1 May 2017

Uganda: Tracing Bobi Wine's Journey to Elective Politics

Photo: BobiWineLive/Facebook
Bobi Wine.

On Wednesday evening, when local artiste Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, declared his intention to contest for the Kyadondo East parliamentary seat that fell vacant after the Court of Appeal upheld the nullification of the 2016 elections, there was little surprise.

Of late, his music and social affiliations have been preparing the public, especially his core base - the urban poor youth - for such a declaration. Kyagulanyi's transformation from a laid back youth, spotting dreadlocks and posing for pictures with a marijuana joint to a serious young man spotting a clean haircut and suit, has played out in the public eye.

In 2002, while music lovers were hooked on the Ogopa Deejays-produced music of Bebe Cool and Jose Chameleone, Kyagulanyi, a Makerere University alumnus, opened another front on Kampala's urban music scene when he released Akagoma.

It was different; it had a distinctively Ugandan sound, and the fact that he had worked at petty jobs to secure funds to record the single elevated him among the ghetto youth.

He teamed up with Bebe Cool to form the Fire Base Crew, and when they fell out, he formed the Ghetto Republic of Uganja, entering feuds with Bebe Cool and Chameleone that are still running today.

As the 'president' of Uganja, Kyagulanyi cut a characteristic image - clean but unkempt, spiky dreadlocks, and red-glazed eyes.

An inspiration to the youth

The fact that he came from nothing is an inspiration to many youth who have tried to imitate his music style. While other musicians lived flashy lives, Kyagulanyi invested in real estate. They disparaged him as nothing more than a drug addict inspiring a legion of addicts.

And indeed, it seemed to be true when on September 26, 2008, he openly declared that he smokes the marijuana he grows at his home in Magere.

Styling himself Omubanda wa Kabaka, Kyagulanyi positioned himself to champion Buganda's causes. His music changed from mere entertainment to social redemption songs, such as, Kadingo, Kiwani, and Akalimu, which championed resilience in the face of abject poverty.

Such lyrics as tuli baserikale tulwanyisa yala (we are soldiers fighting against poverty) in Mazi Mawanvu resonated with young men doing petty jobs to survive in Kampala. By the 2011 general election, he had graduated to political songs.

From edutainment to political activism

Eddie Yawe, a brother of Kyagulanyi, argues there was never a change in the musician. "Every human being is a political animal. When he was younger, he had a negative attitude towards politics but as a man grows up, he tends to change into what he is fighting. I would call it (Kyagulanyi's contesting) political hysteria, forced onto him by circumstances."

Yawe, a member of the Democratic Party (DP), has contested in elective politics twice - in 2011 and 2016 - and lost. If Kyagulanyi was a secret admirer of Dr Kizza Besigye, the former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential flag bearer, before the 2016 general election, he came out of the closet.

While local artistes were falling over themselves to get a share of President Museveni's Tubonga Nawe project, Kyagulanyi scorned them. When Besigye was imprisoned after the elections, in his home and at Luzira Upper Prison, Kyagulanyi visited him. By this time, he had ditched his shaggy locks for a natural haircut.

According to Yawe, his hobnobbing with Besigye will be Kyagulanyi's major undoing. "Besigye has always stood by Kantinti and if FDC brings a candidate, Besigye has to tow the party line. My brother is new to politics and now he is going to confront the politics of hypocrisy. It will be a major setback for him."

One cannot rule out family in Kyagulanyi's political ambitions. His grandfather was a chief in Kanabulemu (Rakai District), and his father's family participated in the guerrilla war that brought Museveni into power.

Fred Nyanzi (alias Chairman Nyanzi), chairman Conta Africa Zone, Kamwokya, is Kyagulangyi's older brother and is a staunch NRM member. "When I joined politics, my brothers wanted to use me as a channel for their political ideas but that was not possible. They got to a point where merely singing was not changing the status quo. So, they have decided to follow me into politics."

In preparation for his bid in elective politics, in August 2016, the artiste joined the International University of East Africa to pursue a degree in Law, and this week, he is flying to the USA to study a short course.

The challenges of dirty politics

It is one thing to sing political songs such as Situka, but it is another thing to get into the actual game. Yawe alludes to the 'ugly' arm of government that will be unleashed against Kyagulanyi. "I believe he is the best candidate. But, as you witnessed in the Kamuli by-election, it is going to be an ugly fight, yet he already has a name that he must protect."

Chairman Nyanzi is ready to defy his party to support his brother. "I will protect his votes because I have been with vote thieves and I know how they work. I really do not see the change my party is bringing. Imagine, I am a chairman without legitimacy. I think the insecurity nowadays is caused by government's failure to conduct Local Council elections."

As an Independent candidate, Kyagulanyi will not have party structures at his disposal to canvas for votes and protect them. "He does not know the game of stealing votes," Yawe says, adding, "His candidature will be like pouring water into a porous sack. Politics is poison and he does not have a team that can withstand that poison. I wish he would stand under DP, because our family is DP. Besides, DP can protect his votes and attract NRM people to vote for him."

What are Kyagulanyi's chances?

Kyagulanyi already has the constituency of urban youth and has made his money outside politics. However, he has never shied away from marijuana; once claiming it enhanced his creativity. His opponents will definitely exploit this weakness to scare off his would-be middle-aged voters.

"In sociology, there is something called participant observation," Chairman Nyanzi says of his brother's image, continuing, "You cannot treat a messy wound without digging into it. He has shown he can adapt to all situations. People have been babanda (thugs) before. When Museveni was fighting in the bush, he authorised robbery of cows, chickens, and banks for survival. People looking at Kyagulanyi need to see the end result, not his origins."

Test of character

Recently, Kyagulanyi was involved in a public feud with Nkuluze Trust (Mengo's Royal Treasury) when the latter demolished a parking facility and road leading to his One Love Beach in Busaabala, Wakiso District.

Mengo claimed he had illegally occupied the land. Kyagulanyi took the higher moral ground when he chose to say a few self-seekers in Mengo - not the entire institution - had demolished his land.

Of course, he had not control his overzealous fans. Some posted audio recordings on social media, abusing the Kabaka - previously unheard of behaviour.

"What happened at Busabala was wrong and demeaning," Chairman Nyanzi says, adding, "Kyagulanyi is a child of Buganda who had done a lot to promote the kingdom. As a family, we hope the Katikkiro will give us an audience so that this issue can be rectified."

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