Uganda’s Youth Majority Brave Police Blockades and Bullets to Rally Behind Bobi Wine
US elites may see the writing on the wall in Uganda, where the youth majority population are braving police blockades and bullets to rally behind Bobi Wine.
“The dictator is worried about what will happen if he rigs and steals the election this time.”
Bobi Wine's full name is Robert Kyagulanyi. The 38-year-old pop star, parliamentarian, and presidential candidate is also known as the ghetto president. In 2017, he won a parliamentary seat by a wide margin, after a door-to-door campaign to his constituency in Kampala’s capital.
In July 2018, Ugandan military police arrested him while he was campaigning for another parliamentary candidate and beat him so badly that he left jail leaning on a cane and the shoulders of a fellow party member. Nevertheless, on November 3, Wine declared himself a candidate for president, announcing that he would run against General Yoweri Museveni, who has held a grip on power in Uganda for the past 34 years. Ugandans will go to the polls on January 14, 2021.
On Wednesday, November 17, Uganda's military police arrested Wine again, and did not release him until Friday. During that time protest erupted across the country and police shot to kill. On November 20, the New York Times reported that at least 28 protestors had been shot dead while Aljazeera reported 37 and still counting. The Times reported 600 arrested. On November 24, Ghetto TV Uganda, the media outlet of the political party that Bobi Wine now leads, reported that fatalities had risen to 45 and published a video, which they said evidenced police “firing into crowded slums.” CNN broadcast Ghetto TV Uganda’s report.
I spoke to Ugandan American journalist, Black Star News Publisher, and City University of New York African Studies Professor Milton Allimadi about Bobi Wine’s challenge to President Yoweri Museveni.
ANN GARRISON: Milton, 45 is a shocking number of protestors shot dead. If this had happened in the course of a presidential election here we would think we were in an unprecedented national crisis. And in the Ugandan context, this is far more state violence than was seen during the 2011 and 2016 presidential elections. Is that because Bobi Wine poses a greater threat to Museveni than his challengers in those years?
MILTON ALLIMADI: Yes, 45 is a shocking number and that’s in response to just one incident. Forty-five may not even be the total number. We don't know. Some of the bodies were carried away by some of Museveni’s brutal security officers. And yes, Bobi Wine does represent a special challenge to Museveni, for one because he is representing the youth who are coming out in tens of thousands throughout the country. So I think the dictator is worried about what will happen if he rigs and steals the election this time.
What will happen the next day? Will his security forces be able to contain and suppress an uprising of young people in the streets all over the country? I think that by sending his police out with shoot-to-kill orders he was trying to set an example of what will happen in January, letting people know that they will risk their lives if they take to the streets to protest fraudulent election results.
AG: What do you think of Bobi Wine?
MA: Well, Bobi Wine is the voice of the youth. He is the voice of his generation. He is 38 years old. And as you know, 80% of the Ugandan population is younger than 35. Bobi Wine speaks their language, the language of the youth.
And how can you tell the dictator is worried about this? Some months ago, he started distributing videos of himself, allegedly doing pushups and trying to prove that he can still do 40 pushups. Whether those videotapes were faked or not is irrelevant. The point is he is trying to demonstrate that he is not this aging dictator. His official age is 76, but he could well be in his eighties.
AG: Tell us about the People Power Movement that existed in Uganda before it registered a political party in July, the National Unity Platform, with Bobi Wine as its presidential candidate. I know that your late sister Barbara was an early member of the People Power Movement.
MA: People Power existed way before it registered as an official political party this year. It existed way before it was identified and associated with Bobi Wine and the National Unity Platform. And yes, my own beloved late sister Barbara Allimadi was one of the earliest to start using that term, after the Walk to Work protests, which were launched by Dr. Kizza Besigye,
As you know, Dr. Besigye has been a leading presidential contender in multiple elections. He's not running in this election cycle, but many believe that he in fact won a majority of votes in the last three elections while running with the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, but that Museveni simply refused to cede power and instead had his minions report fraudulent results.
In 2011, Besigye launched the Walk to Work protests. It was a popular and hugely successful campaign with people walking to work to protest inflation and escalating prices. The regime worried that it could eventually spark a mass uprising and revolution, so they brutally crushed and suppressed it.
Subsequently, as you may recall, my sister Barbara and some young women activists began wearing T-shirts saying “People Power” and organizing protests. One of their most famous protests was after Ingrid Turinawe, a leading woman member of the FDC was brutalized by the police and sexually assaulted while being arrested.
