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Interview with Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine

In this interview with "The 77 Percent", musician-turned-opposition leader Bobi Wine explains why the African youth are the drivers of political change and his hope for the future.

Interview with Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine

Since turning his attention to politics, musician-turned-opposition leader Bobi Wine has made waves in Uganda, speaking out against longtime President Yoweri Museveni and police brutality. In an exclusive interview with DW, he explained why African youths are the drivers of political change as well as his hopes for the future and how life has been since Museveni was proclaimed the winner of February's presidential elections. 

Liz Shoo: Well, the man you just heard, Bobi Wine, is joining me live from Uganda. Bobi Wine, welcome to the 77 Percent.

Bobi Wine: Thank you for having me on the 77 Percent, I'm happy to be here.

Shoo: And we are happy to have you. So, the last few weeks must have been very intense for you. What has happened since the election results were announced?

Wine: Well, I would rather not say the word tight for me, because everything I do, I do for and on behalf of the people of Uganda. So maybe the question should have been, how has it been for you, the people of Uganda. It has been hell. It has been such a challenge since the election, which turned out to be the most fraudulent election in the history of Uganda. There has been great persecution. Hundreds of young people, young men and women supporting the people power movement and the national platform, the movement and party which I lead, have been abducted by the government. 

Many have been murdered in detention. Others have been tortured gravely. The females have been raped and others have had their eyes, fingernails cut out and others have actually been castrated. So, it has been hell. However, I must also say that the more the operation, the more the resistance, the people of Uganda have turned up to be more resistant and more assertive, demanding for their rights, demanding for their election victory, but most importantly, demanding for freedom.

Editor's note: According to Human Rights Watch, opposition members and supporters have been subjected to police and state violence. Specific reports regarding rape, castration and the removal of body parts could not be verified.

Shoo: So what you're telling us is really horrific, what is happening to the people of Uganda and you say that you'll keep pressing on and keep resisting. Now, let's take a look at the whole of Africa. We reached out to our people on Facebook and asked them what the political situation is like in their country. So, let me just take a look at one comment here that we have from Frank Illhah. He is from Ghana. And Frank says, "It is time to let our politicians know that we gave them the power to serve the nation and not to loot our money and live posh lives while voters are drinking dirty water and schooling under trees." And then he says, "the youth of Africa have to wake up." Now, you're also a relatively young politician. What do you say about this?

Wine: Well, I would say it is aptly put, but that our brother, indeed, we believe in servant leadership. We believe that the time has come when the leaders are true servants and the people are the true masters of their destiny. It is time not only to say it, but to show it and assert it to the leaders, the politicians, to know that they serve in the interest of the common people. 

They are elevated to those offices and it should be in the interests of their people. 

It's unfortunate that in many parts of Africa, in particular in Uganda, being in a position of power or position of governance, government has been reduced to self-aggrandizement, to self-enrichment, which must stop and which will stop. And that will only stop when the young people of Africa in general, and Uganda in particular, actually rise up to the occasion and assert they are not only verbally but practically.

Shoo: Well, you say that the young people of Africa have to rise up, but do you have any tips on how they can really get involved in politics? Because we heard in the debate that many say that they are afraid of actually being harassed.

Wine: It is true that this harassment, when the young people of Africa rise up and demand for what is rightfully theirs and demand for accountability, it is dangerous. But it is even more dangerous to be docile. It's more dangerous to be silent. The young people of Africa are damned if they rise up and they are more damned if they sit down. 

So, either way, there's only one option for the people, the young people of Africa, is to rise up to the occasion. 

We are glad that there are countries, countries like Ghana, countries like South Africa, countries like Botswana and others where there is relatively empowered democracy. But even countries like Uganda, where there is a semblance of democracy, every single window of, you know, elevating the power of the people should and must be used. And that is why we have been encouraging the young people, not only here in Uganda, but in Africa, to get involved in the politics of their countries, whether by standing for the elections or by actually voting or mobilizing their fellow young people to do what they can to influence from their points of strength and points of influence, to see that the trajectory of their politics moves towards their benefit. This can be done. It has been done before. 

