20 August 2018

Uganda: Bobi Wine in Fela Kuti's Path of Resistance

Photo: BobiWine/Facebook
Bobi Wine’s 2017 song Freedom was banned by the Uganda Communications Commission for its reference to Museveni who has been in power for over three decades.

In Nigeria in the 80s and 90s, Fela Kuti was a major voice of opposition to the oppressive military regime through his music. In 2018, in Uganda, Bobi Wine, not only through his music but his activism too is fighting the same oppression and autocracy. We draw parallels between the Kalakuta President and the Ghetto President.

The arrest of Ugandan parliamentarian Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu also known as Bobi Wine by the Yoweri Kaguta Museveni regime has sparked both online and offline protests demanding for the release of the Ugandan musician who was charged with illegal possession of firearms in a military court.

Parallels can be drawn between Nigerian pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre, political critic and human rights activist. Fela Kuti. However, unlike Bobi Wine, Fela did not hold any political position despite once contesting for the presidency. Fela's only instrument against the military dictatorship of the likes of Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari was his music. Fela's music popular among the Nigerian public and across Africa was enough to make political leaders uncomfortable to the point of unleashing violence on him, bringing up trumped up charges, illegal detention and killing his mother. Many African musicians have taken the path of Fela by challenging autocratic governments, and Uganda's Bobi Wine is one such example.

Museveni has been in power since1986, at the time he took power Bobi Wine was 4 years-old. Museveni is currently 74 years, and intends to extend his stay in power, but Bobi Wine has been giving Museveni headaches. Ssentamu's popularity in Uganda has grown in leaps and bounds. The Ugandan public follows his music, and support his brand of politics, which Bobi Wine says is all about the people. When campaigning against President Museveni's controversial proposal to lift the presidential age limit, Bobi Wine was guided by Article 1 of the Constitution, which states, "All power belongs to the people."

Bobi Wine's song Situka, just like many of his other songs was laden with anti-government rhetoric which didn't sit well with Yoweri Museveni. Photo: Facebook/BobiWine

Just like Fela who had Kalakuta Republic (communal compound that housed his family, band members, and recording studio) where he was self-defined "President", Bobi Wine is also called "Ghetto President" by his supporters. Bobi Wine formed his "Ghetto republic" over 10 years ago, which is located in one of Kampala's largest slums, Kamwokya. Similar to Fela's Afrika Shrine, Bobi Wine and other musicians performed political and protest songs. Bobi Wine identifies with the grassroots, and commands support and respect from the public. While campaigning as aspiring Member of Parliament for Kyadondo East, he went from door to door as part of his campaign, a strategy which endeared him to members of the constituency.

Reminiscent of Fela's critical songs, Bobi Wine's music is also laden with anti-government rhetoric. In his song Situka, the track opens with the line, "When the going gets tough, the tough must get going, especially when our Leaders have become Misleaders and Mentors have become Tormentors. When freedom of expression is met with suppression and oppression"

The Uganda Communications Commission banned his 2017 song Freedom where he sang:

We are fed up with those who oppress our lives

And everything that takes away our rights

Uganda seems to be moving backwards We know you fought a bush war

But imagine a child who was unborn when you came has also long become a parent

somebody help us tell this to Mzee

Bobi Wine is currently held at the Makindye military prisons. A statement released on his Facebook page stated: "Bobi is in pain. Bobi is hurting EVERYWHERE. We nearly lost him! He wonders how he is still alive after such treatment. Bobi cannot stand on his own. He has a swollen face- very deformed. At first sight, it is very unlikely that you would recognize him. You may not understand this unless if you see him. His forehead is bruised and his eyes are red,"

"He has many wounds including one on his ear. He seems to have been punched many times on the face. He cannot walk. He was carried into the room where we saw him. He cannot sit straight. He speaks with difficulty and has a lot of pain breathing. He has great pain in the left side ribs and hip. He bled a lot through the ears and through the nose. Blood stains are still visible! He is in such a terrible state and in need of urgent medical attention. I could not believe that an innocent man can be taken through all this because he has a different political opinion," the statement reads.

Ugandans could as well be facing what Nigerians faced in the 80s, an autocratic and repressive regime. Luckily for Uganda, a strong voice against oppression is fighting for freedom. While Bobi Wine and Fela might be different in terms of the type of music, the two have met on their journey, standing up against respective oppressive governments.

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