Bobi Wine, also known as Kyagulanyi Ssentamu Robert, is a Ugandan pop-star, activist and political leader. He heads the National Unity Platform, Uganda’s largest opposition party, and was elected to Parliament in 2017.
Having received massive support from many people across the country, Wine started the People Power Movement in 2017 to encourage young Ugandans to get involved in politics. Since then he has been arrested, tortured, and subjected to various other forms of abuse and harassment. Several of his supporters and friends have been targeted by the government, with some killed, while others have been abducted and tortured.
Wine was a presidential candidate in Uganda’s most recent election, described by the Journal of Democracy as “the most violent and least fair in the country’s history”. He was placed under house arrest shortly after and denied access to food or water.
As a singer, Wine’s music has mostly focused on social justice issues. He has been blocked from performing in Uganda since 2018, his music considered a threat to the political establishment.
14th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Wednesday, April 6, 2022
On deciding to speak out:
“My fame wouldn’t change the reality – that I was just a boy from the ghetto and that I wouldn’t be free from their oppressive rule until everyone in Uganda was free.”
“Since Parliament refused to come to the ghetto, the ghetto would go to parliament.”
On growing up in Kampala:
“I grew up in a slum in Kamwokya, Kampala. I didn’t realize how poor we were until I started school in a different part of town. There I learned that wearing shoes is not supposed to be a luxury.”
On the regime in Uganda:
“Museveni rules Uganda with an iron fist. He deploys the military against the citizens. Those who oppose him are either tortured, imprisoned or killed.”
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that my life is at stake. I wasn’t even sure I would make it to this day.”
On the 2021 election:
“The day of the election, I cast my ballot in the morning and went home immediately. Hundreds of military personnel surrounded my house and our party head office. And then, all across the country, they shut down the internet.”
“In this complete blackout, Museveni declared himself winner of the election.”
I never intended to get into politics. I’m a musician, and in 2005, I was the hottest artist in town, singing about parties, girls and money. So, I did what any 25-year-old would do – I went out and bought a big fancy car: a black Cadillac Escalade with spinners and a personalized number plate “GHETTO”
One night, I was leaving one of the most popular nightclubs in Kampala when a security guy grabbed me and pulled me out of my brand new car. He slapped me in the face and held a gun to my head. And he said: “Why are you showing off?! Don’t you know this country has owners?”
I drove away humiliated, and this horrible feeling washed over me. A feeling of “you deserved this.” Because he was right – I felt safe, as a celebrity, partying with the rich and powerful military generals, winning and dining with them, but my fame wouldn’t change the reality – that I was just a boy from the ghetto and that I wouldn’t be free from their oppressive rule until everyone in Uganda was free.
I grew up in a slum in Kamwokya, Kampala. I didn’t realize how poor we were until I started school in a different part of town. There I learned that wearing shoes is not supposed to be a luxury.
For 36 years, Uganda has been under General Museveni’s rule. Over 85% of the people of Uganda have known no other President in their lifetime. To the majority of the Western World, Museveni has always been seen as a ‘useful dictator,’ good for the stability of the region, even if he bends a few laws! But this is not true. Museveni rules Uganda with an iron fist. He deploys the military against the citizens. Those who oppose him are either tortured, imprisoned or killed. What more? His administration ranks one of the most corrupt in the world – they’ve plundered our nation at the expense of education, healthcare, infrastructure and other social services.
So sitting there, in my Cadillac Escalade, beaten and humiliated, I knew I couldn’t stay silent anymore. For the next ten years, I would sing about what was really going on in Uganda, the plight of ghetto people, and our fight for human rights!
In 2016, General Museveni rigged the election and declared himself president again. That’s when I decided to get into action. Since Parliament refused to come to the ghetto, the ghetto would go to Parliament! We started the People Power Movement to awaken a generation of young Ugandans. We talked to them about democracy and explained to them why it mattered so much to them. When a parliamentary seat fell vacant in 2017, I decided fo run. Our constituency campaign turned into a national campaign. We won it with 80%.
