A high-value witness from deep inside the Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine world has offered his most thorough firsthand account of how violent and dramatic the 2020/2021campaign trail was.
Reagan Fred Lule, 32, a former bodyguard and intelligence officer of the opposition National Unity Platform, NUP, presidential candidate, Kyagulanyi, provides a compelling account of the internal organization and workings of NUP’s push to defeat President Yoweri Museveni.
Lule, a fearless construction engineer, who has previously worked on construction sites in UN base camps and refugee camps in Chad, South Sudan and Ethiopia, is a fully-registered NUP member.
Lule by all intents and purposes, doesn’t tick if any, all the boxes of a ‘hooligan’ as NRM regime apologists have branded People Power or NUP loyalty but nevertheless bears the hallmarks and scars inflicted on the ‘hooligans’.
JOINING BOBI WINE
In 2017 when the Kyagulanyi political wave first washed over the country –triggering a violent backlash from government – Lule was one of the first youths who picked keen interest.
Even when he flew to Chad in 2018 at the invitation of the US Embassy to work with a team constructing a base for the visiting former US President Jimmy Carter (head of the Jimmy Carter Foundation), he actively kept tabs on Uganda’s politics. He claims nobody invited him and his fellow Kawempe youths to join the struggle.
He laughs at suggestions that the youth are paid by foreigners to support Kyagulanyi. If anything, he says most of the youths are volunteers driven to the movement by their grievances against the ruling establishment. He says he was driven to the opposition by the injustice he suffered in court for two years when he got conned out of $22,000 (about Shs 79 million) he sent home to purchase land in Maganjo. He says the judge and state prosecutor appeared to be on the side of his tormentor.
“So many youths are disappointed in this government because their parents had jobs in previous regimes but now they (the youths) have no jobs. Those who want to succeed in life have to fly out and end up in slavery in the Arab countries. Those who choose to stay; the opportunities are very minimal – limited to riding a boda boda. Can you imagine I’m the envy of my friends who think I’m in a better position just because I boarded a plane? The youth are ready to work and transform their lives but bad governance has locked them out.”
Lule says if government thought it would or had used the coronavirus induced lockdown to diminish the opposition; the lockdown actually did the opposite. The lockdown gave youths a chance to mobilize from within their communities, which wouldn’t have been possible in normal days when everyone is struggling to eke-out a living.
“There are even those youths that people in government use as decoys to fleece money from President Museveni. They use them to create fake and non-existent youth Saccos and development projects and after getting the money, they discard them (youths). Most of these youths being used are in NRM but they are even angrier than us in opposition.”
Lule says some youths had doubts about Kyagulanyi’s real presidential ambitions and some thought he was another state project. He said youths subjected Kyagulanyi to a ‘purity’ probe at his home in Magere.
“He told us he was pure in his intentions. He told us these words; ‘I already have a name, money and fame. I can afford to fly my family to America or anywhere else. Even if I run broke, I can organize a concert here or abroad and get millions of shillings and dollars, or I can use my fame and brand to get endorsements. I own many taxis, many boda bodas, tipper trucks, I own a beach – all these bring in a daily income,” he said, adding, “By running for president I’m not looking for fame, I already have a good comfortable mansion, which I can sell off if need arises. But what pains me most is my neighbourhood and neighbours, they keep asking me for money. It is not sustainable for me to keep giving them an occasional Shs 2,000, Shs 5,000 or Shs 10,000. They need opportunities so they can even make more money for themselves. I try to make my shows as cheap as possible at Shs 5,000 or Shs 10,000, but my fans after paying for my show, don’t have transport to go back home. That pains me a lot and I want to change the situation.”
After establishing Kyagulanyi’s ‘purity, the youths created brigades in Kawempe, Maganjo, Kamwokya, Entebbe and elsewhere headed by chairpersons who would meet Kyagulanyi and MP Francis Zaake to strategize.
“Police and the state obviously always knew about our intentions to protest but our role was to make it hard for them to establish the numbers, where, when and how and we successfully did that. But we would always inform Kyagulanyi about our plans because we would send him the names and our phone numbers. That’s how he was able to mention by name at press conferences all those who got arrested not really because he knew them at a personal level but because there was always a list and we would know who was arrested and inform him.”
BOBI SUPPORTERS VS KYAGULANYI SUPPORTERS
Lule says that much as it is true that a lot of money was mobilized from abroad, Kyagulanyi’s bank accounts were frozen by the state and he duly informed his inner circle. But people like Full Figure and Ashburg Kato who switched camps thought he was just being selfish. There was also an internal fight between (the musician) Bobi Wine supporters and Kyagulanyi’s supporters.
According to Lule, Bobi Wine supporters (mainly the jobless ghetto youth) were an easy pick for security to harass and bribe because of their approach while the almost invisible Kyagulanyi supporters are the skilled and educated ones who include; the clergy, journalists, doctors, kingdom officials etc. There was a lot of volunteering and many actually gave their own money.
