Ugandan pop star-turned-MP Bobi Wine last month returned home after receiving medical treatment in the US for injuries he suffered in custody.
Wine – real name Robert Kyagulanyi – who was charged with treason following campaign violence during an election in August, has warned that democracy in Uganda is on a dangerous backslide and said he had come back to fight, telling a BBC reporter, Fergal Kane, who received him at the airport, he would get “freedom or die trying.”
Wine’s political significance spills outside his Ugandan homeland, as he represents a class of emerging youthful change-movers all over Africa. His popularity – evident from the support he received from all over the continent and world following his detention – signifies a generational rift between a youthful population and President Yoweri Museveni and his cabal. The strongman, 74, has been in power since 1986.
That Museveni allowed Wine back into the country is significant and could be on account of persistent international pressure, but it presents a big win for the youthful politician and his ilk. But a professor of political science at Makerere University who spoke to the Nairobi Law Monthly reads more into Wine’s return.
Museveni, the scholar says, has survived for as long as he has because he has regularly bought allegiances by paying off regional kingpins – “the equivalent of $1 million (Sh100 million) annually.”
“He buys them top of the range vehicles, houses and medical/life insurance for the regional lords and their families, and accord them state security. Because the President is from a minority tribe, he knows he has to do this to quell rebellion. But, given what happened to Bobi, some of these kingpins have become uneasy with the old man, providing the possibility of a fallout. Recent assassinations – of top and former police chiefs, who are allies to the said kingpins – is the President’s message to them: I can get you… But it is not working so well. There are strong undercurrents of discontent, and he (Museveni) could be in real trouble.”
The Baganda, Uganda’s most populous tribe, have no real power in government, and are subjugated economically and politically. This is the case for most of the other tribes as well, including the Batooro and Basoga. The Banyankole, Museveni’s tribe, account for about 10 percent of the country’s population but have, for years now, hogged state power. It is evident why the President does not want to let go: the empire he has built will crumble.
To be able to maintain his regional kingpins and buy their compliance, Museveni has maintained an active presence in regional politics, particularly under Amisom (the African Union Mission in Somalia), which is important to maintain close contact with neighbouring governments. But his reasons go deeper, our Professor says:
“He is active in Amisom for the given reason that he wants to professionalise his military. His real reason, however, is that he gets multi-million billion military contracts through companies run by his brother, Salim Saleh, and son Muhoozi. It is also whispered the President keeps for himself the salaries his soldiers should earn under Amisom; he only allows them to keep the allowances, but even those are taxed… His own men are beginning to turn against him because of his greed.”
It is evident why the President won’t allow “an outsider” to succeed him, especially one with the smarts and conscience to run him out of town. While he has wanted to retire for a while now, he also understands that neither his brother nor his son have got the smarts to last for any appreciable amount of time in power.(