Bobi Wine enters parliament, but are the House and MPs really ready for him?

Thursday July 13 2017


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Uganda has three popular presidents, the first of course being His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. Then there is the man whose fans call him the peoples’ president – Colonel Dr Kizza Besigye – Museveni’s perpetual challenger who also doesn’t need introduction.

And now, in comes the self-styled “president of the ghetto, ‘his excellency’ Bobi Wine,” whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi.

The 35-year-old is one of the most successful contemporary Ugandan musicians. A self-made man who joined parliament last week in a by-election, laboured manually to pay his way through school and branded himself as a fighter for the downtrodden.

Even those not interested in music took note of Bobi Wine when in 2012 he released a hit song, Tugambire ku Jennifer, protesting the inhuman arrests and evictions of unlicensed small traders under the new leadership of Kampala Capital City Authority executive director Jennifer Musisi. The song became wildly popular and the hitherto uncompromising Jennifer sued for peace, and started working with Bobi Wine.

The slum-raised but university-educated rapper is farsighted and bought himself several acres of semi-suburban land in Kyadondo East constituency that he has just won to represent in the national parliament, and keeps investing in real estate.

Used to rough living, unkempt appearance and not known for opposing the consumption of weed, Wine got himself a stunning beauty from the far west of Uganda towards Rwanda for a wife; their first child they named “Kampala", and she is appropriately named Barbara.

Unlike us ageing fellows who were brought up on tales of Mr Hare and the Lion, the bulk of today’s urban voters know Barbie dolls. But despite having looks that seem to have been sculpted by an idealistic computer, Barbie has had a moralising influence on Bobi Wine and got the slum out of him.

Anyway, Bobi Wine distinguished himself from most musicians by not engaging in their petty squabbles, and all his music topics are about justice and hard work.

“President” Wine has also been choosing his friends carefully and did not join the musicians who did a campaign song for President Museveni last year. Instead he cultivated a friendship with Besigye.

When Besigye lost last year’s presidential election, Bobi Wine released a deeply inspirational song titled Situka – “get up” – in which he urges Besigye to get up and march on to inspire others. The song has artistic English phrases like “leaders become misleaders… freedom of expression becomes target of suppression… mentors become tormentors…. opposition becomes our position...”

Bobi’s sudden rise to parliament is interesting: The rival candidate from Besigye’s FDC party had won the seat last year but the ruling NRM protested and a by-election was called. Independent Bobi Wine jumps into the ring, electrifying the race into a national contest.

President Museveni goes to campaign in Kyadondo East, so Besigye also goes, awkwardly campaigning for his party’s candidate, whom he isn’t keen about – Besigye’s friendship with Bobi Wine is no secret.

Anyway, the ballots were cast and counted. Bobi Wine just mauled the other four candidates like they didn’t exist, taking 77 per cent of the vote. And now the crowded parliament of Uganda suddenly has a new member who is totally unlike them.

There are several artistes who made it to parliament last year but they are just artistes. Bobi Wine is a freedom and human-rights warrior who uses art. Will he fit in?