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Bobi Wine and the beginning of the fall of a monarchy

Can an artist-turned-politician deliver the final blow that brings down Museveni’s rule in Uganda?

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Bobi Wine

After close to two weeks of tensions in Uganda, a court in the northern town of Gulu granted bail to four opposition legislators including MP Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, fondly known by his stage name Bobi Wine. In videos circulated on social media, Kyagulanyi was seen in the courtroom moving with difficulty using crutches.

The lawyer of the 36-year-old singer said he had been “brutalised” in detention. Kyagulanyi initially was charged with illegal possession of firearms and ammunition in a military court while the other three MPs were detained and charged with treason on August 16 along with 31 other Ugandans. After ten days in military confinement, the military court dropped Kyagulanyi’s charges but he was re-arrested and also charged with treason.

The detainees have been accused of pelting a presidential motorcade with stones on August 13 in the town of Arua; at the time of the alleged incident, President Yoweri Museveni was not in any of the cars and had long left the town. That day, political rallies were held by the ruling party and the opposition ahead of important by-elections.

After the rallies ended, the police and the Special Forces Command of the military descended on Arua, raiding hotels and violently arresting legislators, hotel guests and bystanders. Kyagulanyi has claimed that his driver was shot dead before the raids.

Two days later, independent candidate Kassiano Wadri, whom Kyagulanyi supported and who was also detained, won the vote in Arua. This was the third parliamentary by-election Museveni’s party lost to the opposition and Kyagulanyi, or Bobi Wine, played a key role in the outcome of the vote.

The presence on the political scene of the 36-year-old musician-turned-parliamentarian, who took up politics after 15 years in the music industry, is seen as a growing threat by the ruling elite. These fears and the violent reactions they are generating might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Music of resistance

Kyagulanyi was born in Mpigi district, central Uganda, but came of age in Kamwookya, one of the poorest suburbs of Kampala. It is here that he launched his music career in the early 2000s after he graduated from Uganda’s oldest university – Makerere University – with a degree in music, dance and drama. He came to be famously known as the “Ghetto President” for persistently speaking out about the struggles of the lower classes and the urban poor in Uganda.

His lyrical genius and courage to drop songs that hit directly at government failures and excesses made him spectacularly popular among Ugandan youth. He insisted that Ugandans had many questions but few answers from the corrupt political leaders.

His outspokenness and growing popularity made him a target of government censorship, particularly after President Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, started feeling the demographic shift in the country’s electorate.

For a decade he had relied on the rural vote and older people who still suffered from the collective trauma of having survived the atrocities of past Ugandan regimes. These segments of Ugandan society are risk-averse and aren’t ready to rock the boat rowed by the man who gave them some feeling of safety even as war raged on in most of northern Uganda up until 2008.

Although Bobi Wine has always been political in his lyrics, it wasn’t until 2016 that he made his first step into politics. That year, the presidential elections were yet another contest between President Museveni and his longest-running political rival Dr Kizza Besigye.

It was that year that Museveni decided it was time to reach out to the young and increasingly desperate generation. To do that, he paid Uganda’s leading artists to compose a song praising his efforts and to campaign for him, a move that infuriated many young people, who retaliated by boycotting their music until some of the musicians apologised. It was then that Bobi Wine’s star shone brightly on the Ugandan political scene: he rejected the president’s offer to join his campaign and was quite vocal about his decision.

As other musicians sang Tubonga Naawe (We are with you) for Museveni, praising his great deeds, Kyagulanyi released Dembe (Peace), attacking the president’s greed for power directly and condemning political violence.

“Why would you wash white clothes only to hang them on a dirty log to dry?” sang Bobi Wine in reference to what Museveni was doing to the little he had achieved by clinging onto power. “Why don’t you look up to Mandela as an example? He ran for one term and released the flag” goes another line of the song.

Another track released in 2016, Situka (Rise up), which his supporters sang during protests against his detention, called on young people to rise up and march together against oppression. “When the going gets tough, the tough must get going, especially when leaders become misleaders, and mentors become tormentors, when freedom of expression becomes the target of suppression, opposition becomes our position,” goes the opening line of the track.

In 2017, when a court nullified an earlier parliamentary election in Kyaddondo East, a  constituency on the outskirts of Kampala, Kyagulanyi seized the opportunity. He won the seat in a landslide victory despite Museveni all but camping in the area during the campaign period.

