Uganda: What Does Bobi Stand For? If You Know You Know - If You Don't Know, You Better Know

Bobi Wine.
27 September 2018

It is in vogue to ask what Bobi Wine stands for. Sometimes the question arises from genuinely invincible ignorance from people who only know the musician, not the politician. At times it is vincible ignorance, easily cured if one is willing to dismount from one's high horse and put one's ear to the ground.

The question itself is easy to answer. As Robert Kyagulanyi, the MP has spoken out severally, in Parliament, on the campaign trail before that, and since the events in Arua turned him into a global news sensation.

As a musician Bobi Wine's discography gives a more lyrical peek into his world view and his personal evolution: The Afro-pop beats and soulful tone of the music have not changed much but the message has slowly turned into one of resistance and revolution.

But to ask what Bobi Wine stands for - what his economic agenda is, what his plan for dealing with the Buganda Question is, what his views are on denuclearising the Korean Peninsula, et cetera - is the wrong question. It is too neat, too normative. He is a politician, the logic goes, and therefore, he must have a manifesto, a plan of action, an ideology.

The more important question, in my view, is to ask what Bobi Wine represents. There are two broad ways to unpack this: As a demographic dilemma, and as a political puzzle.

At 36, Bobi Wine belongs to a generation that was either unborn, in its nappies, or yet to hit teen age when Museveni took power in 1986, but which has now grown up to have its own offspring. For many in this generation, a lot has changed, not least of all their individual journeys to adulthood and parenthood, but a lot has remained the same.

For many, the inter-generational transfer is of liabilities, not assets. They are better educated than their parents, but less likely to find a job. They fall sick less often, but pay through the nose when they do and are one medical emergency away from destitution. This is the 'more money, more problems' generation; the absence of social safety nets and affordable basic services means they have to support themselves, their children, and their parents. They live longer, but they are more willing to die.

For years, politics happened to this generation. Now this generation is happening to politics. Bobi Wine represents this generation transforming from participants to contestants in mainstream politics. This, incidentally, is a legacy of the National Resistance Army/Movement which, during the guerilla war that brought it to power, organised natives in captured areas into 'resistance councils' to press back against human rights violations and bad governance.

Although presented in form as a struggle by the peasant class against the urban bourgeoisie and against violations of the rule of law, it was in substance a struggle against intellectualism and a violent expression of the need to change whose turn it was at the feeding trough.

One cannot plant maize and expect to harvest rice, thus the true substance of the thing is revealed in its mature, harvested form now before us.

It is not clear to me what the causal relationships or mere correlations were, but in summary: Politics failed to deliver its promised improvement to the lives of many certainly relative to others; intellectuals became a minority as politics, more commercial and comedic, became both more accessible to the populist masses, but also a route to the feeding trough. It became an end in itself, to those who accessed its various offices, not a means to a more just end for all.

For instance, the refreshingly honest actor and comedian Kato Lubwama ran for the Lubaga South parliamentary seat in 2016 by asking his neighbours to let him have a ride on the parliamentary gravy train like others before him. He won.

NRM democratised politics by making it accessible to anyone with a silver tongue and a penchant for burials, then bastardised it into a corrupt, patrimonial sewer. To ask ghetto youths about their ideologies or their views on climate change is to ask a starving man whether he would like his eggs scrambled or poached; it quite frankly doesn't matter!

Bobi Wine represents a generation tired of being told they are future leaders when those of yesterday are here today and ironing their clothes for tomorrow. A self-made man, Bobi Wine is, despite what his detractors say, the adult in the ghetto room.

While it might be fascinating, in a navel-gazing manner, to ask what type of luggage he is carrying, what we really ought to ask is what baggage he is carrying with him from the ghetto.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man's freedom fighter.

Twitter: @Kalinaki.

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