On Wednesday, security forces raided the offices of the Ugandan opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) party in the capital, Kampala.
NUP is the party of popular legislator, and now presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi, more popularly known by his musician name Bobi Wine.
They took away NUP “People Power” red berets, T-shirts, and other election materials — and for good measure, according to Bobi Wine, Ush23 million ($6,200) meant for the nomination of NUP parliamentary aspirants. The police and the army also raided several shops in different parts of Kampala where they seized NUP branding materials, and arrested several party activists.
The state’s beef with NUP is that its red berets are similar to that of the security forces, especially the Military Police. Of course, the money that was allegedly taken, and the nomination forms and party members who were swept up, aren’t red, signalling that this was likely a wider move to cripple Bobi Wine and his party’s fortunes at the polls.
Trying to explain why, in turn, spotlights just how much Bobi Wine, who barely three years ago was still a hip-hop musician channeling the rage of the urban underclass, is now perceived as the main threat to President Yoweri Museveni.
In Uganda, where the candidate who wins is still the one who controls the vote counting, rather than the one who gets the most ballots cast for him or her, Bobi Wine has little chance of being declared a winner, even if he won.
The disruption he poses, therefore, is not a straight line about ending what would be President Museveni’s 35-year-rule by the time of the vote next February.
From 2001, Uganda elections were really a two-horse, bare-knuckled, emotive, and ugly race between President Museveni, and his former bush comrade and doctor Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
Besigye isn’t standing, declaring elections under Museveni’s rule are an incurable sham, and that he has a Plan B to pursue his politics.
The NUP and Bobi Wine, clearly have inherited FDC’s and Besigye’s status as the next big dog in Ugandan party and electoral politics. They have also inherited the beatings, arrests, harassment, and other miseries, that come with that status.
A few-months old party now stands in sharp contradiction from a nearly 40-year-old ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM). Furthermore, President Museveni, 76, will be facing a Wine who is exactly half his age. Those contrasts seem to be an inconvenient story about Uganda’s past and future that seem not to sit well with the rulers.
The excitement about Bobi Wine, also means a fair amount of effort — and violence — will likely be invested in suppressing him at the vote. This despite the fact in the Uganda politics of the last 25 years, it is not the challenge of popular rivals for President Museveni’s throne that have been the big political threat.
It is the extreme, and often madness, of the actions the state has taken to quash challengers like Bobi Wine and Besigye that have caused a bigger legitimacy crisis for it.
Even if Bobi Wine’s colours were violet or beige, he would still have landed exactly on the end of the stick where he is.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the "Wall of Great Africans." Twitter: @cobbo3