Bobi Wine, the popular reggae star and prominent opposition leader in Uganda, has accused the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, of seeking to block his candidature at next year’s elections through a series of “trumped up” legal challenges and a campaign of intimidation.
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, said he was calling on people all over the world to “keep their eyes” on Uganda because international attention was the only way to “stop human rights abuses and impunity in Uganda today”.
“We have masses and masses of people with us. We have a whole sidelined, excluded generation. If we are defeated in Uganda, that is a defeat for justice, democracy and constitutionalism everywhere. If we win in Uganda, it is a win for freedom,” Wine said in an interview.
Since he became a legislator in 2017, Wine has rattled the Ugandan authorities. The 38 year old has been badly assaulted and arrested or detained many times, including over a treason charge that he denies.
He is one of a new generation of politicians across Africa who are challenging long-time leaders, hoping to harness deep dissatisfaction among younger, more educated and often urban voters. He came to political prominence nationally in 2017 when, as an independent candidate, he won election as a lawmaker representing a constituency near Kampala.
However, analysts say incumbent leaders such as Museveni benefit from powerful patronage networks, long-established political machines, control of the media and links to big business, as well as support from the military or other security forces.
Museveni has accused Wine of trying to incite rioting – a charge he also denies.
The legal challenge to Wine’s leadership of the National Unity Platform (NUP) has been launched by two members who allege electoral law was not followed when the former singer was appointed earlier this year. If judges decide that rules were broken, Wine may not be able to stand in the elections.
Last month, local media reported scuffles at the court in Kampala where the case is being heard.
Wine has previously faced challenges to his candidature based on alleged failures to correctly declare his age and educational qualifications.
“I fear for my life every day but I try as much as possible not to think about what could happen to me if I stand firm. I worry about what will happen to coming generations if I do not stand up,” he said.
Both social media and protests have been targeted by repressive legislation in recent years.
Eric Mwine-Mugaju, a Ugandan writer and blogger, said Museveni, 76, was going to win the polls but had been panicked by Wine’s popularity among the burgeoning urban youth.
“It is the rural areas – the rural population makes up more than 70% of the country – that remain a bastion of Museveni’s support. [But] even if Museveni wins the next election comfortably, he still needs to reckon with seething resentment in the country’s major cities,” Mwine-Mugaju wrote in the Mail and Guardian, a South African newspaper.
Political campaigning in Uganda has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with rallies banned. The east African country took drastic measures to restrict movements in March when it had only a handful of coronavirus cases, imposing one of the earliest lockdowns and border closures on the continent.
The country gradually eased some lockdown measures, despite a rising number of new infections, and reopened to international visitors bearing a negative Covid test certificate in September.