Museveni being Museveni—that is a strongman who brooks no criticism—it is easy to dismiss Bobi Wine’s tribulations as just another episode where Uganda’s President crashes yet another opposition politician.
Uganda, like most African countries, has a majority youth population. Bobi Wine’s celebrity is a force of nature among Uganda’s youth that the old man himself would be silly to ignore.
Starting in the early 2000s East African popular music experienced a renaissance of sorts. If you were of a certain age, you were listening to music from across the borders.
No, it wasn’t your regular Lingala or rhumba from Congo. No, this was a new sort of music with sounds particular to its country of origin, but very much East African. You could tune into the radio and hear Bongo Flava, and instantly know it was Tanzanian but very East African. There was also genge and kapuka from Kenyan.
All over sudden, a new generation of artists were playing at clubs all over the map. Now it was no big deal to hear that Jose Chameleone was today hosting a concert at the Village Market, Nairobi and tomorrow playing in Dar es Salaam.
Nameless, Nyota Ndogo, Ali Kiba, Lady Jaydee these were names that anyone under 30 knew. And Bobi Wine was just one of the coolest ragga stars out there.
The columnist Charles Onyango-Obbo is not wrong to point out that the elders of Ugandan politics are scared by a movement led by young people.
Social media have played a role in getting people outraged about Bobi Wine’s plight. While Bobi Wine and his celebrity contemporaries have honed their social media skills, it would be wise to remember that they spread their wings just before the digital age really began—at least in East Africa.
It was radio (think Kiss 100 and Capital FM), television (think East African TV, the Beat on NTV), and newspaper celebrity gossip pullouts that began their celebrity.
What I am trying to say is the honourable Robert Kyagulanyi is more than a passing fad, and perhaps Museveni recognises it.
If you really think about it, celebrities are experiencing a lot of success in politics globally right now. The greatest Liberian soccer player, and a giant of African football George Weah also happens to be the President of Liberia.
Arguably Pakistan’s greatest cricketer, and the man who led is country to its only World Cup victory Imran Khan also happens to be Prime Minister of Pakistan.
And finally you could not write this script in Hollywood before, but a reality TV star Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America.
Unfortunately for Museveni, it seems that his plan backfired. Museveni has done for Bobi Wine something that even Bobi Wine could not do himself. Bobi is no longer regional, he is gone international! —The writer is a Political Science PhD student at Northern Illinois University, US