Supporters and fans of one of Uganda’s most talented musicians, Bobi Wine, must count among some of the angriest people in the country as we enter 2019. At the time of writing, riots had broken out in at least one suburb of Kampala.
His plans to stage concerts in the capital over the Christmas holiday had been sabotaged by the police and sister agencies.
That followed the cancellation of another concert in Uganda’s second largest city, Jinja just over a week ago, which was the subject of this column last week.
Given his popularity, which has soared since he joined politics and the struggle to oust President Yoweri Museveni, the concerts had been expected to draw large crowds of revellers and to further drag down his already heavy pockets.
On December 26, elements of the police and sister outfits were out in force to ensure that both he and his fans, who had planned to flock to his entertainment facility on the shores of Lake Victoria, stayed home.
A few hotheads did, however, make it to One Love Beach, in defiance of instructions from the police to not go there. For their troubles they tasted the power of anti-riot water cannons.
In the aftermath of what many onlookers would agree is unjustifiable behaviour by the Museveni government, some social media platforms are smouldering hot with angry comments from people who would rather not join the rioting but who are incensed enough to want to throw a few swear words at President Museveni, the security agencies and whoever else they believe merits the insults.
Predictably, some commentators are urging the musician-turned-politician to remain steadfast in his desire to continue making money from his God-given talent and in his determination to spearhead efforts to bring about the change they want.
In video clips circulating on social media, Bobi Wine is heard assuring whoever cares to listen that he remains unfazed and that he will continue to pursue Museveni’s removal from “entebe eyo” (that chair).
It is an admirable response from a political neophyte who nonetheless has dared take on a role that, for all intents and purposes, is tough, dangerous, costly, and thankless.
More than a few seasoned politicians have walked down that road, made enormous personal sacrifices and retired having achieved few if any of the great ambitions they had for the country.
A good debate could be had about whether being a popular opposition politician in Museveni’s Uganda is more or less hazardous than it was before he seized power 33 years ago. What is difficult to dispute, however, is that it isn’t anyone’s idea of “healthy living.”
From the way things look, Museveni has now moved into gloves-off mode, the same approach he has invariably used to see off opponents who in and outside Uganda have touted as “the greatest threat to his hold on power.”
One need not look for proof any farther than the recent declaration by parliament that blocking Bobi Wine’s concerts is unconstitutional.
In countries where the idea of checks and balances means what it should mean, the declaration would have been enough to protect the musician-turned-Member of Parliament from this kind of harassment. In Uganda, it has made no difference.
Here, respect for parliament by the executive is optional. When push comes to shove, large numbers of MPs can be cajoled, bought, or intimidated into doing as they are told. Which is why Bobi Wine should expect no relief from his appeals to parliament.
And, if history is anything to go by, cancellation of his concerts is only the initial step in a series of measures that will be deployed to neutralise him.
Of course, concerts are not the only avenue for raising money. Other opposition figures have always managed to raise significant amounts through other means, which are just as open to Bobi Wine.
The second step, which may not be long in coming, however, will be to curtail his movements using different stratagems.
That would cripple his ability to mobilise his supporters around the country and win over those who may still be sitting on the fence, still unable to decide whether, given the situation, supporting anyone and going out to vote is worth their time and effort.
This particular constraint can, however, be overcome. Teams of volunteers could fill the gap created by the curtailment of his movements.
There are measures to deal with that too. As a political party, the National Resistance Movement is not that organised. However, no rival political organisation comes anywhere close in as far as having people on the ground is concerned.
Local leaders, the vast majority of whom were elected under its banner, can ably take care of the volunteer opposition mobilisers, working hand in glove with resident district commissioners and other public servants who disregard the law requiring them to be neutral and engage in blatantly partisan behaviour on behalf of the ruling party.
So, is it already game up for Bobi Wine? Past experience suggests it is. To change that, he and the broad opposition must be more cohesive and more creative than has been the case in the past. The question is whether they have the desire, the capacity and the drive to do so.
Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a Kampala- and Kigali-based researcher and writer on politics and public affairs. E-mail: [email protected]