And they would show up in the Parliament building protesting corruption, and wearing those t-shirts. So “People Power” was beginning to grow even before it was finally embraced by Bobi Wine and people who are now associated with the National Unity Platform.
AG: Uganda has a more developed civil society than neighboring Rwanda, Its institutions don’t seem so impossibly beyond the people’s reach. Rwandan elections are no more than a charade, but in Uganda you have real contests, with real political candidates on the ballot, in the streets, and in the countryside holding rallies. Museveni’s police often attack rallies, and candidates are often arrested, but they’re real contenders, not the president’s straw men. Bobi Wine was able to win his parliamentary seat by a wide margin and, when he was arrested campaigning for another candidate in 2018, it was widely reported that all the other parliamentary candidates he had campaigned for had also won.
In a situation like this where you have some degree of democracy, it can be difficult to steal a landslide election. Here in the US, for example, it would have been impossible to steal the 2008 election from Barack Obama. Do you think Bobi Wine could be headed for an undeniable landslide?
MA: Yes, it's true that in Uganda, the elections are quite different when compared to countries like Rwanda. In Uganda, the main obstacle to change has not really been the voting itself, although the voting has been marred by the brutality of the security forces, and dozens of people have been killed during the campaigns, during the voting itself, and in the aftermath.
The problem is always who gets to count the ballots and announce the results. There's no doubt in my mind that Dr. Kizza Besigye won the last three elections that he contested against the dictator Museveni. But when you appoint the election commissioners, as Museveni does, and you get to announce who “won,” that’s irrelevant.
The key difference this time is that it will be more difficult to steal the election from Bobi Wine because of what will happen the day after. I have no doubt of that, given the kind of turnouts we are seeing for his campaign rallies around the country. There was one incident where police literally blocked people from going to the town to see him, but people crossed swamps and waded through mud that was close to quicksand to get around the police blocks and get there, just to wave at him. I think we’re likely to see an actual electoral landslide regardless of what Museveni’s electoral commission reports.
AG: You call President Yoweri Museveni a dictator. How tightly does he control the military and police, whose allegiance is usually the deciding factor in a contested election?
MA: He has absolute control of the armed forces but he’s worried anyway. So he's constantly changing and moving around the commanders of the army in particular. The special forces command is what he relies on most. His son, General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, used to be the commander, but now Muhoozi is his special presidential advisor. That means Muhoozi is still in control of the special forces command, but he's also now in control of other security forces that have been created in the last five years or so. They’re almost like six different command structures of the armed forces.
So you have competing armies, but all of them basically under the command of General Museveni and his son, General Muhoozi whom, many believe, Museveni wants to see succeed him.
AG: What about the electoral infrastructure?
MA: As I said, that’s totally under the control of the dictator. He appointed all the members of the electoral commission, and obviously he's going to have his soldiers, his police, and a militia called the Local Defense Units, LDUs, deployed all around the country, around the polling stations or the precincts come election time.
So what Bobi Wine and his supporters have been saying is that young people should volunteer to guard every election precinct. He’s telling them to stay at the polling station after they vote until all the votes are counted. He’s telling them that they must not only vote, but also protect their votes.
AG: The US foreign policy establishment has praised and enabled Yoweri Museveni, like Paul Kagame, for much of his 34 years in power. What purpose has he served?
MA: Yes, of course, without the support of the United States, United Kingdom, and other Western powers, General Museveni would not have survived 34 years in power. The West really don't care about issues such as human rights, abuse, or even economic development in African countries. No, absolutely not. So long as the ruler is pliant and is a client of Western interests. That is all that is required.
Let me make a distinction. Robert Mugabe ruled for decades in Zimbabwe, but Mugabe only became a pariah and a devil after the land redistribution program in Zimbabwe, when the land was taken from the European minority elite who controlled 70% of it, even though they made up less than 8% of the population. And in South Africa, ironically, the European minority elite, also roughly 8%, control more than 72% of the land today, over a quarter century after the end of apartheid.
But in Zimbabwe Mugabe changed this historical imbalance and he took the land and redistributed much of it to Africans. That is when he became an enemy of the West and was labeled the worst dictator on the African continent. Sanctions were slapped on Zimbabwe, sanctions that, by the way, remain today, even long after the death of Robert Mugabe.