But in 2018, while on a campaign trail in Arua, a Northern Uganda District, after several election victories, Gen. Museveni decided that it was too much for him to take. He alleged that our supporters had stoned his motorcade. And for that, the military was given orders to shoot and kill.
I had just stepped out of my car when suddenly a shot exploded in my ears. My driver and friend, Yasin Kawuma, lay motionless in my car- in a seat I had occupied a short while back. Blood poured out of his face and neck. He was dead.
In my hotel room, I tweeted out a photo of him lying in a pool of blood with the caption: “Police has shot my driver dead thinking they have shot at me.” For the next eight hours, I hid in a random hotel room , as they broke down every door looking for me. But my tweet went viral and suddenly, the whole world was watching Museveni. So when the military finally found me, they couldn’t kill me. They arrested me and tortured me instead. They pulled my earlobes with pliers and screamed profanities at me.
They then wrapped me in a bedsheet and threw me in the back seat of a salon car where they beat and did unspeakable things to me, until I became unconscious.
I was kept in military detention for several days. Not even my family knew where I was.
All over the country, people protested in the streets, calling for my release. I didn’t realize it at the time and when I found out, I was so overwhelmed. I knew I couldn’t stop this campaign, no matter what. I had started something bigger than myself.
I was charged in the military court with annoying the President and unlawful possession of fire arms, a clearly trumped up charge. Out of shame, they dropped the firearms charge!
Following the torture, I was very sick, in dire need of advanced medical treatment. My initial attempt to travel for advanced medical treatment abroad was first blocked as I was arrested on the airport tarmac!
So in July 2019, I announced that I was running for President. I said to my family and my team: “They are going to arrest us and imprison us, or force us into exile, or kill us, but we should be prepared for all this.”
And that’s what happened. Throughout my campaign. I was repeatedly arrested and detained. In November 2020, I was arrested for allegedly violating COVID-19 regulations – a convenient excuse by Museveni’s regime to suppress his opposition. Our supporters protested against my illegal arrest and the military went on rampage. They shot and killed over 100 people. They wounded and arrested hundreds more. And instead of accountability for this massacre, Museveni came out in praise of the military for a job well done! A few days later, my bodyguard Frank Ssenteza Kalibala was deliberately ran over by a military-police truck and killed.
Thousands of our supporters were then abducted by numberless vehicles , called drones in Uganda. As I speak, many are still missing. Others are still in illegal detention, for simply supporting me and our Party. Those who were lucky to return, came back with severe torture marks.
But we never even considered ending the campaign. It wasn’t just me challenging General Museveni. We had awoken an entire generation. For the first time, there were no tribal lines, no class lines or religious lines. We were speaking as ONE huge voice. Thousands of people showed up to rally around our slogan: “People Power Our Power.”
It was the biggest public phenomenon I had ever seen. I had been a celebrity. I had done hit songs. I knew what it was like to be famous- to have people chanting your name but this was different. In this campaign, we spoke to the hearts of the people. Uganda will never be the same again.
The day of the election, I cast my ballot in the morning and went home immediately. Hundreds of military personnel surrounded my house and our party head office. And then, all across the country, they shut down the internet. They shut down any radio stations which dared to report on the election. In this complete blackout, Museveni declared himself winner of the election. International authorities challenged the results – saying that there was clear evidence of voter intimidation, interference, and fraud. Museveni imposed himself on the nation, and I remained under house arrest for eleven days.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that my life is at stake. I wasn’t even sure I would make it to this day.
But I am here to tell you, with full clarity and conviction, that Museveni is NOT the leader you think he is. The international community already recognised that the January 2021 election was neither free nor fair. It is important that these words are followed by action. First, stop shaking Museveni’s blood-stained hands through funding and cooperation. Two, impose sanctions on him and the people he deploys to torture and murder our people. Three, support our demands for accountability for the crimes against humanity he has committed against the people of Uganda.
Geneva Summit on Human Rights and Democracy 2022