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COVER STORY: Battle for the ghetto

IN FULL SUPPORT: Elijah Nsubuga, commonly referred to as Ghetto Commander, gifted President Museveni with Shs100,000 ($27) as his personal contribution towards his future expenses. PHOTO PPU

How Museveni can beat Bobi Wine

Kampala, Uganda | JOSEPH WERE | The 2021 presidential election campaign is in full gear; at least for the incumbent, President Yoweri Museveni. And this time, even after 33 years in power, Museveni appears once again to be bringing something new to the campaign. He is courting the urban poor – in the ghettos.

Museveni has for years played the poor voter card, in and out of campaign mode, with numerous poverty alleviation programmes; but his target has always been the rural poor.  This time the president is targeting the urban poor also. It appears it is because he is wary of a threat posed by the self-styled `Ghetto President’ of the urban poor youth, the musician superstar turned politician; Robert Sentamu Kyagulangi aka Bobi Wine.

Since Bobi Wine ran and surprisingly won the Kyadondo East seat in parliament in 2017 as a champion of the urban poor youth; he has proved to be a red ant in Museveni’s pants.

Born and bred in a ghetto on the north eastern side of Kampala City in Kamwokya, Bobi Wine famously said that he had been motivated to become political because the elite politicians ignored the grievances and pain of the poor in the ghetto.

Bobi Wine famously said: “If the politicians cannot come to the ghetto; the ghetto will go to the politicians”.  And he has ensured exactly that.

His entry into parliament, his emergence as a campaign success booster for several opposition candidates, and his declaration of intent to challenge Museveni for the presidency in 2021 have all caught Museveni’s attention.

And Museveni, who is known to treat every challenge to his grip on power seriously, has Bobi Wine in his crosshairs. Museveni wants to politically destroy Bobi Wine’s hold on the ghetto crowd, especially the unemployed youth and urban poor. But can he?

Museveni rides in a vehicle made by mechanics and fabricators from Katwe

Appointing Ghetto ambassadors

Museveni is taking a brave shot at it. On Oct.26 he went campaigning in the Katwe-Kibuye area which is a sprawling low income area on the edge of the Central Business District in Kampala City in Makindye Municipality.

The area was romanticised as the hub of the Ugandan dream in the Disney movie `Queen of Katwe’; which injected sheens of hope on the desperation, hustle, grit, and poverty in the real life Katwe.

In Katwe, Museveni walked out of his official motorcade and rode in a rickety vehicle assembled locally by the Katwe mechanics and fabricators. Its maker, Moses Kayiira, had recently sprayed its body in bright sun-flower yellow; the colour of Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party and was beaming as he drove the contraption to the rally venue at Makindye sub-county headquarters with the President as his passenger.  Riding in the rickety vehicle was a big risk for Museveni as the vehicle does not have a safety certificate or road license, but Museveni braved it.

In Katwe, Museveni unveiled erstwhile Bobi Wine buddy, the dreadlocked Rastafarian singer and self-confessed banghi (marijuana) consumer Mark Bugembe aka Buchaman, as his new advisor on Ghetto Affairs, popular local singer Catherine Kusasira who is a former ghetto kid as his Advisor on Kampala Affairs, and former Bobi Wine supporter and anti-Museveni rabble-rouser, Jennifer Nakanguubi aka Full Figure as his agent. Since the schmoozing between Museveni and the trio, the joke around town is that he might smoke weed with the ghetto crowd, if that is what it takes to win their vote.

According to people close to them, Buchaman, Kusasira, and Full Figure have previously not been supporters of Museveni at the same level as local young musicians such as Musa Ssali aka Bebe Cool and Daniel Kazibwe aka Ragga Dee who Museveni backed for Kampala Mayor in the last election.

But they appear to have fallen in line following their appointment. However, Museveni appears to have made less headway with another popular musician; Edrisah Musuuza aka Eddie Kenzo. After their meeting on Oct.31, Kenzo still maintains his support for People Power. The self-styled `Music Doctor’ Jose Chameleone was with Museveni in 2016 but has toyed with supporting Bobi Wine’s People Power and contesting in the race for mayor of Kampala.

Possibly partly as a result of the confusion, posturing and strategizing, the crowd Museveni schmoozed with are not the real ghetto voters. Moses Kayiira; the vehicle maker is the owner of Bakayira Diesel Garage in the neighboring Kibuye area. He is also a professional vehicle assembly technician trained at the Blackburn College in the UK.  By keeping the company of Kayiira and the others Museveni appears to have avoided the real Katwe ghetto.

The real Katwe is a double-faced ghetto. On the surface, it’s a bustling small business hub of market vendors, metal scrap sellers and fabricators, charcoal vendors and centre of cheap street food. But behind that façade; in the crowded tiny mud and rusty tin houses, numerous dark alleyways is a haven of lowlifes peddling sex, drugs, and cheap liquor. Speaking on the phone here is risky because it might be snatched and most residents don’t carry their wallets in their pockets. When the police recently decided to swoop on gangs of robbers, pickpockets, and dealers in stolen computers, phones and motorbikes; they headed to Katwe.

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