By Haggai Matsiko
And why the urban poor hate Museveni
Sebataka Mulyamenvu’s home in Kisenyi I village in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb, is just a few metres off Kira Road; the neat duo-carriage city road lined with beautiful storied bungalows, flower gardens, and paved walkways. If you go to one side of the road, you enter the posh residential neighbourhood of Kololo which is home to top government officials, expatriates, and tourists who throng Kampala’s most modern shopping area; the Acacia Mall in the Kisementi area.
On the other side of the same Kira Road, however, is Mulyamenvu’s home. To get to it, one crosses a make-shift market, follows very narrow alleys past seemingly endless columns of tiny congested single-room houses heavy with the reef of alcohol, tobacco, and even marijuana.
The community water source, a gravity spring pipe, is almost sinking in a pool of brown stagnant water. In some places, the stench of fecal matter gets stronger.
It is a filled pit latrine that residents cannot empty because there has not been rain since December – and the mess would remain stuck if they attempted what they always do – release it in the open sewers.
But residents here are not complaining. They say they love the dry season. In the rainy season, floods wash all manner of dirt right into their low lying houses which are located in a valley that was once a big swamp.
This is ground zero of the self-appointed `ghetto president’ Bobi Wine; real name Sentamu Kyagulanyi, Uganda’s leading Afrobeat singer. Spiky dreads, glazed red eyes, sagging pants, and his signature limp and bling give Bobi a striking presence. He used to complete the raucous look by stubbing his favourite smoke between his thick lips. Not anymore. These days he prefers to be taken seriously – and lives the part.
In the just ended presidential elections, as most artistes jostled for space on the podium with the incumbent and eventual winner; President Yoweri Museveni, Bobi openly positioned himself outside the circle. It was a typical bold move by him and, in the past, could have passed for posturing.
Today, the man who was a one-year old toddler when Museveni took power in 1986 is adamantly political and restless. He is angry about the growing gap between his poor Kamwokya and its rich neighbours in Kololo.
He and his group; the Ghetto Republic of Uganja, are increasingly gaining recognition for songs with loaded political messages. A few days to the Feb.18 elections, the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) banned his song `Dembe’, which had an elections theme and criticised the politics of warmongering. But Bobi appears unfazed. His posts online trend heavily as they get heavier.
In a recent one he wrote: “When our Leaders have become Misleaders and Mentors have become Tormentors. When freedom of expression is met with suppression and oppression, then Opposition becomes Our Position.”
That was posted as a caption under a `Free Besigye’ picture of the leading opposition candidate, Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), who has been under virtual house arrest and 24 hour police siege since he accused Museveni of rigging the election.
Bobi also wrote: “As we preach peace, we must not shut our eyes and mouths to injustice or we shall be known by our children as the generation of hypocrites. Peace at gun point is actually piss”. The post was shared over 5500 times and attracted over 2000 comments.
He is also increasingly being taken seriously by his followers, mostly young, poor, unemployed urban dwellers. He is increasing speaking fearlessly to power. But even his hardest followers were caught by surprise when Bobi turned up in a black tuxedo and white shirt for the last presidential debate. He has made money but appears frustrated that to enjoy it, he must grow apart from his community which becoming even poorer than when he was a child, playing in the filthy sewers. He was brought up by his mother amidst this poverty, has escaped it through his singing career, and now champions the cause of the poor through his music.
“I have been a part of them (poor) since I was a kid,” Bobi told The Independent in an interview, “Now I am 30 years old and I can tell you the gap between the rich and the poor is widening and as the poor people’s conditions are getting worse, the sight of the authority on these concerns is dimming.”
In solidarity, Bobi still runs a music studio in Kamwokya.
Through his music, he also criticizes the authorities for their bad policies and actions that harm the poor.
His song `Tugambire Ku Jennifer’ became an anthem against the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Executive Director, Jennifer Musisi, who was demolishing the shanty structures of the poor and chasing vendors off city streets.
He says he is not against development but, in his view, good leadership should involve the people and offer them alternatives. “We had our system of electing leaders,” Bobi Wine says, “we would elect councilors that we would hold accountable, go directly to their offices and have things done but that was taken away, they brought Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). You cannot challenge KCCA.”
People getting poorer
Chairman Mulyamenvu agrees with Bobi.
“People are getting poorer,” he says, “The local leaders do not serve people, when they are given money, they just eat it.”
“We last saw development projects meant to serve the people 10 years ago,” he adds.
He says any development in the area is by some local politicians and philanthropists who use their own money. Some buy a few iron sheets for one or two community toilets and construct walkways above the open sewers. Others constructed storm drains but most of the drainage channels have not been worked on at all.
Mulyamenvu points at the small kiosks that sell cigarettes, small packets of sugar and salt and other knickknacks as a clear sign that these urban poor are resilient and determined to eke a living in these tough conditions.
“But instead of uplifting them and supporting them to defeat poverty as Sebataka says, the authorities just make them poorer by taxing them heavily,” he says.
The story of Kisenyi I is the story of the many slums that have sprouted around Kampala city and accommodate about a million of the urban poor.
Even though he says he supports the ruling NRM party of President Yoweri Museveni, the LC chairman says the triumph of opposition candidates in the recent election was a protest vote against the government.