Bobi Wine: How an ex-pop star could finally threaten the ‘big man syndrome’ of African politics | World News

If there is a powerful irony at work in the upcoming Ugandan presidential election, it is evident in the way a political upstart called Bobi Wine has rattled the confidence of Africa’s third-longest serving leader, Yoweri Museveni, while simultaneously accepting that that he will not win the poll.

The 38-year old pop star turned parliamentarian is running as the presidential candidate for the National Unity Platform. It’s a progressive political party founded earlier this year, with the charismatic singer as its leader.

And he has fired the imagination of many in Uganda – and right across Africa.

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Unrest in Uganda ahead of the election

His campaign appearances draw thousands of people with a basic message about democracy, accountability, and the importance of elected officials following the law.

He represents hope and change in a country where the vast majority have only known Mr Museveni as their president.

“The Uganda we want to live in, what we call the new Uganda, is a Uganda where everyone is equal, the law treats us the same… a Uganda where we are respected and applauded on an international platform, not known for poverty, disease, corruption, and for dictatorship,” he says.

“That’s the Uganda that I envision – that we envision – as a generation.”

To Western ears, Wine’s manifesto does not sound particularly radical – but the public’s enthusiastic embrace has unnerved the government.

The coercive apparatus of state has been deployed to quell his campaign activities, although the authorities say they’re taking measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni arrives at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London on 20 January 2020
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Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is Africa’s third longest-serving leader, having taken power in 1986

Mr Wine said: “The election is being stolen and rigged, not will be (on election day), by the mere fact that I have been blocked from campaigning, that my posters are not allowed to be there, that I’m not allowed to have any billboards, that I am blocked from radio and TV stations, that I’m a presidential candidate who is not allowed to drive on main roads or even address people in towns.”

Last week, journalists watched as Mr Wine was physically dragged out of his vehicle parked by the roadside.

Ten days ago, every member of Wine’s campaign team was arrested on Kalangala Island, south of the capital Kampala, as he attempted to hold a rally.

Ugandan presidential candidate and pop star, Bobi Wine, who is campaigning to replace President Museveni, was arrested
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Ugandan presidential candidate and pop star, Bobi Wine, who is campaigning to replace President Museveni, was arrested in November

He was not detained by the authorities, although he was flown back home in a military helicopter.

The unwanted detour is evidence that the authorities are trying to come to terms with Mr Wine’s popularity.

When they briefly detained him in November for violating COVID-19 guidelines, unruly protests broke out in several towns, with police, soldiers and plainclothes gunmen killing at least 54 people in response.

Still, President Museveni, who effectively controls the security services – as well as the country’s electoral commission – is not going to hand over the reins of power.

Curiously, the problem is one he himself recognised when he seized the presidency back in 1986: “The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power.”

The 76-year old, who brought a measure of peace and stability in the first years of his rule, now follows a well-trodden path.

A Bobi Wine supporter carrying a campaign poster during protests
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A Bobi Wine supporter carrying a campaign poster during protests

Like the leaders of many other African countries, he has changed the country’s constitution to perpetuate his rule.

Some analysts blame the continent’s so-called “big man syndrome” – a sort of cultural respect for the powerful – but recent events in the US show the instinct to rule to be a universal.

The person in the presidential chair will never have enough time and will doubtless argue “the people still love me”.

That is probably why Bobi Wine is such a threat to Yoweri Museveni.

The opposition politician’s popularity cannot be contained with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Mr Wine says he is in this fight for the duration.

“We are going to get our freedom or we are going to die trying to get our freedom. Good enough. We are not violent and we are living in a generation where the world is watching.”

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