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Museveni rule: Can Bobi Wine outfox Besigye

Bobi Wine

Bobi Wine

The last five of this six-part series filled out a complete portrait of how President Yoweri Museveni has neutralised his political challengers over the years.

In this final part, we peer into the future and pinpoint issues that await Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine, whose outsize youths’ support has put him on a collision course with the president.

Kyagulanyi, who has carefully dodged questions about his presidential ambitions, is increasingly becoming the strong favourite to challenge Museveni come 2021.

But according to political pundits, this might remain just a challenge with dire consequences for the man who proudly refers to himself as the ghetto gladiator.

After the Arua by-election skirmish in August in which a person was killed and scores wounded, underscoring the ruling NRM government’s resolve to crush all manner of opposition, Bobi Wine has continued to meet delegation after delegation at his home in Magere along Gayaza road to try and drum up his political ambitions.

Close confidants are not afraid to say the MP is eying the top seat. “Man, Rasta [his close friends refer to Bobi Wine as thus] is serious about this thing; he wants the seat and I tell you whatever happens, take my word, he will be on the ballot in 2021 but unlike those who have been contesting against Museveni, he has a plan B if Museveni repeats his usual tricks of manipulating the vote. Trust me, things won’t be the same again,” one Bobi Wine handler said.

Bobi Wine with fellow MPs

But people like former minister Aggrey Awori think Bobi Wine should be unequivocal about his intentions.

“He should start to organise now but every time he is asked, are you prepared to be president, he says no. He thinks those who are presidents in State House will tell him come in when you are ready. Eventually people will say he is spineless. He should come out boldly and say I’m interested come join me in the struggle. If he can’t even make a decision on whether he is interested in taking on Museveni, I highly doubt he has capacity to be president,” Awori said in an earlier interview.

His views are shared by Democratic Party president general Norbert Mao who argues that it is foolhardy to think that anybody can win a political office much less the presidency without organising. 

“People Power is a generational cause led by Bobi Wine but it must move away from rhetoric and start organising. Yes, they have the numbers on their side but numbers alone cannot cause victory,” Mao said recently during the re-admission of the Justice Forum party to the Interparty Organization for Dialogue (Ipod) that brings together parties with representation in parliament.

But other pundits like Yusuf Serunkuma, a PhD student at Makerere University Institute of Social Research, believe that the lack of organization underscores an element of a hidden genius on the part of Bobi Wine and his People Power movement.

But much as Serunkuma argues against organization, he is vehemently opposed to a Bobi Wine candidature in 2021. He argues that unless he has a coherent plan post-2021, he won’t be any different from opposition leaders before him.

“Elections are a technocracy through which dictators retain power. Bobi Wine can contest and get 49 per cent of the vote but still Museveni will retain power never mind at 51 per cent victory. I don’t see a man who sends soldiers to beat up MPs in parliament, then bribes others to pass the Constitution Amendment Act (which removed presidential age limits) and then puts up a spirited fight, call it a circus, in a constitutional petition all in the name of appearing on the ballot only for Bobi Wine to defeat him,” Serunkuma contends. 

But whether organized or disorganised, whether declared or concealed what is clear is that nothing might get in the way of Bobi Wine’s candidature come 2021. And no one understands this more than President Museveni who has already started exhibiting his winning techniques. Bobi Wine has already started feeling the heat of opposing Museveni.

Dr Sam Kazibwe, a senior journalist at Central Broadcasting Services and a journalism lecturer at the Uganda Christian University, says the journey Bobi Wine has started is one that is full of potholes and landmines and some who have been there before him have paid the ultimate price.

“Bobi Wine must know that it’s not very common for any politician to donate political ground on a silver platter. It involves a lot of challenges, some of which will include the cancellation of his music shows, arrests, torture and you can even pay the ultimate price. This shouldn’t surprise him at all. Actually it would be surprising if he is surprised with what is happening to him,” Kazibwe says.

Asuman Basalirwa, the Bugiri municipality MP, who recently rode on Bobi Wine’s coat-tails to capture the seat, is not lost to what awaits his biggest political mobiliser.

“People who fought for the independence of this country were Bobi Wine’s age; he also represents a generation of people between 18 and 35 years who are now the majority,” Basalirwa says, adding, “But Bobi must know that he is an African politician playing politics that is full of trials and tribulations; there are things that you must expect like malice, sabotage, persecution, imprisonment, blackmail, misinformation and framing, etc. But the beauty with him is that his life has been defined by struggle and challenges and I’m pretty sure he will be able to go through the rigours of such politics.”

Basalirwa and Kazibwe’s observations are actually not farfetched. The police have already issued a circular barring Bobi Wine from holding any musical concerts. In fact he narrowly escaped arrest in Jinja where he was scheduled to hold a concert at the weekend. He has vowed to challenge the police order in court arguing that it is arbitrary, highhanded and outright illegal.

Since his elevation to member of parliament in June 2017, Bobi Wine has stepped into police stations more times than in his 34 years before he became an active politician. Kazibwe says the state will do everything in its power to break Bobi’s spirit.

To be able to survive and fight another day, Kazibwe adds, Bobi Wine must be able to weed out state agents from within his key lieutenants. “It’s good to trust people but it doesn’t mean that everybody who professes to support him actually does so.”

Financial Resources

President Museveni knows too well that in order to deal decisively with your enemy, you must first cripple them economically. Little wonder that when the likes of Gen David Sejusa [former coordinator of intelligence services] and Eriya Kategaya [former minister of East African Community Affairs] fell out of favour with the system, they crawled back later when poverty started biting hard.

In his book, Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution, journalist Daniel Kalinaki says before Besigye took on Museveni, he first established a financial base  that wouldn’t be easily disrupted by the state.

“I’m going to fight this guy, I’m not going to these consultancy businesses, or tendering on anything that relies on government. We need to find a business that doesn’t depend on him or his people. That’s the only way you can take on and oppose Museveni. All these people are compromised because they need his government in order to survive,” Besigye is quoted in the book as telling his wife Winnie Byanyima, justifying his interest in a piggery farm.

Bobi Wine meeting delegates at home

Kazibwe concurs with the need to mobilize resources both financial and human. “One of the things that have helped Dr Kizza Besigye is because he has economic resources at his disposal. It is the same reason why people like Raila Odinga have been very key in Kenyan politics for a long time. I believe Bobi Wine has the support and also the timing favours him but there are still quite a number of loose ends he must tighten up as we approach 2021,” Kazibwe says.

For Abbey Kibirige Ssemuwemba, a Ugandan living in the United Kingdom, by the time Bobi Wine realises what he is really up against, it might be too late to salvage anything.

“Realistic really is the word; elections cannot take Museveni out, something Bobi seems to be investing all his energy into. With Museveni intent on stopping his music shows, which other way is he going to use to sell himself to the public, and mobilise campaign funds, before 2021?” Ssemuwemba argues, adding, “Museveni wants to keep Bobi on a parliamentary income only, and that may be the beginning of Bobi’s downfall. His concerts not only boost his savings but also sell him to the public. Museveni won’t allow that and this is something Bobi will have to live with. Yes, he has gone to court over this but no court will rule in his favour. Even if they do, police will continue antagonizing him.” Ssemuwemba says.

As 2021 approaches, academician Oweyagah Afunaduula says it’s hard to tell whether Bobi Wine will ever be president. But what is for sure, before he can legitimately own the title of His Excellency, he must go through a baptism of fires whether he will survive it or not, only time will tell.

bakerbatte@observer.ug

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