Bringing ‘the ghetto’ to the parliament

After he was sworn in as an MP, Kyagulanyi did not stop being Bobi Wine. He told reporters that if the parliament won’t go to the ghetto, the ghetto will go to the parliament. He then embarked on several concerts across the country, prompting Uganda’s highly partisan police to ban some of his scheduled performances in October 2017.

At the height of debates on the constitutional amendment that would later remove the age limit for the president, allowing Museveni to run for yet another re-election, Bobi Wine released Freedom .

“We know you fought a Bush war, but imagine a child who was unborn when you came has long become a parent… They request that you don’t touch their constitution because it’s their only remaining hope,” Bobi Wine sang.

Together with the opposition Democratic Party, he led the “Togikwatako” (Do not touch) movement which protested the changing of the last clause in the constitution that stood in the way of 74-year-old Museveni holding onto power for life.

During one of the parliamentary debates, the army stormed parliament and several MPs were assaulted. This was a clear signal that President Museveni had grown impatient about dealing with any opposition.

In July this year, Bobi Wine was also instrumental in rallying young people to protest a new social media tax which the president presented as being intended to deter “gossip”, but which was actually a desperate measure trying to curb escalating anti-Museveni sentiment among the young generation.

Why is Bobi Wine a threat to Museveni’s power?

Bobi Wine’s magnetic pull on the electoral scene, which has helped the opposition in key by-elections, has increased paranoia within the ruling party. The realisation that the ground is slowly shifting under their feet has sent those in power into a panic.

These few electoral victories are a sign of what awaits President Museveni if he tries to run again in a country where around 65 percent of the population was born after he took power. His previous tactics of paying off voters and using the trauma of the past to coax people into voting for him are no longer working. And his attempt to talk to the young generation has ended in complete failure.

Young people have responded with contempt to Museveni calling them his “bazzukulu” (grandchildren); their aspirations largely do not include him ruling Uganda past his 77th birthday.

Young Ugandans face high unemployment rates and a lack of economic opportunities. What was once touted as Museveni’s greatest achievement – security – has been put to a great test the last two years. Crime has increased, with around 43 women targeted, kidnapped, raped and murdered within Kampala and the surrounding areas in the last 18 months.

Trying desperately to cover up the fact that his popularity is rapidly declining, the president has blamed the recent electoral setbacks on the Electoral Commission, which he has accused of being “full of rotten people”. This is a president grappling with defeat and fearing he could lose the next presidential vote.

Nothing about the arrest, torture and charges against Bobi Wine is new.  Museveni has handled his main opponents and their supporters in the same way in the past. What is new is the ability of young people to organise, speak up and mobilise on and offline, galvanised by a young voice who is just like them – Bobi Wine.

His is the story of an outsider who brought his own folding chair to a table no one expected him to be at. Whether he will continue with the same gusto after his release and medical treatment remains to be seen. What Kyagulanyi has given young Ugandans is an idea and a hope for a post-Museveni future that the president cannot just wish away.

However, it will take a lot more effort on part of the opposition – beyond Bobi Wine and a growing cult-like following – to bring down Museveni’s rule.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Bisouv’s editorial stance.
The article was first published on Al Jazeera

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Opinion/Writings

Person of the Decade – Raheel Sharif

Bisouv, in its first public issue, salutes the many achievements of the former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif.

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Raheel Sharif

Through storms of political biases, domestic and foreign insurgencies, and financial and social emergencies, Pakistan has emerged – every time a little stronger. And the people responsible for putting the country in these desperate of situations are plenty and the people responsible for taking the country out of them are, but a few. Bisouv, in its first ever public issue, salutes the latter and in this article, celebrates one of the few – Raheel Sharif.

Currently serving as the first Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, a 39-nation alliance of Muslim countries headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Raheel Sharif, a former four-star general and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) is arguably the most popular COAS in Pakistan’s history. Born in a country, in which to this day all shots are called, directly or in a de-facto martial law-style, by the military, Raheel Sharif was different – a general who ‘could,’ but never did.

