There has never been a peaceful handover of power in Uganda, but pop star-turned-politician Bobi Wine is hoping to change that by unseating long-serving President Yoweri Museveni in Thursday’s vote. BBC Africa correspondent Catherine Byaruhanga takes a look at the challenger.
A few weeks before the general election and what could be the biggest day of Bobi Wine’s life, he brought his presidential campaign to his family’s ancestral home.
Ugandan pop star and opposition figure Bobi Wine said Monday he will challenge longtime President Yoweri Museveni in a 2021 election “on behalf of the people.”
But Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, said he is concerned about his safety after what he believes was an attempt on his life last August. His driver was shot dead in his car after protesters threw stones at the president’s motorcade.
Wine’s arrest at the time sparked protests in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The 37-year-old said he is fearful of harm from running for president because “there has never been a threat to this regime like the threat we pose to it today as a generation.”
In December, a bullet was shot through his vehicle’s windscreen narrowly missing a passenger. Bobi Wine said that he thought his life was in danger.
In Kanoni, as had happened countless times during the campaign, he ran into a police and military blockade – teargas and bullets were fired. The authorities said they were simply trying to disperse crowds and enforce Covid-19 guidelines.
But Bobi Wine believed this was yet another sign of intimidation. He has been consistent in saying that it will not succeed as he feels that he is at the head of a mass movement.
The comparisons between a younger Mr Museveni – charismatic, energetic and inspiring – with today’s Bobi Wine are hard to escape.
The rebel commander was just 41 years old when he seized power, promising Ugandans security, a stronger economy and a better future.
Some do wonder whether his new challenger full of idealism and populist rhetoric might not make the same mistakes.
Activist Siperia Mollie Saasirabo, 24, who says she is now in “political exile” in Kenya, is disillusioned with Bobi Wine.
In 2019, she became the face of student protests over a fee hike at Makerere University. For that, she was abducted by people she believed were plain-clothed soldiers, badly beaten, and left barely conscious.
Wine also faces treason charges stemming from his alleged role in the incident in which the president’s convoy was attacked with stones. Prosecutors added additional charges of annoying the president over that incident. He also is charged with the offense of disobeying statutory authority after he led a demonstration against a new tax targeting social media. He denies all the charges.
Wine would be ineligible to run for president if he were to be convicted of any of those crimes.
“We know that the regime is going to try anything within their reach to block us from contesting,” Wine said.
Museveni, who is 74 and remains popular among some Ugandans, is expected to run again after parliament passed legislation removing a clause in the constitution that prevented anyone over 75 from holding the presidency.
As the bill was being debated, security personnel during one chaotic session entered the parliamentary chamber and roughed up opposition lawmakers, including Wine, who had been trying to delay a procedural vote.
The president accuses Wine and other opposition figures of trying to lure young people into deadly rioting.
Museveni’s party, which dominates the national assembly, has endorsed him as its sole candidate for the next election. The opposition is divided, with veteran opposition figures frequently attacking each other in public.
Although Wine’s rise as a possible presidential contender has energized the opposition, it also has exposed rifts among the opposition figures who hope to take power after Museveni.
As Wine’s stature rose, tensions grew between him and Kizza Besigye, a four-time presidential candidate who has been Museveni’s most serious election opponent. Besigye was criticized by Wine’s supporters after he suggested that the singer was not yet ready to become president, underscoring how difficult it will be for the opposition to unite against Museveni.