Ugandan musician-turned-politician Bobi Wine tells DW he and his team are ready to take on veteran President Yoweri Museveni to restore freedom of expression to the country.
Bobi Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu) has rapidly built up a following based largely on his message of power to the people and criticism of the Ugandan government after he was elected in a parliamentary by-election in 2017.
He returned to Uganda in September 2018 from the US where he received medical treatment following alleged torture by members of Uganda's presidential guard after his arrest at a political rally in August. His arrest led to violent protests in the capital, Kampala.
Since then, Bobi Wine's support base has gone from strength to strength and he has been widely recognized, both at home and abroad, as a serious threat to President Yoweri Museveni who has been in power for over 30 years. Bobi Wine is currently in Berlin for a conference on freedom of expression. In an interview with DW he spoke about his plans for the future.
DW: Why does freedom of expression mean so much to you?
Bobi Wine: Well, it's the first and most important freedom, it's natural, when you have to cry, when you find it funny or hilarious you smile, when you want to communicate something, you speak out. It doesn't hurt anybody and I think it's the most important right, especially in the civilized world, to express oneself without hurting anybody. So it's a very important freedom and besides, that's the whole meaning of my musical career which I find so dear. I got into music because I had something to say, I wanted to speak for myself and for those that are in the same world with me so that freedom is so dear to me.
Last year was quite a tough year for you, you were imprisoned, you were beaten up, it wasn't the year that you expected. How safe do you feel now still going for this?
Bobi Wine: Well, I'm certainly not safe but neither is anybody, those like me who speak out and indeed the many who are silent are all unsafe, you can never change anything until you face it, you can never change anything unless you speak about it. The case in Uganda is a complex one because we are living with a regime that is over 30 years old and that will not tolerate anything that is not in its line of thinking, so anybody who speaks out, especially against the atrocities, is at risk of facing the worst. That's how Uganda is but because that freedom is so dear to us we pursue it anyway.
President Yoweri Museveni has been ruling for 33 years and counting, you've already mentioned that you are considering running for the presidency and for the first the time, you can clarify everything here with Deutsche Welle. Have you decided now? Are you running for president in the next election?
First, I have to say it's not just about me, it should be like "we", and yes, I and my team are considering challenging Museveni in the next presidential election. Not that we are looking at the presidency in itself but because we know our biggest problem is misgovernance, it's the governance question that we want to solve and we cannot solve that until we get into leadership ourselves, so, yes we are challenging the president in the next presidential election, that is less than two years away.
So you and your team will be running?
You just said it. [You should] expect my team and me to be challenging for the presidency in the next presidential election.
Many believe a coalition with Mugisha Muntu would probably enhance your chances. What do you say to that?
General Mugisha Muntu is a very disciplined person and we are working very closely together. We seem to be speaking from the same page and we seem to have the same values held together. Our biggest problem in Uganda has been the disunity in the opposition that has been part of the factors that have propped up the regime for thirty three years. So yes, we've been discussing, not only with General Mugisha Muntu but indeed with the Democratic Party and its president under the leadership of honorable Nobert Mau, and we were also having a conversation with Doctor Kizza Besigye. The majority of the forces of change are already agreeable to the idea of a coalition and working together, fronting one candidate for the presidency. Hopefully, we will soon or later be able to convince the FDC and Dr. Kizza Besigye to join us as well.
We all know what happened in Algeria recently. You particularly congratulated the people of Algeria for peacefully demonstrating and now President Bouteflika has stepped down. How feasible do you think is that process in Uganda?
The great Nelson Mandela taught us that it always seems impossible until it's done. All these despots, especially in Africa, seemed invincible until they are gone. You saw it with Gaddafi, you saw it with Yahya Jammeh, you saw it recently in the Congo and now just a few days ago you saw it in Algeria. Be sure that sooner or later Museveni will be no more.
What is the major opposition you feel you are going to encounter while going ahead with this?
For now, the major opposition we are encountering is the opposition. We are not making it very easy for ourselves to overcome the oppression. I've said some time ago that some members of the opposition are only concerned about their positions and they'll fine any composition that threatens their positions. That is not what we are looking at, we are looking at inclusiveness of all the people, especially the ghetto people where I come from that have been excluded for so long from the way they are governed. That's why we are throwing it back to the people and that's why we are saying "people power is our power." We want to change the decision making from the way it is. The status quo says it is from up to bottom and we say it should be from bottom up and that is why we are calling upon the masses to register as voters in millions so that they can assert their voice peacefully through their vote and for the first time the leaders are going to be servants, realistically, and the power will be with the masses through their vote.
You are an inspiration to a lot of young people out there. What's your message to them?
My message will firstly go to Ugandans especially the young people: Don't look at me like a special kind of person, I'm not, I'm just like you, I'm only playing my part, I'm an artist, you might be a doctor or a lawyer or a farmer or a bricklayer, a businessman, just rise to the occasion and play your part. It will not take me alone because so many people in history have risen like myself but because we have always left it to them they've been fought and they've been crushed, they cannot crush us if we rise at the same time. My rising was to give you confidence and your rising will give me further confidence and thereby we will all keep rising, so, this is your country, we are the youngest population in the world and we can maximize that, there's no other time that has been there apart from this and we might not get another opportunity. So let's seize this opportunity and transform our country. It's now or never. And to the friends out there in the world, thank you for standing with us but please keep your eyes on Uganda, that one tweet or that one Facebook post that you make about Uganda projects our voices. Right now I'm alive because the world looked at us and echoed our cry, please keep your eyes on us, especially our brothers and sisters on the African continent. We are not free until we are all free and once we get that, we will be living in an Africa that we will be proud of.
The interview was conducted by Eddy Micah Jr.