But look at Uganda, for example, Uganda has not been sanctioned and the US has enabled Museveni militarily, politically, and diplomatically. Museveni was often invited here to meet with US presidents. It’s a bit different now. He hasn't been invited lately, but several United States presidents including Barack Obama invited him to The White House. So look at the difference between that and the way Mugabe was treated. The only difference is that Museveni has been a reliable puppet serving Western interests and Mugabe redistributed the majority of the land in Zimbabwe to Africans.
To understand this, I recommend reading “Neocolonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism” by the late Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. Nkrumah says that the neocolonial ruler in Africa does not even have to tend to the needs of his own population. He doesn't even have to appeal to his domestic voters. So long as he has the support of the West, he will remain in power.
And that describes Museveni. He makes Uganda profitable for Western multinational corporations and when the United States needs to accomplish something by force, it rents the Ugandan army to go to war, as in Rwanda, DRC, South Sudan, and even Somalia.
AG: Bobi Wine appears to have the support of various soft power operations of US empire like the National Institute for Democracy(NDI), which describes itself as “a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization that has supported democratic institutions and practices in every region of the world for more than three decades.” Museveni recently expelled NID staff from the country.
Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of State and UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright now chairs NDI’s board. For those who might not remember, Albright is infamous for saying that crippling Saddam Hussein was worth the death of half a million Iraqi children who died of US sanctions, and for carrying out Bill Clinton’s orders to make sure that the UN withdrew all troops from Rwanda until Kagame, another of the USA’s men in Africa, seized power at the end of the 1994 bloodbath.
He’s also represented by international attorney and foreign policy insider Robert Amsterdam.
And earlier this year, he was somehow drawn into an anti-China propaganda effort. Black Enterprise reported, on April 14, that “Ugandan politician and musician Bobi Wine has teamed with the co-founder of Atlanta Black Star, Neil Nelson, to help airlift Africans and African Americans being subjected to inhumane treatment in China."
Does this suggest that the US foreign policy elites are ready to see Museveni go and they’ve vetted Bobi Wine as a possible replacement?
MA: Yes, I agree that it seems like there has been some determination in Washington. And normally, if it's in Washington, that means it’s the same determination in London. So perhaps the West has decided it should now part ways with the dictator Museveni.
Obviously they observe the situation on the ground. They see the massive support that Bobi Wine enjoys amongst the youth in a country where 80% of the population is under 35. And there's no argument that Museveni can make to win the vote of those young people in Uganda, given the level of unemployment. Unemployment is also about 80%, so everybody has to be a hustler doing whatever they need to do to survive. But many of these young people are smart, many are educated even though they have little opportunity, so they know that there are better possibilities. And, here’s another point. Young people within the military also know that a better Uganda can be created.
OK, so let's imagine a better Uganda ultimately is created. Obviously the West still wants to be in a position where they can have considerable influence. And that may answer the questions you raised about the National Institute for Democracy and other organizations supporting Bobi Wine.
But I see it as a two-stage process. The first process is to get rid of the dictator Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 34 years, and literally brought Uganda to its knees. Uganda was one of the most promising countries in East and Central Africa. Now, today it has the lowest per capita income of the original East African countries, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.
It has the weakest economy, the highest unemployment rate, and the most vulnerable political structure, more vulnerable than either Tanzania or Kenya, regardless of how flawed elections in those countries may have been.
Tanzania and Kenya have presidential term limits. So no matter what grievances Tanzanians, or Kenyans may have against their presidents, they know that those presidents will be gone at the end of two terms. Uganda does not have term limits, and that creates an explosive situation. Ugandans are sick and tired of Museveni, and I think that, in January, 2021, Museveni will lose the election. The question is going to be what his election commission reports and what happens the day after.
If he tries to continue to impose himself, it's going to be difficult because the young people seem to have had enough. They're being shot, they're being killed, and yet they're still turning out to Bobi Wine’s campaign rallies.
So if some compromise will have to be made with the West in order to get rid of this monster, one of the most brutal dictators in Africa—worse even than Zaire’s Mobutu—I think that is a price that Ugandans are willing to pay and then deal with the situation the day after, then map another course for Uganda, after ridding the country of Yoweri Museveni.
AG: I’m inclined to think that Bobi Wine has the best interests of Ugandans at heart, and that he’s willing to compromise with US empire in hopes of improving their lives. Do you agree?
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. Please help support her work onPatreon . She can be reached at ann(at)anngarrison.com .
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