Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, was a presidential candidate in the 2021 Ugandan elections and leads Uganda’s main opposition party, the National Unity Platform (NUP) . The former singer is one of the most celebrated musicians in East Africa. His songs advocating for political change and people power gave him fame among the youth and paved his way into politics. He won the 2017 Parliamentary elections for the Kyadondo East constituency becoming Member of the current Parliament. In June 2019, Bobi Wine announced his candidacy for the 2021 Ugandan presidential election. On January 16th 2021, the electoral commission announced that the incumbent Yoweri Museveni had won reelection with 58,6% of the vote. Wine refuses to accept the results, claiming that the election was the most fraudulent in Uganda’s history.
International media and human rights organisations are reporting of ongoing abductions by suspected state agents and unlawful detention without trial of opposition supporters. A month ago, Bobi Wine’s party published a list of more than 400 supporters who were claimed to be still missing or had been released after being abducted, with some showing signs of torture. Wine and his supporters have repeatedly been placed on house arrest.
In conversation with GPI, Bobi Wine discusses the situation in Uganda, his hopes for change and the role of the international community.
In the Ugandan presidential elections 2021, the committee declared the ruling President Museveni the winners. The President’s political opponent Bobi Wine and his party discovered discrepancies at various polling stations, and claims: “We won the election. We have evidence.” The evidence was blocked by the Supreme Court of Uganda, because “the Chief Justice of Uganda is clearly in collaboration with the president”, states Bobi Wine. As international observers were blocked from the Ugandan elections, Wine and his supporters are now calling for an international team to audit the election, so that the country can turn to the “democratic line”. By doing so, he also takes into account the European Union and the international community to respect and stand up for shared values, the principles of democracy and the rule of law: “When the EU is true to those values, they will not be working with a renowned dictator [General Museveni]“. Bobi Wine asks the world to keep their eyes on Uganda.
As President Museveni is a powerful politician in the region, his opponents have to face the suggestions that a change of government might create instability in the region around Uganda. Instead of assuming the power of the individual, Bobi Wine underlines the need to “deal with [Ugandan] institutions, not individuals” and refers to the efforts of the Ugandan people to reintroduce themselves to the world: “We are trying to redefine ourselves as Ugandans and we are trying to write our own story” – without President Museveni in power.
Read the full interview here:
GPI: Bobi Wine, first of all, I’d like to ask, how are you?
Bobi Wine: I am fine. I’m well, I’m alive, thank God, despite the many challenges, I am still alive.
GPI: You were a very successful singer in Uganda. What inspired you to go into politics four years ago and run for president in the 2021 elections?
Bobi Wine: I would say it was not inspiration, but desperation. I never wanted to be in politics and never wanted to do things that stress my life. I never wanted to do dangerous things. My entertainment career was very interesting, but I realized that I was living a lie, an illusion, not being free because I was living among so many people, who are oppressed. Looking around, I could not see anybody to do it for me but me. I thought I would inspire my generation by giving an example and that’s why I went into this. I’m very glad that many more young people, many talented young men and women, much more educated than myself, are realizing that indeed we are the hope that we have been waiting for.
GPI: You said that you were a great admirer of the ruling President Museveni. Can you explain to the audience what has changed over the last decades?
Bobi Wine: Well, like many other Ugandans, I was a great admirer of General Museveni in his early days, he resisted injustice, he resisted oppression, but most importantly, he resisted the stolen election. He inspired me when he led the young men and women of that time into a liberation war, although that war cost to more than half a million lives. We believed, our parents believed that it was worth it to liberate a country. We went to war to fight against injustice, to fight against the stolen election. I used to admire that. It’s very unfortunate that after 35 years in power, he has turned into an absolute dictator.
GPI: In the Ugandan general election on January 14th, the electoral committee declared President Museveni and his ruling party, the National Resistance Movement the winners were 58 % of the vote while you and the national unity platform received 35% percent. You have stated that you do not accept these results. There have now been several calls from within the opposition to have an audit of the elections. Why is an audit important and how would this process work?
