Bobi Wine’s win; whose victory is it?
Kampala, Uganda | AGATHER ATUHAIRE | The man standing on top the cream SUV, surrounded by a shouting crowd of excited supporters was wearing a sky-blue slim-cut suit of the type that was trending until recently. He matched it with a slim- tie and black dress shoes.
This was Robert Sentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine the renowned musician and self-declared Ghetto President who has become a political sensation. Bobi Wine had switched his trademark dreads for a low cut head and trimmed beard. When he started to speak to his supporters; his voice was soft and melodious and a little surprising for a man with his long-strong looking jaw and thin lips.
“DP oyee,” he said.
“Even NRM members who are ready for change oyee,” he shouted into the microphone. It was his rallying chant to crowds at his rallies. It was also a little confusing because DP, FDC, and NRM are the main political parties in Uganda and they all had candidates in the race. But Bobi was running as an independent candidate and appealing for support across party lines. But as he stood shouting atop that SUV, nobody was listening.
Excited supporters carrying twigs and shouting were dancing around him. Bobi had earlier in the day been briefly detained by police for allegedly campaigning at a venue where President Yoweri Museveni had scheduled a rally. But now he was headed to his last campaign rally in Gayaza, a Kampala city suburb on June 27. Exactly 50 hours later, at 9.42pm on June 29, Bobi Wine was declared the elected new MP for Kyadondo East constituency in Wakiso district. Since then, political pundits have been analyzing Bobi’s win for meaning.
In reality, the win was not surprising. Kyadondo East is the home of four-time presidential elections loser Kizza Besigye and political opposition haven. In the previous election in 2016, the voters here had elected an unknown candidate, Apollo Kantinti simply because he had stood on the flag of Besigye’s opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). The election Bobi Wine won was a by-election occasioned by nullification of Kantinti’s election over the Electoral Commission’s failure to conduct the election properly.
Although commentators have since then claimed Bobi’s win, with 26,000 of the 32,000 votes cast was unprecedented; in reality was an average win. Another opposition newbie, Allan Sewanya won Makindye West with 38,000 votes and Moses Kasibante had retained Rubaga North with 39,000 votes. Even the comedian, Kato Lubwama had won Rubaga South with 27,000 votes. The only boasting rights Bobi could claim on this score are possibly that he managed to get the high numbers despite voting taking place on a normal working day when most voters would be away at work. That also possibly explains the low turnout of just about 48% of all registered voters. And that could also have worked for Bobi in a different and unexpected way.
According to simple observation and anecdotal information, the bulk of Bobi supporters are youth. Many are unemployed and could have found time to vote. According to the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), which monitored the election, youth aged between 18 and 35 predominantly participated in this by-election
Patrick Wakida, an FDC stalwart who is also the executive director of the respected polling firm; Research World International, also found the dominant participation of youth in the election unique.
“The youth are normally the least interested people,” he told The Independent.
At the height of the campaigns, the NRM claimed the youth were flocking Bobi’s rallies because they were star-struck and were drawn to the music and bevy of muic scene celebrities headlining each rally. In any case, the NRM reasoned, youth typically never vote.
However, although the election observer reported that voters were at polling stations in large numbers as early as 5:30am and kept flocking in even after the afternoon rain, the voter turnout reported at the end of the day was not even 50%. But observers say it was still high considering the usual voter turn-out in by-elections.
“The turnout was still high because people normally don’t respond to by-elections but in this particular one there were a lot of interests.” said Wakida.
According to the Electoral Commision spokesperson Jotham Taremwa, it was the second highest voter turn-up in all the by-elections held so far.
On the other hand, the main opposition challenger; the ruling NRM candidate Sitenda Sebalu was often heckled as old-style because he has represented the area before. In reality, if the working class had voted, Sitenda would probably have performed better than the 4000 votes he managed. Not that he had any chance of defeating Bobi. And he is the first to accept that Bobi was an unstoppable candidate.
“I wanted to quit the race when I had that Bobi Wine was coming,” he told The Daily Monitor newspaper as it became clear Bobi was winning. He said NRM officials forced him to remain in the race because the feared that withdrawing could embarrass the ruling party.
“But I saw it coming and I’m not surprised by what I am seeing,” Sitenda added.
Even the camp of the previous winner, Kantinti was shaken.
“When Bobi wine came into the picture, Kantinti knew things were not going to be easy,” said one of Kantinti’s campaign agents and FDC National Vice Chairman Youth League, Walid Mulindwa Lubega.
“Bobi Wine had a national appeal, had a name which gave him political capital and never had to introduce himself anywhere. Kantinti knew that but he had a case to defend. Kantinti could not withdraw from the race because that decision was not his to make. He had been given the party flag, he had been given the voters’ mandate and withdrawing would have been letting both down,” he added.