Once upon a time, all the democracies that we look up to have been presided over by tyrants. I'll give an example where my good friend, our president, George Weah, in Liberia is presiding over a country. Once upon a time, there was a terror there. Once upon a time, there were tyrants even in Ghana, a democracy. I mean, we look at Ghana as a beacon of democracy. But once upon a time, there was a rebellion there. So, it is what the young people, and in particular the young people, it is what they do for their countries that turn those countries into what they eventually become.

Shoo: So, you have given some positive examples there, but if we look at other countries, even if young people get more involved in politics, it doesn't mean that they can change the status quo. We still have many old men who have been in power for years. If you look at Paul Biya in Cameroon or we have Obiang in Equatorial Guinea. So, is there any way to make these people hand over power? I mean, you have tried and you failed.

Wine: Well, I will tell you this, my sister, that not everything that is faced is changed immediately, but nothing is changed without it being faced. So, it is important for us to know that it takes people standing up. I don't look at ours as a failure, even when our democracy has been disrespected, even when the people won an election and then Museveni, using the military, disrespected the will of the people and announced himself winner. I must tell you that we largely won because when we win over the minds of the people, then we have won one of the great black people. 

Marcus Garvey told us that to liberate the bodies of men, we must liberate the minds of men. Once upon a time here in Uganda, young people were completely disconnected from the politics of their country, including myself. 

You know, I'm 39 today, but only four years ago I was just a simple artist with long dreadlocks and completely disconnected from the governance of my country and from the responsibility that I was sharing with 44 million others. So, on my rise, I saw that I inspired many others to work now and in the future. So, in this pursuit of democracy, we are convinced that it is not going to be a sprint, is going to be a marathon. We celebrate every win, but we continue pushing on knowing it's not going to be an overnight thing, but ultimately it will get there. We know that justice and democracy are not things that we can get easily. But we know that these are things that can be got.

Shoo: So what's next while you are running that marathon, I mean, the election results have been announced, Yoweri Museveni has again been announced as the president of your country. Are you going to run for president again?

Wine: We are not looking at only running for president. I said it even before the campaigns, that we know that the democracy in Uganda has been sapped. We know that all institutions have been disempowered. Yeah, in Uganda, General Museveni is the executive. He is the judiciary and he is the parliament. But still, we have the people. 

And for every opportunity that we get, we utilize. We went into this election as a phase of our struggle. And having accomplished that phase, at least we achieved a few things among them one: We were able to expose General Museveni and these dictatorial tendencies, which was not the case much earlier. 

We know that the world has been looking at Uganda as a normal democracy. They've been looking at Museveni as a democrat. Of course, he had largely succeeded in hoodwinking the development partners and the rest of the world. We were able to show the entire world what Uganda is and what the Museveni ruling is. 

And as you have noted, many of the officials that have been involved in the disrespect of democracy, vote rigging and human rights abuses, they have had sanctions and more sanctions are coming. General Museveni came to the International Criminal Court. Him and his son, who heads the military, who has presided over the murders of hundreds of people here in Uganda. And we hope to get sanctions from the International Criminal Court as well. 

So, we know that dictators don't just go by a click of a finger. We look at history. We saw how long, how long a time and how much effort it took for the people of Libya to survive Gaddafi, for the people of Zimbabwe to survive Mugabe, but the people of Sudan to overcome Bashir, for the people of Egypt to overcome Hosni Mubarak, and many other places in Africa and the world. So, we look at these examples and know that just like we are told by Mandela, it seems impossible until it's done. So, this seems to this seems impossible in the eyes of a pessimist, but in the eyes of an optimist like me, I see that we have some wins. But again, we need to work even harder to get to the promised land.

Shoo: All right, Bobi Wine thank you so much for that optimistic message and thank you for joining us today.

Wine: Thank you for having me. Appreciate.

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