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Bobi Wine!

DILEMMA: Former NURP head Kibalama (left) and NUP leader Bobi Wine

Bobi Wine: Will he or not be allowed to challenge Museveni?

COVER STORY | The  Independent Team |   Even as nomination of candidates for various positions in the 2021 general election enters full gear, opposition activity is strangely quiet.

By this stage in the last election of 2016, the headlines were full of campaign jostling stories. Amama Mbabazi’s controversial head of security, Christopher Aine, was arrested in Kampala at around this time on Sept. 14.

Earlier, on July 09 opposition strongman Kizza Besigye and former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi had been put on “preventive arrest” to prevent them from holding consultation meeting that day.

On July 10, seven youth members of an opposition grouping which was crafting a coalition; The Democratic Alliance (TDA), to front one presidential candidate against Museveni were picked from a press conference in Kampala called to protest the arrests of Besigye and Mbabazi.

Days later, Vincent Kaggwa, the spokesman for a group allied to Amama Mbabazi, was arrested, detained and tortured in secret dungeons. Nothing of the kind has happened so far.

Partly it could be because four-time Museveni challenger Kizza Besigye has said he is staying out this round.

Kizza Besigye has built a reputation for bravery and confrontational politics. If he was in the race, he could possibly have found something to fight about with the police and cause protests on the streets. Without him, his party; the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) appears dazed and incapable of even fielding a candidate.

The frontal fight with President Yoweri Museveni now appears to have fallen on the shoulders of the newest party, the National Unity Platform (NUP), of local music star turned politician Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine. But news from the Bobi Wine has recently not been always good.

Bobi Wine is no Besigye. He does not have the charisma or bravery. He might preach defiance but he has so far not acted on it. But something more interesting appears to be happening. President Yoweri Museveni’s team appears to have devised a strategy that defeats Bobi Wine without them firing a shot; by blowing up his lack of political mobilisation machinery and encouraging internal conflict and uncertainty within his young party.

“Uncertainty hangs over Bobi Wine’s NUP as party ownership row deepens” reads one headline. “Kibalama to Bobi Wine: I want my NUP party back”, says another and “Bobi Wine sued over NUP party registration”.

Nomination of candidates for Local Government positions started Sept. 21 and ends on Oct 01 but Bobi Wine’s party has already suffered a setback. The Electoral Commission got its name wrong on the nomination documents. It listed it as National Unity Party instead of National Unity Platform.

A day later, the EC said it had fixed the “mistake” but for some aspiring candidates and supporters, the harm was already done. What mistake regarding their party would the EC make next?

The question lingers as nomination dates for members of parliament draw closer on Oct 12-13 and for Presidential candidates on Nov 2-3. For candidates and supporters, those will be tense two days. If NUP is blocked, Bobi Wine and the MP aspirants can run as independents. The question, however, is whether there will be time to prepare any required new paper work.

When Bobi Wine unveiled his new party in July, the move was celebrated by his supporters as a genius stroke.  He had eluded security scrutiny and outmaneuvered the ruling party, NRM’s alleged bid to ensure he does not register a political party for his then-ill-define People Power movement.

According to one version, Bobi Wine’s successful registration of a political party upset President Yoweri Museveni to the extent that he shortly after sacked a number of top officials from the Electoral Commission; including long-serving EC Secretary Sam Rwakojo.

And according to many political pundits watching the activity at the NUP today, it appears President Museveni’s team went back to the drawing board and crafted new strategies against Bobi Wine and NUP. They point at a raft of petitions to the EC and court cases that have been opened against Bobi Wine and NUP.

First it was another opposition party that is closely allied to Museveni; the Uganda Peoples Congress, that complained that the new party was illegally using its colours. Then a cantankerous lawyer tried to block Bobi Wine from the 2021 presidential ballot by attempting to get him convicted for allegedly lying about his date of birth. Then the latest move: getting Moses Kibalama Nkonge; the man who allowed Bobi Wine to use his already registered party as a Trojan horse, to rescind the deal.

Looking beyond 2021

According to some observers, the pressure mounted against Bobi Wine and his party is not designed to block them from contesting the 2021 general. Rather it is a smokescreen to blur their focus away from organising. The plan, apparently, appears to be to exploit the weak national organisational capacity of the new political formation to ensure it does not make any impact nationally.

And the focus is not just on the 2021 general election per se but on its aftermath. According to an informed observer, the ruling NRM team is anxious to ensure that with the main opposition political party; the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) neutered and the Democratic Party (DP) and UPC functioning more as his allies, President Museveni does not want NUP to emerge as the new powerful opposition after 2021.

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