How ‘gun vs mic’ contest spiced up Uganda presidential campaigns

Monday January 18 2021

A combo photo of Uganda's presidential challenger Robert Kyangulanyi aka Bobi Wine and President Yoweri Museveni. PHOTO | NMG | AFP


At around 2pm on January 12, more than a dozen armoured military vehicles rolled down Bombo road and entered Kampala, with loud sirens drowning the city din and Bobi Wine’s music playing from a street vendor’s mobile loudspeaker at Makerere Kavule.

The tanks, from Nakasongola airbase and army barracks, 116km north of Kampala, drove through the streets in at least four of five divisions of the city, a stronghold of opposition challenger Bobi Wine, and parked at Kyambogo university grounds, the national election tallying centre.

There were 11 candidates in the presidential contest, but President Yoweri Museveni, 76, and singer-turned-politician 38-yea-old Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine, were in a two-horse race. Their camps and supporters have traded barbs, insults, demonisation and violence over the past one year.

Throughout the campaigns, the president, symbolically the old man with the gun, met with the challenge from a crowd mobiliser, the young man with a mic, who chants urban protest lyrics for the underprivileged youths to lose their fear and vote out the incumbent.

Bobi Wine ran on a campaign to change leadership and create five million jobs in his first term in office for young people, by investing in technology and industrialisation, increasing youth access to capital by facilitating the setting up of trust funds.

In response to his message, the youth clenched fists, and with defiance, sang slogans and shouted insults at the military as they showed off their military power on the streets of Kampala: “We are tired, but we are not afraid, this is People Power.”


Deep scars

A day before election day, the Catholic Bishops of Uganda authored a pastoral letter, listing ills visited on the people.

They cited a breach of peace and rights of persons, intimidation, abuse of state authority in the November 18-19 riots, abusive and derogatory language, voter bribery, attacks on journalists and civil society as well as intolerance, as some of the issues that have fractured the country and left deep scars.

“We advise the party that will come to power to initiate a process of national dialogue and reconciliation. There are many outstanding issues in our country that cannot be resolved by elections or mere change in leadership. Ugandans need to be given the opportunity to chart a future together,” reads the letter authored by Bishop Joseph Anthony Zziwa, the chairperson of the Uganda Episcopal Conference.

Bob Wine’s party or NUP-leaning candidates have pulled a surprise, winning majority seats in hitherto President Yoweri Museveni's stronghold.

These NUP victories point at the young party — registered only six months ago —becoming the biggest opposition political party and taking the coveted position of the Leader of Opposition in the 11th parliament, to form a shadow government to initiate and provide alternative policy to NRM.