MORE FROM THIS WEEK’S ISSUE: Blinding Justice and a Case of Uniforms

Under his command, the Pakistan Army carried out fierce anti-terrorism operations in North Waziristan in the Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which not only stabilized the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA,) but built the foundation for the government of Pakistan to merge the deprived province into Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KP.) Sharif was responsible for expanding the role of paramilitaries, mainly Pakistan Rangers, in the coastal city of Karachi – a move that saw an exceptional decrease in the crime rate in the city and later pulled out the city’s name out of the ‘Most Dangerous Cities in the World’ list. Unlike his predecessors, Sharif wholeheartedly supported the democratically elected government in the deprived, and the largest province of Pakistan, Balochistan and buried the hatred that former dictator Musharraf first initiated in 2006. At the request of the Chinese government and after the Pakistan government’s approval, Sharif created a new brigade-level military unit to help protect and secure the many projects under the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC.) Sharif also helped develop Pakistan’s indigenous defence industry, which resulted in the savings of more than $1.14 billion, over a year and half time period

In other feats, under Raheel Sharif, the Pakistan Army operated strictly under its constituted jurisdiction and left foreign, social, and economic policies to the democratically elected civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Under his tenure, Pakistan Army carried out first ever joint military exercises with Russia and supported the government deepen relations with China.

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE: Once a city of gardens, Lahore is now a concrete jungle

Reportedy, Sharif also thwarted a coup attempt in 2014. As disclosed by former United States ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olsen, former head of Pakistan Intelligence Service ISI Zahir-ul-Islam was mobilizing for a coup in September of 2014 during Imran Khan’s infamous Islamabad protest that lasted for months.

“We received information that Zahir-ul-Islam, the DG ISI, was mobilizing for a coup in September of 2014 [during Khan’s protest in Islamabad.] [Army Chief] Raheel [Sharif] blocked it by, in effect, removing Zahir, by announcing his successor,” Olson was quoted in the recently launched book ‘The Battle For Pakistan, The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighborhood’ by Shuja Nawaz in its chapter titling, Mil-to-Mil Relations: Do More. “[Zahir] was talking to the corps commanders and was talking to likeminded army officers… He was prepared to do it and had the chief [Raheel Sharif] been willing, even tacitly, it would have happened. But the chief was not willing, so it didn’t happen.”

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Blinding Justice and a Case of Uniforms

Former dictator and president Pervez Musharraf has been sentenced to death by a special court in a high-treason case. What does it mean for Pakistan and its institutions?

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General Pervez Musharraf

‘Former Dictator Pervez Musharraf has been sentenced to death,’ read the English newspaper in bold against white, folded cleanly, and displayed on one of many wooden stands that housed every publication from Urdu masalas to the high-end European fashion magazines, ‘The time for democracy is now,’ read another. The Musharraf High-Treason Verdict had taken the country by a storm, so much so, it had everyone talking – some had been left appalled by the traitorous decision to hang the former Chief of Army Staff and President and some welcomed it with open arms, all in all, the public response was mixed, but for the first time in the country’s history, the powerful armed forces were being discussed and this time behind no curtains.

General Pervez Musharraf had been handed down a death sentence by a special court, in absentia, in a high-treason case that took six years to complete. The special court, in its detailed judgment that it published days later, directed law enforcements of the country to apprehend Musharraf, who is currently receiving medical treatment in the United Arab Emirates, to ensure the death sentence is carried out and if the convicted is found dead beforehand, “his corpse be dragged to D-Chowk [in front of the Parliament House,] Islamabad, Pakistan, and be hanged for three days.”

READ MORE: Remembering Pakistan’s first foreign agent Fatima Jinnah

The decision was first of its kind for Pakistan, a country more or less ruled, rather dictated, by the military for most of its history. “It’s almost unbelievable that a former dictator has been sentenced to death in a country where the military enjoy absolute immunity legally, financially, and socially,” commented one Mustafa reading the partially banned newspaper DAWN. “If anything, I am hopeful for the future of the country.” But not everyone shares Mustafa’s sentiments especially the military and the serving government.

The army’s public relations reacted angrily to Musharraf’s verdict, saying in a statement that someone who served the country for over 40 years, fought battles, and made sacrifices in the defense of the country “can surely never be a traitor.” DG ISPR General Asif Ghafoor went on to state that the verdict “[has] been received with a lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of Pakistan Armed Forces,” and noting the military expects justice will be dispensed in line with the constitution saying, “The due legal process seems to have been ignored.”

The serving government under the populist leader Imran Khan has also been critical of the court’s decision. Farogh Naseem, former Minister of Law, went on to say that the government is the process of filing a reference against Judge Waqar Ahmed Seth, one of the three judges responsible for handing Musharraf the death sentence, under Article 209 of the constitution in the Supreme Judicial Council for the inhumane comments that came with the detailed verdict. Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI,) however, wasn’t always in support of Musharraf, so much so, Khan had lambasted the former dictator in a number of public rallies and gatherings before coming into power. In a recorded interview with Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s top journalists and anchors, Khan can be heard saying that Musharraf should be hanged for breaking the constitution not once, but twice. “Khan had a change of heart,” commented a legal mind on the condition of anonymity. “The only reason the man is the prime minister of Pakistan is because of the backstage handshake his party has cemented with the military. How else could someone like Khan come into power after only five or six years of political rallies?”

