It was itinerant analyst Frank Gashumba who recently remarked in a viral clip that every election for Mr Museveni is a military operation.
Although Gashumba would be easily understood as referring to the heavy military deployment and wanton arrests, his assessment actually extends to covert operations, including infiltration and deep study.
Convinced that he cannot win any free and fair election, Museveni and team nowadays invest heavily in studying and responding to potential centers of revolt – before crudely molesting them.
For those who may not know, Museveni’s team of handlers is extensive and well-resourced. It is composed of lawyers, black-market businesspersons, academics, journalists, dealers, pimps, preachers, witchdoctors, senior and junior military officials, etc. All of these god-blessed folks are charged with one key assignment, ensuring the incumbent is never protested out of office.
When Bobi Wine first emerged on the national scene, and quickly assumed to energize Besigye’s dying revolutionary struggle, Museveni saw his actual threat in recent memory. Besigye, despite being a consummate revolutionary, struggled to find traction among Kampala’s many ‘wretches of the earth,’ which is the constituency that actually takes to the streets.
Besigye was a revolutionary threat, but with major limitations. Specifically, he emerged at a time when the ground for revolution was still drab and, over time, the wananchi got what could be loosely called “Besigye fatigue.”
Bobi Wine gave Museveni and team running stomachs. Sheer pandemonium captured the Museveni camp as he would be running into Kampala’s slums laden with cash that he threw at these forgotten wretches like hungry hounds. He even appointed (or more accurately, bribed) some of them with advisory positions so as to raise his fortunes among the wretches.
But despite all these attempts, Bobi Wine’s fire continued to spread. Museveni couldn’t put a finger to Bobi Wine’s magic wand. Instead, whoever he bought out of the ‘Bobi Wine Society’ became a social misfit. A nuisance of sorts.
But as time rolled on – with more study and infiltration – Museveni cracked the puzzle. Bobi Wine’s strength came from his crew, his original singing crew; his close friends for years. These young men and women followed him with love and loyalty; they stood for no elective positions, wanted neither money nor positions.
Museveni team understood that arresting or trying to eliminate Bobi Wine might terribly boomerang. The moment was very fluid. Instead, he understood that without his original Firebase team, Bobi Wine would be a shadow of the original revolutionary.
Let me start this story from the beginning: those in close circles with Bobi Wine tell stories of a lonely star, sandwiched between self-interested dark-suited advocates – and mostly new friends. He could be brave in the public domain, there is no visible mistrust between him and these new friends of his, but Bobi Wine surely misses his friends – his not-so-educated friends, but simply men and women of talent and street smartness. These are fellows he has grown up with and worked with for long.
Indeed, while Bobi Wine was the singing icon getting all the visibility and plaudits, the engine that drove his stardom was the original Firebase Crew - these little-known hustlers. These ones range from his singing duo Nubian Li, his security personnel in Eddy Mutwe, and many close friends who either manned the gates during music shows, were in charge of his makeup and fashion, and members of the dancing crew, vocalists and guitarists and so on.
When Bobi Wine joined politics, these close ‘gangoz’ of his simply followed their star. They were a team. You tell their long friendship with Bobi Wine from stage-names that reflect their teamwork, duties and special talents.
A story in Daily Monitor gave their names and aliases, and the pattern is really telling. So, Hassan Ssemakula also goes as Abdul Soldier, William Nyanzi as Mbogo, Lukeman Mwijukye as Kampala, Muhammad Nsubuga as Eddoboozi, Shakirah Nambozo as Sukie, Ibrahim Tamale, Muzafuru Mwanje as Main Gate or as Muwa.
Others are Joseph Onzima alias Tawa, Anthony Agaba alias Bobi Young, Robert Kivumbi alias Mighty Family, Samson Ssekiranda alias Giant, Sharifa Najja alias Don Sharifa, Brian Ssemanda alias Director Museveni Must Go, Robert Katumba, Faisol Kigongo alias Ras Fazo, Musa Mulimira, Sam Mutumba alias Papa Sam, Richard Kalema alias Ricardo, Alex Karamagi alias Doggy City, Daniel Onywerot alias Dan Magic, Hussein Mukasa alias OShea, John Bosco Sunday alias JB, Isma Muganga alias Jaja Isma, Fahad Tamale and Bashir Murusha. There are some with no business nicknames including Adam Matovu, Ismail Nyanzi Kaddu Kenny Kyalimpa, Mudde Ntambi and Achileo Kivumbi. But the pattern is telling.
The creative artiste, who hitherto enjoyed the pure and selfless company of his close friends of Firebase Entertainment, has now to contend with men and women with bizarre and outrightly sycophantic interests.
Sandwiched between lawyers and career oppositionists, Bobi Wine has lost all urgency, creativity and connection with wananchi. This pseudo and lumpen bourgeoise around him are looking forward to transforming their lives as men and women with means and high importance.
They are the quintessential lumpen proletariat – aspiring to join the elite bourgeois – as the workers and peasants continue to bear the burden of excessive taxation, poor public health, education systems, et cetera.
When Museveni understood this dynamic – that Bobi Wine was spineless without his original crew – he turned his targets on them. In one single operation on an island in Lake Victoria, he swooped all of them to Kitalya prison. The game was up.
The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.