Behind Bobi Wine popularity
Part of the reason is that Bobi Wine’s music is seen as his most lethal mobilisation tool. His November 2018 Kyarenga concert at the One Love Beach in Busabala, which he owns, is to-date the biggest concert by any Ugandan artist.
Since then, the artist claims that the state has blocked 124 of his music concerts in what is seen as an effort to cripple him both financially and politically. But it is not clear how the state will deal with Bobi Wine’s music when the campaigns proper start. His rallies might be music concerts.
Previously Bobi Wine was just a pop star and even his music was more social issues-oriented than political.
Then in the build up to the 2016 elections, he made the switch; focusing mainly on political music, and targeting President Yoweri Museveni’s government directly. In just two years, he has been christened Uganda’s king of protest music in Uganda.
Using protest music, Bobi Wine challenged the ruling party shortly before and after the elections. His music set the stage for him to win the Kyadondo East election in 2017 but his supremacy was seen as he defeated candidates fronted by Besigye and FDC and Museveni and the ruling NRM.
Immediately he was sworn in at parliament, he led the campaign against the ruling party’s move to eliminate the presidential age limit. He became the centre of both local and international attention as a desperate Museveni deployed soldiers to invade parliament to force the vote.
Then the Arua Municipality by-election happened. The seat had been held by maverick NRM stalwart Ibrahim Abiriga and Museveni was determined for NRM to retain it.
He campaigned there vigorously. Besigye and the FDC also fielded a candidate. But Wadri, a late entrant who Bobi Wine campaigned for won.
Bobi Wine’s credentials as the opposition leader were cemented because he paid the highest price; his driver was killed in what was seen as an assassination attempt on him. He was later badly tortured and locked up on trumped up gun possession charges.
Bobi Wine was not the only opposition politician who was arrested and beaten. But both international and local media focused on him. This exerted pressure on the state to release him and allow him to get medical treatment in the U.S. for him to recover from the injuries he suffered.
While in the U.S. Bobi with the help of U.S. based lawyer Robert Armsterdam held a press conference that won him unprecedented air play on most major international cable networks.
Back home, Bobi Wine’s touch was credited for other opposition victories. Many started seeing him as a kingmaker hardly a year after he joined elective politics.
The Buganda, Catholic factor
Apart from the music, Bobi belongs to three major voting blocs—he is catholic, which is the biggest religious group in Uganda, he is also a Muganda and therefore belongs to the biggest tribe, and at 38, he more than anyone else amongst the presidential hopefuls, appeals to the youth who ahead of the 2021 polls could make up over 70 percent of the voters.
Observers say tribe, religion, and the youth card might play a bigger role in the 2021 elections. Already, videos have started emerging showing priests either singing along to Bobi Wine’s song or using the pulpit to call on the state to stop blocking his concerts.
In one video, a priest is seen urging followers to fight for the truth just like Bobi Wine is doing even in if it means being killed. The youthful priest says this is the turn for youth.
The Catholic and Buganda leadership have in previous elections either spoken in favour of the opposition; especially Besigye or used the opposition as a bargaining chip to win concessions from Museveni.
In return, President Museveni has always tried to create the impression that he shares power with the powerful Baganda constituency. Al Hajji Moses Kigongo has been ruling party vice chairman since it came to power in 1986 and all vice presidents except one have been Baganda; Samson Kiseka (1991-94), Gilbert Bukenya (2003-2011), and Edward Ssekandi (2011 to present). Sekandi and Bukenya are also Catholics.
None of these could challenge Museveni in an election.
All presidential elections have featured a Muganda, although most have been also-run without any chance of winning. Only Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere was a credible challenger, first to Milton Obote of UPC in 1980 and to Museveni in 1996.
Bobi Wine is now seen as Buganda’s best shot at the presidency, he runs in 2021. As he plans for the 2021 elections, Besigye must bear all this in mind. It is the first time he is running against or alongside an opposition candidate who is seen to be more popular than him.
Bobi Wine is also different from President Museveni and Besigye in many other ways. They are in almost the same age bracket (Besigye 63 years and Museveni 75 years), they fought together in the 1981-86 war together, are from the same religion—protestants, and come from the same region—western Uganda.
In contests where these things have tended to play a role, Bobi Wine is a
clearly differentiated product.
Besigye has always benefited from the sympathy vote owing to the brutal treatment from security forces. With Bobi Wine facing the same treatment, the sympathy vote could at the very least be split between them. For now, whether Bobi Wine working with Besigye will appeal or put off voters is the question.