A reggae star invigorates the Ugandan presidential race

The Ugandan presidential election campaign has begun in recent weeks, with 11 candidates challenging current president Yoweri Museveni as he runs for his sixth term.

The candidate garnering the most attention is 38 year old reggae star Bobi Wine, a considerably younger man than the 76 year old Museveni. Wine identifies as a revolutionary character and has been in parliament since 2017. Fundamentally, he poses a challenge to the corruption and violence the incumbent is renowned for, crafting a platform that champions the youth, prioritises education and provides a voice for the disaffected.

There is little chance this election will run smoothly. Indeed, there have already been riots, with Wine arrested on 18th November and escorted home by police after Museveni declared his large rallies to be breaking Covid-19 restrictions. Wine vowed back in June not to let these restrictions define or suppress his political campaign.

The candidate has been arrested and attacked before, and human rights groups have accused Museveni of using Covid-19 restrictions as a thinly veiled pretext for scuppering support for Wine, whom he sees as his biggest rival. The president changed the constitutional age limit for presidential candidates to allow himself a potentially sixth term in office. Back in 1986 when he rose to power, he was seen as a stabilising force by both Ugandans and the West, but has since been associated with corruption and oppression.

Wine, quoted in TIME magazine, has said, “We are the generation that was created by Museveni’s failures.” Aryan Baker added that this election is a “test of the limits of populism” in the face of dictatorship. Indeed, it seems the people are rallying around Wine, with his mantra for social change and inclusivity emphasized in his slogan, “twebereremu” (translated “get involved”). However, in his rallies thus far, it is estimated that 28 people have already died at the hands of police suppression.

Both Wine and another presidential hopeful, Engineer Patrick Amuriat, were accosted by police as they handed in their presidential nomination papers earlier this month, a foreboding start to the campaigning season, which is to run until election day on 21st January 2021.

Considering the restrictions on in-person gatherings due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems the president has a hugely significant advantage over his rivals, with his near unlimited control over the country’s media output. If Mr Wine hopes to sustain momentum, he will have to retain his populist stance against Museveni’s institutional oppression.

Yet, although Wine is certainly capturing popular and global attention, he is by no means the only plausible candidate. Amurait stands as the candidate for the Forum for Democratic Change Party, who also promote equality, improved healthcare, and education. This alongside his 15 years of experience as an MP make him a potent force in Ugandan politics.

There are also candidates formerly of Museveni’s camp: Lt. Gen. Henry Tumukunde, who has vast military experience as former national security advisor, is campaigning under the name ‘Renewed Uganda.’ Like Wine, he is emphasizing the need for all Ugandans to have a voice, stating, “We are organized and we are targeting the ordinary Ugandan who has the vote.” Additionally, Maj. General Gregory Mugisha Muntu is standing for election after previously serving as the Commander of the Army from 1989 to 1998.

The only female candidate is Nancy Kalembe, who, after achieving her Bachelor of Science in Population Studies, has appeared on Apprentice Africa, and has also served as news anchor on Ugandan Television.

Overall, there are 11 candidates challenging Museveni, most significantly Bobi Wine, but it seems this presidential race is going to be far from an exercise of democratic due process considering Museveni’s tight control of the nation’s media in a pandemic. Time will tell whether Bobi Wine’s command of the populist spirit will hold out against the president’s autocratic grip.

Image: AMISOM Public Information via Flickr

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