Uganda: The 'Big' Men Giving Museveni Sleepless Nights Ahead of the January Elections

Uganda goes to the polls in January and while 10 candidates seek to unseat President Yoweri Museveni -- from a position he has held for the past 34 years -- analysts view the election as a three-horse race.

President Museveni's entrenched National Resistance Movement party faces Bobi Wine's National Unity Platform (NUP) and the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) -- the biggest opposition party in the country -- which is fronting Patrick Oboi Amuriat.

Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine

When President Yoweri Museveni captured power in 1986, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine was four-years-old, living in the slums of Kamwokya, in Kampala.

Bobi Wine, a music and dance diploma holder from Makerere University, has only known Museveni as president of Uganda. Thirty-four years later, Bobi Wine, currently, the MP for Kyadondo East, has emerged as the main challenger to President Museveni's stranglehold on power as the country heads to the polls in January 2021.

Bobi Wine has endeared himself to the masses with his niche afro beat, "raga" and reggae tunes on topics ranging from love, resilience, social injustice, sanitation and personal hygiene, drug abuse among others, since his university days. Proud of his "ghetto" background, it earned him the moniker "ghetto president" and his long-term title of "his excellency," and says he doesn't regret his past.

Bobi Wine amassed wealth and fans all over the world through his music and as time went on, his music took on political undertones, pointing out corruption, election violence, high electricity tariffs, expulsion of street vendors from Kampala streets and several other issues affecting the common man.

"I hadn't intended to join active politics, but it was these so-called politicians who failed us especially in the ghetto who forced me to run. I am not a politician, I am a leader and that is why I want to transform our people the way I used to in the ghetto," said Bobi Wine.

His entry into the country's political scene was unconventional. In 2016, a court in Kampala annulled the parliamentary election of Kyadondo East and Bobi Wine decided to run in the by-election.

Two opposition parties refused to have him as their candidate largely because of his inexperience. He ran as an independent, and won by a landslide.

Backing candidates

He would then go on to back other opposition parliamentary candidates around the country who partly rode on his popularity to win parliamentary seats, a move which put him at loggerheads with the government and almost cost him his life.

He was arrested in the West Nile district of Arua during a by-election of an independent candidate and detained in military barracks for days where he was allegedly tortured.

The government said he and his supporters had blocked President Museveni's convoy and pelted it with stones.

He was court martialled for allegedly being found in possession of guns, but the charges were dropped and he was charged with treason in a civilian court, a case whose hearing is still ongoing.

The wins for opposition candidates whom he backed, his arrest and torture together with the protests that ensued after he decided to run for president has been his legacy so far.

"For me, the people had spoken. This showed me that they had for long been deprived of their power. I promised that I would return it to them and that is why we came up with the People Power pressure group," Bobi Wine said.

At 38 years old, Bobi Wine is one of the top challengers of the incumbent. Earlier this year, the People Power pressure group morphed into NUP when Bobi Wine took leadership of the party and is now running for presidency under its flag.

Patrick Oboi Amuriat

The Forum for Democratic Change is still a political force that can't be underestimated. Since its formation in 2004, the party has developed grass root structures capable of winning local council and parliamentary seats with a good shot at the presidency.

Since its inception, the party's flag bearer has been Kizza Besigye, the charismatic opposition leader who has unsuccessfully challenged President Museveni four times.

Dr Besigye however said earlier this year that he would not take part in the January election because he believed Uganda's elections are a sham, with results premeditated by the state and that they are a mockery of democracy.

The FDC flag will this time be flown by the party's president Patrick Oboi Amuriat who hails from eastern Uganda. He is commonly known as POA.

Before he joined politics, POA worked with several local and international engineering consulting firms, community development organisations and also had a stint in public service as a district engineer of Kumi district.

Active politics

He joined active politics in 1994, first contesting for the Constituency Assembly, which promulgated the 1995 elections. In 1999, he joined the Reform Agenda -- an opposition pressure group -- and co-ordinated its activities in the eastern part of the country.

He served as an MP from 2001 to 2016, and joined the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO) -- a pressure group of opposition legislators.

His bid for presidency banked on support from Dr Besigye who is still very influential among the voters, but the two have only been seen together on the campaign trail just a few times. Known for taking his party's defiance stance against the government, POA's campaign trail has given Ugandans both comical and sad moments.

For example, on nomination day after the police arrested him outside his party offices, forced him into their car and dropped him at the nomination venue without shoes, he decided to hold all his campaign meetings without shoes in protest.

Recently, when the Electoral Commission summoned him and Bobi Wine to appear before it over violation of its guidelines intended to curb the spread of Covid-19, he wrote back a hand written letter to the Commission informing them that he could only be available on Christmas Day given his tight schedule.

- Additional reporting by Derrick Wandera

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This story was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper December 26, 2020.

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