When Bobi Wine of pre-2017 meets the Bobi Wine of 2020, they do not recognize each other.
They are different; the way they talk, their choice of words, the places and time they hang out in, the radio and TV programs they enjoy, the newspaper sections they read and the friends they keep.
The Bobi Wine of pre-2017 when the musician got elected Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, would be hosted on television, yes, but the shows would be The Beat, Koona on NTV, Uncut on NBS, Wolokoso wa Bayimbi on Radio Simba and Live Wire on Spark TV, among others.
Now he still appears on TV, but the shows have changed; you will catch him on programs such as Morning Breeze or Frontline on NBS, On the Spot on NTV, or Olutindo on Radio Simba.
In the newspapers, prior 2017, it would be easier to win the lottery than find a story about Bobi Wine in the news/business pages. He would be in the leisure pages. No wonder he still insists he is not a politician, despite being expected to be one of the frontrunners in the 2021 presidential election.
“Man, me I don’t do politics, I do reality… it is tough but going,” Bobi Wine told The Observer at his Kamwokya offices, also the secretariat of the People Power political movement that he leads.
We met on July 1, having failed to see him the previous day. He had accepted to be interviewed and given us a 1 pm appointment. We were there 20 minutes early. He could not see us, overwhelmed by the number of people he had to see that day.
“I’m very sorry brothers; I can’t see you like we agreed. I hate giving people appointments that I can’t fulfill. I’m really sorry but let’s do this tomorrow,” he said moments after his aide de camp had informed us about the cancellation. That day, a number of people had travelled from across the country to see him.
Even this kind of decorum and sensitivity was not known by journalists that used to cover Bobi the artiste and superstar. Now, the only similarity between the two stars (Bobi and MP Kyagulanyi) is that no meeting of his ends without taking a selfie with the person he has been meeting.
On top of an ADC, Bobi Wine has a personal secretary who too keeps a diary and organizes his day. The Kamwokya secretariat, housed on his personal property, now looks more organized than before. When we last visited, it resembled every house in this ghetto neighbourhood. Now it has some new structures and the old ones have received a coat of paint.
The walls are decorated with paintings of famous freedom fighters such as Nelson Mandela. When The Observer last visited in 2018, the Kamwokya office was a hub for ghetto boys smoking all sorts of things.
Majority had long unkempt hair with dirty and sagging clothes. The ghetto boys still hang around, but are a bit more kempt and aware of the change in tide; for the time we spent there we did not see anybody smoking anything. At a casual glance, this now resembles a proper politburo.
Bobi’s office is no different from what you would find in a government minister’s office, with a huge coffee brown table and two chairs for visitors.
His own chair is a huge swinging office chair. A few metres away is a smaller table with more chairs, where meetings of more than three are held. On one side of the wall adjacent to the doyen’s chair are two TV sets, with one relaying CCTV footage of what is happening not only at the secretariat but also on Old Kira road. The other is for television broadcasts.
Take it or leave it, the Bobi Wine we met this time around was a fully-fledged politician; although he made it clear he detests the description.
“I’m not a politician, I have not been a politician and I’m not about to be a politician. I’m a socially and politically conscious Ugandan. I don’t want to be called a politician because in the Ugandan context, that word is a very demeaning word,” Bobi Wine said on July 2, towards 4 pm.
“Sorry my brother for keeping you waiting but it gets crazy here,” he said, standing up to greet me.
WHO DOES IT BETTER?
There are some people who argue that Robert ‘Bobi Wine’ Kyagulanyi made the most impact with his ghetto image; the Bobi who walks with a swag, wears dreadlocks and speaks patois.
“I respect everybody’s opinion; lucky enough, this is my life. I know many people like the less serious me; they would rather see me wear my jeans and dreadlocks. Many people would rather see me high on alcohol or weed. Many people would rather see me sing Sunda Paka Wansi and Bad Man From Kamwokya. Many people would rather see me in my younger days,” Bobi said. But, he quickly added, he is no longer that person.
When you grow up, he said, you take on the role that destiny and age bestow on you.
“I understand and sympathize with those who don’t like the new me. I don’t like it; I don’t like being serious – no…I like chilling by the beach, singing love songs with my guitar but the situation we are in calls for seriousness. So, if I must put on a suit to liberate this country or I must cut off my dreadlocks, if I must lose friends that preferred me in a mentally sterile state, so be it,” Bobi Wine said.
But must one totally transform oneself to prove to people that one has what it takes to offer leadership?
Bobi Wine admitted he would rather remain himself and still engage in things aimed at causing change. However, Uganda is such a conservative country that requires a lot of time to explain to people that a guy with dreadlocks and ragtag jeans is also the serious type.
“I know that many people like me casual but you dress the way you want to be addressed. I’m running for president of Uganda and while I understand the casualness and its niceness, many people would rather see a ‘decent’ Bobi Wine. I have never changed; I have sung about these things, I have written poems about these things, I have danced about these things but I wasn’t taken seriously. But when I put on a suit and I said [the same] things, they said yes. So, if the outlook is what will get the attention from the people, so be it,” he said.
His core constituency – the ghetto – is also getting a transformation. Those who used to keep long hair are now cutting it and the sagging jeans exposing their boxers are no longer as appealing to them. Bobi said it is important to use one’s body to communicate the transformation that people need.
Ever since the government slapped a ban on music shows as means to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Bobi Wine has staged two online shows. That is two more than he had staged in two years, thanks to an informal ban by police on his concerts. Although he is in politics, Bobi said he can ably still communicate his messages through music.
“There are those who believe there are two people: Bobi Wine and Kyagulanyi. I like it when people see my work and discuss it. We artistes are magicians – we like to wow people. Sometimes I speak to people who say that somebody writes my speeches or somebody writes my Facebook posts, then I do songs and they say I didn’t write it or voice it in a studio. That has been Bobi Wine and those who know me, know me,” he said.
Unlike some artistes who have charged fans for online concerts, Bobi Wine’s shows are free. All one needs is an internet connection.
“From the beginning, I never joined music to make a lot of money or to become very popular. I would have earned money anyway, because I’m a very street-smart person. But my music is for revolution; I came into music because I had something to say. It’s my music that made me popular and which I have used to communicate to people,” Bobi Wine said.
Before the general ban on concerts, Bobi Wine had been fighting an earlier embargo on his live shows. He had pushed and even gone to court, to no avail until the coronavirus struck. Now that everybody was stopped, Bobi thought about reaching out to his fans.
“I know when I stage a show online, it’s going to be magical and it’s going to be well received. More than half a million people watch me. Of course, this is not the way it should be but under the circumstances, I want them to get the message,” Bobi Wine said, smiling.
Ever since Bobi Wine became very political and outspoken against the establishment, it is rare that his music gets played on radio or TV, despite releasing some very popular hits as a politician.
As an artiste, that fact makes his stomach grumble but as a pressure group leader and aspiring president, it is testimony that his message is effective.
“[President] Museveni is scared of me and my message; that confirms that kasukaali keeko twongere kutabula (the sugar is just right, now let’s stir).”