Bobi Wine is a threat to Museveni

In the last two weeks, Uganda has felt the impact of the arrest of Bobi Wine – the Afro-beat superstar and opposition MP Robert Kyagulanyi. The arrest of Bobi Wine and others who were against the government sparked violent protests on the streets in Kampala, the capital, and other urban centers.

The current turmoil began mid-August, when Bobi Wine and other opposition politicians descended upon Arua, a town in the north-west, to campaign for a by-election.

The President’s motorcade, after several hours of loud campaigning from all sides, was attacked by stones when it left town. , allegedly, Bobi Wine supporters. Museveni was unharmed when he reached his helicopter. His security detail then returned to Arua, where he unleashed an attack on the crowds that were still there.

Bobi Wine was arrested along with five other opposition politicians, two journalists, and at least 28 others. Yasiin Kwuma, Bobi Wine’s driver was killedOther opposition figures were arrested in the days that followed.

Street protests in Kampala erupted almost immediately following the news of Kawuma’s arrest and death. The protests began in the Kamwokya neighbourhood (where Bobi Wine’s studio is) and Kyadondo East, his constituency. They quickly spread. As news spread that Bobi and the other MPs arrested had been mistreated in jail, unrest increased. When he appeared in court ten days later, he was barely able to walk.

Security services responded strongly to the growing protests. At least two people died in the violence. Journalists who have written about this affair were threatened.

Museveni’s Uganda is not a new place for the arrest and intimidation of opposition figures. The security forces responded with speed and severity that was shocking. The initial response was not good enough. The subsequent escalation and the treason trial against Bobi wine suggest that there is more to this story than trigger-happy soldiers.

There is. Bobi Wine was released on bail. For now, this may be the end of recent events. Museveni’s troubles are not over yet. Museveni is facing a younger voter base that’s becoming more agitated, a deterioration of the National Resistance Movement’s political model, and the increasing prominence of social media within Uganda’s politics. All of these factors are only going to grow in the future.

Changing voter profile

In its first 20 years of rule, the National Resistance Movement operated effectively as a single political party.

This legacy continues. Since the National Resistance Movement was established as a political party in 2005, local politics have continued to be characterized by an “individualistic” culture. The National Resistance Movement’s main constituency is rural voters, who are primarily interested in local issues. They also have enough memory to recall the horrifying civil war which preceded Museveni’s tenure.

For these voters, removing the President from power would be a dangerous and even traumatizing idea. The ethnographic research that we conducted in southern Uganda, during the 2016 presidential elections campaigns, confirms this. This shows that Museveni voters are not simply bought or coerced – they do not want him to be replaced.

There is no reason to believe that the old system will collapse. Museveni’s problem is not that the old system is collapsing but rather the fact that more people are coming forward whose interests and identities they do not take into account.

This group includes younger people. This group includes more youthful voters.

They are not interested in replacing an MP. They want a president.

Museveni has never considered these voters as a major constituency. They were dismissed as a political force in the past because they weren’t very numerous, poorly organized, and concentrated mainly in urban areas.

The National Resistance Movement is slipping on the ground.

The young voters have spread across the country. They are even in Museveni’s rural heartland. Social media has made it easier for young people to communicate and network with one another. Also, they can move around easier.

Their numbers are rapidly increasing. Uganda has the youngest population of any country in the world. A little over 48 percent of its population is aged 14 or younger, while 21.16 percent of the people are between 15-24 years old. Only 2% are 65 or older.

Bobi Wine, 36, is not a danger because he says something no other opposition leader has ever said. He has done this by positioning himself and doing it with great skill as the champion of a growing demographic.

Building a Movement

Museveni portrays his opponents either as divisive tribes, young hooligans, or even worse. Bobi Wine, however, is not any of these things as the erudite letters that he exchanged with Museveni following his 2017 election prove. He has created a platform that is more defined by youth than ethnicity or class.

A string of recent byelections in the country (including Arua), have demonstrated that his brand transcends local constituencies.

Bobi Wine’s latest run-ins with the law happened not by accident. It actually took place five weeks before, during a protest against Uganda’s controversial “social media tax”. (During which time the authorities accused Bobi Wine of inciting a revolt).

In the weeks leading up to Arua’s by-election, Bobi Wine, his new constituency, and social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were all in high demand.

After Arua, social media also played an important role. Images of Bobi wine and other opposition MPs allegedly being mistreated in custody spread widely, adding to the unrest.

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