BOBI WINE ON INSPIRING UGANDA’S YOUTH TO FIGHT FOR FREEDOM

By Issy Viviano

Uganda has the world’s youngest population, with over 78% of its population below the age of 30. Ruled by the same President since 1986, most people in the country have never experienced life under any other leader. Sadly, elections are consistently flawed and invalidated and, on top of that, the constitution amended, allowing the incumbent President to gain additional terms in office, even after 32 years in power. Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, more famously known as Bobi Wine, has become the voice of resistance and the voice of the country’s youth.

The irony is that current President, Yoweri Museveni, was once a rebel himself, overthrowing a notorious military government. However, he has used his decades in office to cement his hold on power, and as a consequence subverted Uganda’s democracy. 

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Bobi Wine, a rapper, was born in a ghetto in the capital of Uganda, Kampala. Despite having been surrounded by poverty, drugs and gangs, he became successful in his own right, through his music, and has now engaged in politics. He recently won, as an independent entity, a regional by-election, giving him a seat as an MP and a voice in politics. He campaign focus was that he “wants politics to bring us together, just as music does”.

This self-made, singer and man, is therefore fundamentally different to previous opposition leaders, not having traditional links to the establishment or a military background. His political career took off when he released a song called ‘Freedom’ to express his anger, which became a national phenomenon across the country. This song eventually became the unofficial anthem of Uganda, leaving the President worried at Wine’s broad influence on the population. 

Whilst singing is free, Uganda is amongst the top 10 countries facing extreme poverty in Africa, as well as being the 25th poorest country globally. With more than 1 in 5 people living under the poverty line, and 14.2 million living in severe poverty, it is even more concerning that this trend continues to rise. Wine who has grown up in the ghettos of Kampala personally understands the meaning of poverty ad can connect and identify fully with this large segment of the population.

In the summer, Bobi Wine was arrested by the army for possession of firearms, and placed in a military prison. It soon became clear the charges were false, and therefore he had to be released, after a few weeks. When he came out, he was barely able to stand, telling the world that he had suffered relentless beatings, and was injected with unknown substances. He was immediately rearrested by the police, and charged with treason. This terrible experience won him international sympathy, including from global musicians such as Chris Martin and Damon Albarn. He is currently released on bail, and has been able to go to the US to seek medical treatment following the brutal torture he faced in military prison. 

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The self-proclaimed ‘Ghetto President’ has now moved on from making music, and has taken an active role in trying to make a change through Parliament. He voices that the country views itself as “enslaved by poverty… [our President] should free us, so that we can decide which type of leaders we want”. Wine wrote in his song ‘Freedom’, broadcasting how Uganda’s youth see the need for change. As he sings in his song, “See our leaders become misleaders, and see our mentors become tormentors”. Bobi Wine brings a voice through song, that may eventually translate hope into action for a new generation to experience real democracy.