A third of Uganda’s 45 million people must be ambidextrous — having the ability to use both the left and right hands with equal ease. At least they are mentally ambidextrous, as the recent general elections showed, so social scientists must quickly probe this phenomenon.
But before to understand the mental complexities of 15 million people, you need to first focus on the individual who triggers mental ambidexterity.
The honourable Robert Kyagulanyi —better known by his artiste name Bobi Wine — celebrated his 39th birthday last week and his wife Barbara made a short, sweet speech. It was easily the most popular video in Uganda cyberspace that week, only ambidextrously rivalled by gory pictures of his supporters sporting wounds sustained in temporary abduction.
Although abduction is by dictionary definition an unlawful act, the ambidextrous Ugandans use it to mean actions by law enforcement agencies. The ambidextrous obsession with Bobi Wine by both his admirers and haters isn’t going away very soon.
So is Bobi Wine more phenomenon than man or is he more man than phenomenon? If the latter is the answer to this two-in-one question, then scholars should think and advise how the phenomenon can be managed and guided so that it can be harnessed for the good of society. But if it is the second – that Bobi Wine is well, just another man, then they have a somewhat bigger job, to define how a mortal individual with such appeal can be turned into an indestructible phenomenon that can be protected, shaped, harnessed but also controlled from becoming a personality cult.
Imagine this: Soon after the January 14 election, a serious joke circulated on social media, ambidextrously during social media blackout, calling on the five dozen of members of parliament elected on Bobi Wine’s young National Unity Platform (NUP) party ticket to go and introduce themselves to the voters because, well, they didn’t know them.
In other words, the one third of the population that was for Bobi Wine are so obsessed with him that they will vote for ‘anything’ endorsed by him. In fact, the voters who voted against/out some exemplary incumbent MPs like Higher Education Minister John Chrysostom Muyingo, Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde and Basic Education Minister Rosemary Seninde are still lamenting kicking them out at the same time as they ambidextrously celebrate having obeyed Bobi Wine’s call and voted against them.
If such passionate support for a political leader can make people vote against their preferred MP and then go back and openly repent for doing so without regretting doing it, their ambidextrous behaviour is certainly worth studying.
From a deprived childhood, Bobi Wine rose to music stardom and personal wealth in his early 20s. Then with no input of his, a parliamentary seat fell vacant in the peri-urban constituency of Kyadondo East three years ago where he has set up his permanent home.
Then in a string of other by-elections in the country, virtually whoever he campaigned for won, making Bobi Wine a national figure within a year of his becoming a politician. During one of the by-elections in Arua municipality, he narrowly survived death when he was beaten to pulp by security forces who also shot his driver dead while sitting in Bobi Wine’s seat. The misfortune ambidextrously made him an international political celebrity.
Similarly, last week, with hundreds of his supporters reportedly missing and dozens of his civilian friends ambidextrously arraigned in military court martials, Bobi Wine took a petition to the UN Human Rights Commission office in Kampala protesting the mistreatment of his people by national security. As he delivered the petition, military personnel started beating up journalists right there for the UN personnel to see and confirm the petition contents for themselves. Painful luck seems to follow Mr Ambidextrous.
Barely three years as a politician, Bobi Wine stood for president and in a field of 11 candidates, emerged first runner-up with 35 percent of the vote. This was not due to problems of the incumbent, for there were three other challengers with formidable credentials and longer political standing than Kyagulanyi; it was about Bobi Wine.
Soon, Bobi Wine will have to guide ‘his’ five dozen MPs in the crucial vote for Speaker of 11th Parliament in a race where the outgoing Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the 10th Parliament, both ruling NRM party pillars, are already campaigning for it against each other and NRM Chairman President Museveni can only back one of the two (against the proxy of the one he won’t back since the party cannot front two candidates). The MPs are the voters. Bobi Wine will then discover, or confirm what he already suspects, that Museveni is already ‘working on’ his fresh MPs. For if voters can be ambidextrous, so can the MPs whom they voted.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]