word politics has completely lost meaning in Uganda,” he told The EastAfrican on July 6 at a poolside interview at the Kampala Serena Hotel, a far cry from his childhood in the slums — which shaped his life as a musician and later his political campaign.
“Our people have made it clear that now is the time to cause positive change in Uganda. We shall embark on causing this change in our small neighbourhood and hopefully show our brothers and sisters across Uganda that it is possible,” Mr Kyagulanyi had earlier said on June 29 after he was declared winner with 77 per cent of the vote.
Long time coming
His foray into politics has been a long time coming, according to Associate Professor Okaka Opio Dokotum, who is researching the role Kyagulanyi’s music has played in critiquing democratic institutions and processes in Uganda.
Throughout his music career, Mr Kyagulanyi’s repertoire has been dominated by hard-hitting social and politically conscious songs that, Prof Dokotum says, made him “the most expressive critical artist of the past decade.” The transition to politics was therefore just a matter of time.
“His music positioned him for his own future political career,” noted Prof Dokotum, who is also the deputy vice chancellor (academic affairs) at Lira University, during a presentation of his preliminary findings at Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) on June 14, before Mr Kyagulanyi won the parliamentary seat.
“Although he sings a lot about social problems and political oppression, Bobi Wine refused to throw in his lot with any political party, choosing rather to be an independent politician, artiste and commentator,” Prof Dokotum noted.
“It is possible that his definition of opposition is wider than the binary opposition parties versus government paradigm, but something broader including opposition from within the NRM and internal critique within the opposition in the interest of building the national democracy project,” he added.
Indeed, Mr Kyagulanyi has said he ran as an independent candidate because of the inability of existing political parties to listen to and work for the people, to unify them around a common agenda, and to empower and inspire them to exercise their power as granted by the Constitution to determine and achieve their full potential.
“The needs and aspirations of the people have not been addressed. People want a change in the real meaning of the word: A fundamental change,” added Mr Kyagulanyi, echoing President Yoweri Museveni’s promise in 1986 when he came to power through an armed rebellion.
Since his formal declaration in May to join politics, Mr Kyagulanyi has dominated and split public opinion in ways no other parliamentary aspirant or winner has done before, regarding his true intentions and potential. This perhaps because none has cast his or her campaign in broader terms as did the self-proclaimed “ghetto president.”
His campaign and now legislative agenda rests on eight pledges, among them inspiring a new generation of Ugandan leadership; actively and regularly engaging communities to demand better from their leadership; and unifying disparate groups of people around an all-encompassing, progressive national agenda.
Those who believe that politics has become the quickest route to riches, praise Mr Kyagulanyi’s ability to leverage his musical stardom for political gain and the accompanying riches.
They see him no differently from the rest of the politicians. Such cynicism, he says, is understandable because it draws from a disempowering politics that has become the norm in Uganda.
Core functions of an MP
“Some people may be sceptical. They wonder how a Member of Parliament can solve so many problems. They call it over-ambition. I understand their cynicism, because that is what our people are used to: Politicians who make promises and never follow up on them until they return for the next election cycle and repeat the same promises. I am not that kind of politician. I have been serving my community, and I will continue to serve no matter what,” said Mr Kyagulanyi following his nomination.
According to Crispin Kaheru, a seasoned election observer, Mr Kyagulanyi’s clear strategy on how he intends to live out his time in parliament is not only a first, it already demonstrates a firm grasp of the core functions of an MP.
“Such clarity in planning well ahead of victory suggests that he has his new role well figured out and I do not see why he will not execute it,” said Mr Kaheru, who co-ordinates the non-profit Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy.
The famous artiste won the Kyaddondo parliamentary race by a landslide, beating two establishment candidates – Sitenda Sebalu of the ruling NRM party and Apollo Kantinti of the Forum for Democratic Change.
The seat fell vacant in April when the Court of Appeal upheld the nullification of Mr Kantinti’s election on the grounds that the Electoral Commission had not complied with the law.
There are 66 independent MPs in the current 10th parliament, nine more than all three opposition parties combined.
There were 43 legislators in the 9th Parliament (between 2011-2016); In 2015, in the 8th parliament constituted immediately following the restoration of multiparty politics, there were 29 independents (2006-2011).
The rise of independents has been mainly attributed to internal party weaknesses that include lack of fairness, cohesion, and a firm, unifying ideology.