“Kyagulanyi never assigned any roles to us but he told us to do whatever we can as long as it doesn’t break the law. I often hear the state claiming that Kyagulanyi wants to create violence but if Kyagulanyi chose violence, the security system would be overwhelmed. Even those (gangsters) Sobis know and fear Kyagulanyi but they even fear his wife Barbie Itungo more. Barbie literally knows where every thug operates. That boxer Zebra Mando who was shot dead by the same people he was working for would come and report the state dealings to Kyagulanyi and ask him for the way forward. Kyagulanyi told Zebra that if the state has given you money to burn the city and then blame it on me go ahead and do it if you think it is the right thing
NEW VISION TEAM DISGUISED
Faced with a backlash from within the Kyagulanyi campaign camp and outside over alleged bias, Bukedde van and reporters with a nod of approval from Kyagulanyi’s top security blended in as NUP party journalists.
“Kyagulanyi told his security team to protect the journalists at all costs. He said it was the journalists that were exposing security excesses. In fact, they (police and army) would at times hold back when they see journalists pointing their cameras as they were about to do something. The state had planted Sipapa and Sobi’s thugs who used to rob people’s phones or even beat NRM supporters to paint us in bad light but with time we started identifying them and some were so badly beaten.
In a bid to prove a point, Kyagulanyi decided to launch his presidential manifesto from the western district of Mbarara after he was told that the Banyankole don’t support him. But Kyagulanyi who is married to a Munyankole knows too well that not all Banyankole have benefitted from State House.
“If they say that the Banyonkole don’t support me and NUP because I’m a Muganda, I will go and launch the manifesto in an empty space. Let me be put to shame because when I launch in Buganda, I will definitely fill the venue, the same will be said if I launch in Busoga,” Kyagulanyi reportedly told his campaign team.
Despite an earlier ‘stage managed’ protest by NRM supporters, three days before and overnight and morning beatings by the army, teargas and arrest threats, the Banyonkole thronged Kakyeka stadium where the launch was scheduled before the arrival of Kyagulanyi.
The state infiltrators allegedly incited the locals to break into the stadium to open the window for police to fire teargas and perhaps arrest Kyagulanyi. They however, gave themselves away because they were dressed in desert boots, and were completely dry and clean despite the early morning rain. Kyagulanyi’s security team started picking them out one by one with some beatings.
“When we arrested one of them, he stupidly started asking us, do you know who I’m. I am a state operative, which spy gives away his cover after just a few beatings? They were very organized, neat and indeed, when we checked his pockets we found an SFC identity card. He then identified his other six colleagues saying we’re officers. This infuriated Mbarara District Police Commander (DPC) John Rutaagira who didn’t want to be part of such schemes. We sent a signal to Kyagulanyi who told us to hand them over to police.”
This SFC infiltration was the same in Luuka where Kyagulanyi got arrested and nearly got the security agencies fighting. Kyagulanyi’s Electoral Commission bodyguard ASP Wilfred Kato Kubai was ordered by the regional police commander (RPC) Frank Asiimwe to arrest his own boss – something he was uncomfortable with because as his guard, his primary job was to protect him. Kato begged Asiimwe to just talk to Kyagulanyi to call off the rally and drive to another location.
But Asiimwe insisted the order was non-negotiable and immediately called out on his radio call “Tiger one, tiger one. Confirm location. Proceed,” was the cue for the four patrol vehicles to proceed and arrest Kyagulanyi and drive him straight back to Kampala but Jinja locals made it impossible. They threw logs and broken bottles into the road, puncturing the tires of several police trucks.
The order then changed to detaining Kyagulanyi at Nalufenya and because all the old police personnel at the station were replaced with a new team from Kampala, the angry old guard now started siding with the suspects.
For the two days Kyagulanyi was locked up with 12 suspects in the cell including Nabilah Ssempala, he would wake them up early to do shadow boxing and other exercises and lead them in singing revolutionary songs. No charges were brought against the suspects.
The Kalangala arrest was allegedly overseen by an army general. The General was allegedly the one who travelled in the helicopter that flew Kyagulanyi out of the island.
“You’re claiming you’re in the struggle but Bobi Wine is now in the helicopter with the generals... Do you know what deal they are going to cut? Why don’t you leave him with his thing?” The commander of the operation allegedly said.
The cell at Kalangala police station was too small to accommodate the over 120 suspects who kicked the cell doors. There was only enough space for one to stand forcing security to transfer the suspects to Masaka central police station where they spent a week and then Kasajagirwa army barracks.
At Saaza prisons, the suspects were ordered to remove all clothes including underwear and ordered to spread their legs and arms and bend over with police checking between the bums.
The suspects begged that Nubian Li – Kyagulanyi’s longtime and trusted confidant, be spared the embarrassment of undressing. The authorities granted them their wish and Nubian was allowed to have his boxers on.