Bobi Wine: First of all, it is not true, that General Museveni won that election. As a matter of fact, all opinion polls that had been made before the election and the entire nation were making it clear, that General Museveni could not even get 10 % in a free and fair election. That is why on the evening of the election, Genera Museveni ordered the switching off of the entire Internet, because he knew that if the world saw what was going on in Uganda, then it would be clear to the entire world. He blocked the European Union election observers. He blocked the United States election observers. International media was blocked out and many journalists were deported out of the country. The electoral commission is claiming that 100 % of the registered voters all voted and voted for General Museveni. But there was evidence of the death of many of the voters in that register by way of death certificate. We had relatives that were registered in those areas but were not able to vote because they were arrested or many were on the run. So those are the facts that we had wanted to put on the table. Unfortunately, that evidence was blocked by the Supreme Court of Uganda because the Chief Justice of Uganda is clearly in collaboration with the president. Even with all that, we were able to compute and find out that we won the election by 55,19% of the vote. Now, General Museveni claims that he won the election and we are saying we won the election. We have evidence. We want an international audit team to audit this election. It has happened before in countries, such as Afghanistan.
GPI: The EU has strong ties to Uganda, and EU Ambassadors accredited to your country met with you a few weeks ago, as they met with President Museveni recently. How can the EU participate in creating a more fair, transparent, and inclusive electoral process?
Bobi Wine: First of all, we thank the European Union for the collaboration. Uganda has a long term relationship with the European Union. How can the European Union help the situation in Uganda? By being true to the values that bring us together as people, as citizens of the world, as the international community, by sticking to those values and holding everybody that they deal with, accountable to those values. Values like respect for human rights, values like respect for the rule of law, values like respect for democracy – that’s all. When they are true to those values, then they will hold everybody accountable – they will not be working with a reknown dictator. They will not want their image to be soiled as partners in crime, here in Uganda, where the government is abducting people and murdering them. But if the European Union is seen to have in cooperation with one of the world’s, tyrants, then it brings many more questions than answers.
GPI: Uganda is seen by many as a stabilising geo-political force in the region. Your country, for example, is also one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in Africa. Some commentators have suggested that any government transition might create uncertainty or instability in the region. What are your thoughts on this?
Bobi Wine: Well, I look at that as blackmail, blackmail at the expense of rights and freedoms of the people of Uganda, because General Museveni has over the time presented himself as a stabilizing factor, as the anchor of stability. Therefore, it is possible obtaining a license to abuse rights, obtaining the license to disrespect democracy and disrespect the rule of law. And that has been to a great detriment of the people of Uganda and the neighboring countries. He is not innocent of the instabilities in those countries like South Sudan, Central African Republic, like the Congo. He has always stirred up conflict, because he knows he’s going to benefit from the refugee influx. It is not General Museveni, it is the culture of the people of Uganda: We are welcoming people. So it is the character of the people of Uganda and indeed we make it policy. We believe that the countries that deal with Uganda should deal with institutions, not individuals. We should have strong institutions, not strong individuals and good policies that don’t depend on an individual but have working systems. Unfortunately, General Museveni has claimed that everything begins and ends with him.
GPI: Bobi Wine, what is your prediction and your hope for the future of Uganda?
Bobi Wine: My hope is that Uganda can benefit from this generation of young people, we are the second youngest country in the world. I hope that in our lifetime we can see freedom and have those kind of systems work and have the opportunity to benefit from all the talents of the men and women in Uganda. I hope that Uganda can turn to the Democratic line, where everybody can become everything or anything. That’s my hope for Uganda. Unfortunately, I fear that if the international community continues to support General Museveni, then they’re probably creating another Mobutu Sese Seko, another Robert Mugabe, another Moammar Gadhafi here in Uganda. We believe that our partners should look out not only for business opportunities but for values that make all of us human. We believe that we are first world people stuck in a third world country, in fact, not stuck in a third world country, but stuck with a Third World leader. We are trying to redefine ourselves as Ugandans and we are trying to write our own story. We are trying to reintroduce ourselves to the world, to tell the world that, hey, we are good people, we are welcoming people – and we believe that we can achieve that. We invite the world to keep their eyes on Uganda. For as long as the world is seeing what’s happening in Uganda, we stay alive. And if the focus continues, they will be good. We thank you very much and we pray that one day we’ll be talking to the world as free people.
GPI: Thank you very much, Bobi Wine.
Nora Kiefer, Project Management