READ MORE: Mr Khan, keep your Naya Pakistan to yourself 

All-in-all, the death sentence handed to Musharraf is unlikely to be carried out right away as he is currently not in the country and has no plans of coming back anytime soon to face the death sentence. Despite that, independent Pakistani analysts believe that for Pakistan, as a whole, the verdict is a good and concrete step towards a true democracy. “The Pakistan Army and its associated parties have been ruling the country directly and indirectly,” commented another legal mind on the same condition of anonymity. “The verdict has shaken the very foundation of this so called “democracy” and has the generals as well as the government running. This is surely a victory for the sane ones. No wonder the verdict has taken the country by a storm.” To some extent, it’s an open secret that the country’s powerful military has been calling the shots ever since Ayub Khan imposed the first ever martial law that the country saw and to this day, the military has never as much as flinched before branding the critical politicians and journalists as ‘traitors’ and ‘foreign agents’ working for either India’s RAW or Israel’s Mossad.

The public response to the verdict was mixed, it rather pleased the general population than anger them, as is Musharraf’s reputation in Pakistan with one section of the population hailing him as a hero who saved Pakistan from its most desperate of times and corrupt politicians while others look down on him as a traitor who sold, maimed, and killed his own people to please the West in order to solidify his position. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that after former dictator Zia-ul-Haq, Musharraf is the most hated leader in Pakistan and he has richly deserved the title: from the murder of former Governor and Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006 to his short-sighted diplomacy and politics, which pushed Pakistan into the whole Afghan quagmire resulting in the loss of thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and a broken international image that deprived Pakistan of tourism, international sports, business, and commerce.

The verdict has also developed major differences between the two most powerful institutions of the country: the military and the judiciary. The matter of the extension of General Javed Bajwa, serving Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, was the first blow the judiciary had handed the military in Khan’s time ordering the government to ask the approval of the Parliament in order to get a three year extension in Bajwa’s tenure. In the past, as well, the judiciary and the military have been doubtful of each other – Musharraf himself was forced to resign as president following his dismissal of the then-Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry.

Whatever may happen in the near future, the verdict has clearly suggested, rather shown, that no one is above the law in Pakistan – anyone, including General Pervez Musharraf, once one of the most powerful men in the world.

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Remembering Pakistan’s first foreign agent Fatima Jinnah

“They call her the Mother of the Nation,” sniffed Ayub. “Then she should at least behave like a mother.” For Ayub, well-behaved women didn’t make history.

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Fatima Jinnah

Soon after Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination and Pakistan’s plunging into absolute political and economical abyss, The Mother of the Nation Fatima Jinnah decided to retreat to her Flagstaff House in Karachi. Her hair textured shades of grey and her eyes a little more tired than usual, Miss Fatima had fallen silent for a moment. With the memory of her dear brother fresh in her mind, she found herself aghast over the wreck they had made of her brother’s Pakistan, but the silence endured.

The silence endured Iskander Mirza’s mocking of the constitution, the silence endured the fading of the once-great Muslim League, the silence endured when the country entered its first martial law, and the silence endured the mistreatment of the East by the West. Miss Fatima was, in fact, one of the fiercest critics of the government’s neglect towards East Pakistan, so much so, when her good conscious couldn’t allow it anymore, she broke the silence.

READ MORE: Mr Khan, keep your Naya Pakistan to yourself

“The Big Stick” The Times called her as white-haired Miss Jinnah, 71, the candidate of five usually disunited opposition parties, entered the arena facing the powerful dictator Ayub Khan. Thousands over thousands chanted Jinnah’s name once again as Miss Fatima’s razor-tongued attacks on Ayub’s illegitimate reign left the authorities in utter shock. The eastern city of Dhaka cried END TO DICTATORSHIP as students enthusiastically proclaimed Miss Jinnah Week and in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, unrest forced the government to close all the schools indefinitely. Miss Jinnah’s sentiments saw the legal community come into one as well and when they did, they were quickly denounced by Ayub as “mischief-mongers.” In reply, the Karachi Bar Association overwhelmingly adopted a resolution urging “the party in power to get rid of the notion that wisdom, righteousness and patriotism are the monopoly of their yes men.” The media, for once, also refused to follow the dictator’s orders and the usually complaisant newspapers editors defied the regime’s attempts to make them endorse a restrictive new press law. Ayub soon started regretting ever calling the elections in the first place and on the other hand, Miss Jinnah was never stronger. It is often said, and advised, never to tackle a tiger into a corner for when the tiger stings, and it will, the hunter becomes the hunted. And Pakistan had found her tiger in Miss Jinnah.

