You must have recently come across the name Bobi Wine on your Twitter, Facebook or Instagram timeline and wonder who the heck he really is and what is mission showing up on your face is all about.

Bobi Wine, whose birth name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu is a pop star-turned-opposition leader seen as the strongest of the 11 challengers seeking to unseat longtime President Yoweri Museveni from power on January 14, 2021, in a scheduled high stake election that is projected to be marred by high-level violence and tension in its aftermath.

WHO IS YOWERI MUSEVENI?

Yoweri Museveni at age 76 (born September 15, 1944) is seeking a sixth term of another five years to his existing 35 years rule in Uganda.

He studied Economics and Political Science and is a Marxist involved in radical pan-African politics. In 1979, Museveni, then a rebel,  was instrumental to the ousting of dictator Idi Amin in the joint efforts of Ugandan and Tanzanian forces.

Thereafter, he went to the bush to wage a guerrilla war against Amin’s repressive successor, Milton Obote– a tough one which lasted from 1980 to 1985.

After subduing Obote’s government, Museveni became the 9th President of the East African country in 1986.

Speaking to crowds of thousands outside the Ugandan parliament after he was sworn in on January 29, the new president promised a return to democracy: “The people of Africa, the people of Uganda, are entitled to a democratic government. It is not a favour of any regime. The sovereign people must be the public, not the government.”

“This is not a mere change of guard, it is a fundamental change. “The people of Africa, the people of Uganda, are entitled to a democratic government. It is not a favour from any regime. The sovereign people must be the public, not the government,” he said.

“The problem of Africa in general, and Uganda in particular, is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power,” Museveni added.

Museveni received early praise for returning some stability and prosperity to Uganda, which after years of coups, violent tyrants and civil war is among the world’s poorest countries. He returned to office in 1996 in the country’s first direct presidential election since independence from Britain in 1962.

His weeping reforms rejigged the economy of the country, pleasing foreign donors and financial lenders keen to sponsor a burgeoning African success story. He was also celebrated for successfully combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic and reducing poverty.

But the president good fortune took a particular hit when Uganda and Rwanda invaded Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) twice in the late 1990s to interfere in its civil war.  Both armies are later charged in The Hague with looting Congo’s resources, killing and torturing civilians and using child soldiers.

Among other issues was the rebellion in Northern Uganda by the Lord’s Resistance Army, which caused a humanitarian emergency; and the suppression of political opposition and constitutional amendments scrapping presidential term limits (2005) and the presidential age limit (2017).

In 2001, he defeated Kizza Besigye in an election marred by violence and irregularities and promised to hand over power at the next ballot but of course, that never became the case.

Again, in 2011, he won a fourth term against Besigye, who rejected the results. Soon after, security forces are deployed to violently suppress major street protests as food and fuel prices soar and the economy teeters.

While Ugandan troops were heavily involved in fighting South Sudan civil war in 2013, there was a massive crackdown on critics back home, with radio stations taken off air and newspapers raided for airing suggestions hat Museveni is grooming his son for succession.

In 2014, he signed a controversial anti-homosexual bill into law, which attracted criticisms all over the world. The United States issued sanctions and there was also a freeze on EU donor funds.

Like before, Museveni promised to accept defeat at the 2016 elections if he loses. “I am not power-hungry, but mission-hungry,” he said in 2015. But winning the election, the first thing he did was to abolish age limits for presidents from the constitution, clearing his path to run for a sixth term in 2021, aged 76, and reinforcing fears he plans to rule for life.

But here comes a challenger, Bobi Wine.

WHO IS BOBI WINE?

Bibi Wine is a musician-turned-politician, who openly calls Museveni a dictator, and blames the endemic corruption under his rule for contributing to Uganda’s high youth unemployment and bleak economic outlook.

The 38-year-old, who is half Museveni’s age, was previously a musical superstar in Uganda in the early 2000s before switching to politics in 2017 when he got elected into the parliament.

Of the 10 candidates taking a race for the presidency against Museveni, Wine, is the strongest challenger, who has successfully garnered the support of the youthful population of the East African country which has the second-lowest median age worldwide – only Niger is younger.

He grew up in Kamwokya, a slum in the centre of Kampala, with dozens of siblings and half-siblings. Hence, the origin of his popular title ‘Ghetto President’. It was in Kamwokya he started his music career. Even then, he used some of his songs like Rise Up and Freedom to speak truth to power.

He was arrested at several times for his outspokenness. One of such was in 2018 when he arrested in Arua, northwestern Uganda, and his driver was shot dead. This got him international recognition.

Coming out of prison on bail, he travelled to the United States, gathering support and getting medical treatment.

In July 2020, he became the leader of the National Unity Platform. Prior to that time, he had an organized movement called ‘People’s Power’ which was known for their red berets. The government banned them from wearing the dress code in 2019.

Bobi Wine has granted more press interviews in his time in politics more than Museveni has ever done. The social media became a powerful weapon of campaign for him and his supporters using live streams to broadcast his campaign since he was prevented from doing so on the streets. At one of such times, he encouraged voters to film any wrongdoing they witness at polling stations, as a way to gather evidence.

“Use your phones, use your cameras,” he instructed them. “Your phone is a very powerful weapon”.

While he was busy doing so, the Ugandan government was also online trying to subvert the electoral process as confirmed by Facebook.

“We, the leaders, are servants; you are the true masters, take your destiny in your hands”... Bobi Wine, 2020

THE ELECTION

So far, tension has been rising and the campaign has been marred by serious violence, which has left dozens killed and hundreds more arrested. Reportedly, the authorities confirmed that 600 people have been detained for attending Bobi Wine’s rallies, which, allegedly, violated pandemic-related restrictions in mass gatherings. Wine himself has been arrested three times.

In November 2020, Police violently engaged protesters that the opposition figure was leading. 54 people were reported killed and Wine was arrested for a second time.

The following month, one of Wine’s bodyguards was killed after being run over by a military police truck— another case of major controversy and doubts that the election will be free and fair.

The Human Rights Watch has alleged that security forces have been using the COVID-19 rules “as a pretext to violate rights and clamp down on the opposition and the media”.

On Monday, Facebook shut down accounts belonging to various Ugandan government officials over attempts of seeking to manipulate public debate via the platform.

“This month, we removed a network of accounts and pages in Uganda that engaged in CIB (Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour) to target public debate ahead of the election,” Facebook’s head of communication for sub-Saharan Africa, Kezia Anim-Addo, announced in an email.

In a retaliatory and repressive move on Tuesday, Uganda’s communication regulator ordered telecommunication firms to “immediately suspend any access and use” of social media and online messaging services.

On Tuesday, Wine alleged that home in Kampala was raided and two of his security guards were beaten two days ago while he was away, having an interview with Kenya’s Hot 96 FM radio station. But the police have denied.

The East African country uses the two-round system in which candidates are required to score at least 50% of the vote at the first stage to scale to the second round of vote.

Presently, there are 18.1 million registered voters. Of the 11 candidates, only 1 is a female. 529 MPs ( members of the parliament) will also be elected.

WHAT WE EXPECT

While security forces have cracked down on the opposition at previous polls, the run-up to this year’s vote has been especially violent.

With all that has happened and is still happening coupled with past events, the election will be tightly contested and rough. There are both local and international eyes on the polls even as Museveni’s increasingly violent reprisals against Wine have drawn global condemnation.

However, Uganda hasn’t been known for a peaceful transfer of power in modern times— the potential for instability is high in the wake of the vote and observers have concluded that the vote will neither be free nor fair.

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