KAMPALA, UGANDA - As Uganda’s presidential nominations draw closer, politician Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as the musician Bobi Wine, has vowed to rock the halls of power with a run for the top job. Wine describes President Yoweri Museveni’s 33 years in power as a dictatorship. Museveni has described Wine as an enemy of prosperity, and in November called for more riot police to deal with his opponent.
Wine, a Ugandan musician-turned-lawmaker, was once known as the “ghetto president” for his support base in city slums.
But 2019 became the year Wine announced a bid to challenge Museveni for the office of president.
In an exclusive interview with VOA, Wine says he decided to run for president because Museveni has lost touch with young Ugandans.
“He believes that the way to deal with our generation is to deal with the young man that represents it, that’s Bobi Wine. Blocking my musical shows, blocking me from any public interactions. Trying to make it hard for me to speak to the people out there. In my opinion, he seems to be fighting with a ghost he cannot touch,” Wine said.
Wine and his supporters describe Museveni, who has been president since 1986, as a dictator.
For his part, Museveni calls Wine an enemy of progress because he asks foreigners not to invest in Uganda until there is a change in leadership.
The government has used police beatings and pepper spray, known as kamulali, to shut down Wine’s concerts and break up protests by his supporters.
Museveni recently said that authorities need more muscle.
“We now need manpower for the riot police to deal with some of our customers here in town. Because we want just to kamulali (pepper spray) without killing anybody,” he said.
Museveni is also trying to connect with young people and slum-dwellers, a constituency that critics say he has ignored.
In October, he appointed Wine’s fellow musician, Mark Bugembe, known as Buchaman, as his presidential adviser on ghetto affairs.
Bugembe, who took over the unofficial title of ghetto president when Wine became a lawmaker, rejects the criticism that Museveni is using him.
“So, the ghetto president has no party, the development has no color,” he said. “It is for all Ugandans. I stood up just to save Uganda. Yes, am just there to connect the government with the ghetto people.”
Analysts say Bobi Wine’s quick rise in politics is because of young people tiring of false promises.
Tolit Charles Atiya is from the Institute for Policy Reflection and Security Studies.
“So, this wave we are seeing is a strong statement from the young persons. That means, there’s a raw deal. There is a raw deal in this, you’re telling us. And, I think, we’re gonna confront it,” Atiya said.
Uganda’s electoral commission has scheduled presidential nominations for Aug. 20, with Wine and Museveni expected to be their respective parties’ choice in the 2021 general election.