In no time, Miss Jinnah had Ayub running scared for after six years of insisting that Pakistanis were not ready for democracy, Miss Jinnah’s fierce campaign had only shown Ayub that he was the only one not ready for it. Miss Jinnah had managed to focus every form of discontent in the country and political gurus predicted the election was hers. To brake her bandwagon, Ayub abruptly decreed that elections would be held January 2, instead of March, as originally scheduled. Explaining lamely that the situation is “a little tense,” the government also rescinded a law specifying that political rallies must be open to the public. And when it didn’t work, Ayub, as uniformed cowards do, set out to portray Miss Jinnah as pro-Indian and pro-Pakhtoonistan. Dozens of columnists were paid to paint Miss Jinnah in colors of blue and saffron. In one pamphlet, Miss Jinnah was accused of conspiring against Pakistan alongside Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan by trying to establish Pakhtoonistan and in another episode, full page government ads claimed “Miss Fatima Jinnah was greeted in Peshawar with the slogans of ‘Pukhtoonistan Zindabad.’”

At closed meetings with groups of electors, Ayub answered practical questions sensibly enough, but kept lashing out at the opposition with growing anger. “They call her the Mother of the Nation,” sniffed Ayub. “Then she should at least behave like a mother.” For Ayub, well-behaved women didn’t make history.

Despite the usual dirty tricks, Miss Jinnah marched on. To Ayub’s claim that he was trying to develop “basic democracy,” Miss Jinnah replied: “What sort of democracy is that? One man’s democracy? Fifty persons’ democracy?” As for Ayub’s charge that the country would revert to chaos if he was defeated, his rival snapped: “You can’t have stability through compulsion, force and the big stick.”

READ MORE: Paris

The stage was set. It was the great Miss Jinnah against a field marshal who had never won a war, a president who was never elected, and an army chief only because his superiors had died in an air crash. Not in a thousand years could Ayub overtake Miss Jinnah but he did, anyway. Miss Jinnah lost the election amid allegations of mass rigging. Her only mistake was that she endured in silence.

And so did Pakistan. First, by perpetuating military rule, its democracy suffered. Ayub had given the armed forces a right, so much so, a privilege to rule the country. The army began to think that it was their duty and responsibility to take over the country whenever they thought right. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a prominent figure in Ayub’s government, was only the first politician used and thrown away by the army.

East Pakistan, which gave Miss Jinnah a spectacular welcome and where Miss Jinnah secured an astounding victory in the polls would be condemned to the most brutal blood and gore just seven years later, tearing the country in two. Bengalis had dominated Miss Jinnah’s electoral alliance. It is now left for us to wonder what could have been, had they been given their say. And let’s not forget that East Pakistan’s situation was much like KPK’s today: Bengali rights groups were only ever addressed with a stick and abuses, their rallies were censored, their foreheads carved with the words ‘traitor,’ and their houses searched and ripped apart in the dark of the night.

In Karachi, where the Urdu-speaking community came out for Miss Jinnah in droves and where, like East Pakistan, Miss Jinnah had swept the city, the voters were rewarded by a ‘victory parade’ led by Ayub’s goons. They were beaten red and blue, their houses raided, and their places of work destroyed and sealed. Karachi soon erupted in ethnic rioting that saw over thirty dead. It would be the first of many.

The aftershocks of Miss Jinnah’s rigged defeat against the tyrant Ayub are still felt to this day. Pakistan and her people have suffered greatly because of one man’s greed but all hope is not lost. By not forgetting Miss Fatima’s struggle against dictator Ayub and by revisiting Miss Jinnah’s fierce campaign against him, we, as a nation, can learn from our mistakes and flourish.

A dictatorship, a puppet government, or a selected one can never be healthy for a young nation’s growth.

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About the writer: Shahzaib Awan currently heads the Bisouv Publications and House of Entremuse Media Group. He’s an ex-Aitchisonian and is currently studying Computer Science at Jacobs University, Germany.

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