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Appreciating the Bobi Wine makeover

I have always wanted to write a book about Bobi Wine (Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu).

Not a memoir, but an entirely different book about the man and his politics, highlighting the stuff that traditional historians and political scientists are often blind to.

The point I want to make in this book is that when Yoweri Museveni’s government finally falls, Bobi Wine’s contribution has to be fully registered, not because he joined politics, but for his power to exploit art and awaken the consciousness of his sleepy compatriots. 

At present, however, like several academics on the African continent, I am still conditioned to issues of bread and butter, but the dream for writing this book is not yet dead. Let me share some already formed excerpts.

The year 2017 was a Bobi Wine year. By declining to participate in the NRM/Museveni election song in 2016, and winning a parliamentary election in 2017, Bobi Wine came to life as a fully-fledged organic intellectual bigger than the Nigerian icon Fela Kuti or South Africa’s Lucky Dube. 

Bobi gave evidence to the political power of his music the way Okot p’Bitek imagined artistes as rulers – and parliament is simply another stage.

The Kyadondo East by-election unleashed the beast in Bobi Wine that he had hitherto subdued. We are now witnessing the arrival of a fully-fledged political artiste, and indefatigable multi-talented activist.

His decision to treat parliament simply as a platform for his conscious-raising music ought to be appreciated. Many of us thought that upon reaching parliament, the Bobi Wine cast had come to an end. That he had arrived. We were wrong.

Instead, we were witnessing a Bobi Wine makeover, like a snake that wares off old skin only to become more venomous. 

As many of his contemporaries – especially Jose Chameleone, Bebe Cool or Juliana Kanyomozi – are struggling and terribly losing to younger chaps, Bobi Wine simply created his only abode, not for lacklustre talents, or the fainthearted.

During his Busabala festival in October 2017, which happened in the heat of the Togikwatako campaign as Museveni completed his coup against the Constitution, Bobi Wine showed us the true power of art in politics.

For close to an hour, Bobi Wine treated his audience to exquisitely packaged political poesy, in an impassioned effort to guide it towards a specific cause. It started with his stage deco, which was triumphantly in the colours of the national flag.

His costume for the entire show was, you guessed right, made in colours of the national flag. He did newer songs, with refrains (those repeated lines, meant for our unconscious selves), such as “Uganda is Us, We are Uganda,” “The people in power are weaker than people power,” “We are the future and the future is today.” Quite often, the show moved from music to straightforward education about peace and struggle.

The highlight came when he asked his audience to show hands if they supported the amendment (to remove age limits).

With only one person raising his hand in favour, Bobi declared his respect for him. He then went on to challenge fellow parliamentarians to respect their voters. Then came the Enkuuka festival in Lubiri: dressed in an impression of a military shirt and cap, the singer did several unscripted lines about the present political condition to a rather cheerful crowd.

In a sort of prophetic peer, a message meant for security agents, the singer dramatized possible transformation to him, that have potential to be unrecognisable (after he has been decorated, by implication as president), and to those currently in office whom he visualised wasting away in drunkardness.

He summed up his lyrical moment repeating: “If we united, that man [Museveni] feared most, could be taken out with his heels in the air!” You would tell from his audience’s response that the message sunk in.

Surely, not a single soul in the present Ugandan political space has so cogently rhymed with the masses, and in a media so powerfully appropriate.  At this rate, this ongoing Bobi Wine makeover is surely something to reckon with.

The author is a cultural and literary anthropologist at Makerere University and authored the play The Snake Farmers (2015).


+2 #1 ejakait engoraton 2018-01-31 10:20
It's good you are writing your rejoinder to an article you wrote a while back in which you seemed to ridicule Bobi the artiste and his aspirations to become president, which according to you could not happen.

I pointed out to you then the possibility of George Weah becoming president in similar fashion and I have been proved right
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0 #2 Lakwena 2018-01-31 11:16
In other words Yusuf, Bobi Wine is a political silent gas burner.
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0 #3 Elly Kelly 2018-02-01 22:25
Am so happy for this article, whoever came up with this, thnx for being smart upstairs...Am one of the lucky youths who have high hopes in Bobi Wine.
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