When Bobi Wine affirmed his bid to run for the presidency, among the many debates that emerged was one of his ability – or lack of - to garner support, many summing it up as an urban-based fantasy.
The government spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo, in an article published in 2019 on the Uganda Media Center website, pointed out that “People Power has a potent mix of showbiz celebrity, youth, empty populism, and political bravado.”
For Opondo, Bobi Wine’s movement was just an attempt that could only attract, in his words, ‘riff-raff’ youths who were easy to manipulate. It was not long before a bevy of critics and NRM apologists jumped on the same narrative.
For them, if this narrative didn’t explain the Bobi Wine superficial public cultism, at least it served to quell off any kind of speculation of a possible charge he presented against the long-serving incumbent. In response, Bobi Wine put the narrative to the test, launching his manifesto and kicking off his campaigns outside of Kampala.
The result? The once vocal narrative of an urban-based riff-raff support fell flat on its face as thousands of frenzied supporters and onlookers encircled Bobi’s convoy, ecstatically chanting ‘Freedom-Freedom’ as his slender figure peered out of the sunroof of his white Toyota Landcruiser, clenching his fist and punching the air at the rhythm of the chant.
An amendment was then made to the earlier narrative, that such large rural crowds were drawn only by the need to see Bobi Wine ‘the musician’ live and for free at that. Therefore, Bobi Wine presented no political threat. For such critics, Bobi’s music only served as a ‘showbiz’, one not powerful enough to swing voter confidence.
However, does Bobi Wine’s music not present a political threat in his charge towards the presidency? Does it not supplement his campaign discourse? Tejumola Olaniyan in his Arrest the Music!: Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics tells us how, for many of the art forms that exist, music is a commonly shared art that spans cultures, language and belief.
The pertinent aspect of music is that it draws from experiences or idealization of the past, present and future of society. Popular African musicians like Fela Kuti [one of Bobi Wine’s acclaimed protagonists] realized the need to create art forms that synchronized with the values and traditions of the people for which it was made.
This ability to infuse lived experiences and traditions and formulate an authentic medium through which these values can be transferred, preserved, and shared widely, makes music a pertinent socially-binding facet of human society. Music can thus be mechanized as a vehicle of asserting influence and ideology into the unsuspecting consciousness of the human mind, sub-consciously determining their choices and sentiments.
In a broader sense, Bobi Wine confluences on the same idealism, his lyrical content portrays a musical expression of the ghetto and suffrage, defining societal ills and community struggles, which encapsulate the lived experiences of the proletariat.
Bobi’s music does not only serve to excite (as the Opondo brigade has perceived) but more so to raise political consciousness among the public, creating a futuristic idealism for what must be done to liberate society. More so, the frequent heckles, shouts, and hisses customary to Bobi’s musical style add to his music what hype heckles add to political rallies.
Words like ‘bosss’, ‘gwe’, ‘yo!’, ‘boom’ are synthetised into the beginning of song, the chorus, and the hook to energize and emphasize the wording in verses.
This kind of politically mimetic insignia makes Bobi’s musical style distinct and energized but also, in hindsight, politicizes his music, making each song seem like a political rally especially when it addresses political issues. The NRM government should know all so well the power of popular music in politics.
President Museveni’s victories in 2011 and 2016 were propelled by the power of the popular Another Rap and Tubonga Naawe hits. Consequently, treating Bobi Wine’s campaign as mere public entertainment and fanaticism is foolhardy.
For Bobi Wine to win the constituent election that took him to parliament and by a landslide, can for the most part be his power to mechanize his music to congregate a cultic following that can only but support its leader and the musical gospel he preaches. Bobi’s music campaigned for him long before he ever took to any podium to speak.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.