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
Pakistan’s toxic relationship with mullahism
Many argue that mullahism is a school of thought. It maybe, but only in a world where schools encourage violence against those who beg to differ, those who follow another religion, and those who wear jeans.
There is no concept of priesthood in Islam. There is no criteria of attire or appearance in Islam. And there is no pass to use the name of God for political, social, or financial gains in Islam. How come, one wonders then, the mullah has crept into the very framework of the constitution of Pakistan, so much so, he has the country by her throat?
“Wear a mask if you have to, but mosques will stay open”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the country’s top clerics, holier-than-thou, have refused to close down mosques amid the spread of COVID-19, which has brought the world to her knees – infecting 620,000 and killing 28,000, but why hasn’t the government, one asks himself, rebuffed their imbecile idea?
Mullah school of thought
Many argue that mullahism is a school of thought. It maybe, but only in a world where schools encourage violence against those who beg to differ, those who follow another religion, and those who wear jeans. And a mullah, by definition, is a man who closes his eyes to every atrocity, oppression, and sin in the world except when it causes him discomfort. He is usually identified by his absolute lack of remorse, complete denial of logic, and blind following – not of God, but of those he thinks are closer to God because they wear a beard and abuse the government on live television.
The novel coronavirus
The novel coronavirus is highly contagious and spreads from person to person in close proximity. It has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, which has also asked people to self-isolate in order to halt the spread of the coronavirus. In Pakistan, the coronavirus-related cases have jumped from 7 to 1,408 in mere 19 days and health experts have warned that the cases can top at least 20 million if strict measures aren’t put into place. Although the provincial governments have accelerated their efforts to tackle to the spread of the coronavirus, the center refuses to halt its populist stance.
Bogus party, selection of the most naive
It’s an open secret that Imran Khan could only win the premiership with the help of the invisible force, one of whose election tactics were to establish a bogus far-right political party with so many votes that it wouldn’t win any seats, but would be able to break a decisive section of votes, which would ultimately tilt of the polls in Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s favor. The tactic worked and we have a puppet for a prime minister. The bogus party, of course, was Khadim Rizvi’s Tehreek-e-Labaik – a circus of mullahs and men alike, chanting the God’s name to open revolt when asked to.
The ‘intelligent’ Muslim world
The Muslim world, the one where there is intelligent life, has closed their mosques for congregational prayers in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus. In Qatar, the mosques have changed the wordings of the call to prayer, in accordance with Islamic values and history, asking the faithful to pray at home. In Palestine, imams have invited doctors and health experts to give the Friday sermons so that they can help the masses by spreading awareness about the invisible enemy. And in Saudi Arabia, home to two of the holiest sites of Islam, the performance of Omra has been temporarily halted, the holy Ka’abah has been temporarily closed for Tawa’afs, the holy Prophet’s mosque has closed its door for the first time in a while, and it has been reported that the yearly Hajj may not happen.
Too many Khans is too many Khans
When a playboy-turned-politician comes into power through religious votes, there is nothing natural about his selection. Khan simply has too many faces to please and too many favors to repay for him to lead the country of this once-in-a-century pandemic. He cannot disappoint the opportunists from Karachi, he cannot disappoint the right or the left, and he cannot disappoint those in Rawalpindi. Khan, undoubtedly one of the most educated, striking, and honest statesman in the country’s history, has projected one too many fronts to belong to any.
On the other end, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah is making all the headlines Khan should’ve making. Shah, one of Pakistan Peoples Party’s senior-most politicians, has made all the right decisions so far, so much so, he has pretty much saved the country from what could’ve one of its most horrible ends. Shah locked down the country overlooking Khan’s populist sentiments and then he empowered his security forces to enforce them, he made decisive, tough, and striking decisions and was immediately followed in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa – Khan’s strongholds, and most importantly, Shah refused to give one drop of consideration to the mullahs and closed down all mosques and madrasas indefinitely until the end of the pandemic.
All-in-all, if Khan is serious about preventing a blunder, a bloodbath, and a chaos of the highest level, he needs to abandon his alliance with the mullahs and needs to realize that this is not a time to bag votes. The mullahs need to let the reality cascade upon their holier-than-thou-selves and realize that no they are not immune to the novel coronavirus. And the people need to realize that God doesn’t help those who do not help themselves.
To conclude, I would like to narrate Al-Thirmidhi:
“Anas ibn Malik reported: A man sad, “O Messenger of Allah, should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I leave her untied and trust in Allah?” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Tie her and trust in Allah.””
Khan’s incompetence is going to cost us a country
Khan needs to realize that the time to act is now and no amount of Nathiagali walks is going to contain the novel coronavirus that has brought the country to a standstill.
During his first national address concerning the novel coronavirus, unfortunately-Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan stated that the COVID-19 virus, which has until now, infected 200,000 and killed over 8,000 people worldwide isn’t “serious enough” to lockdown the country.
In his national address, coming weeks late in the first place, Khan absolutely failed to convince the country of the government’s plans and strategies to tackle the novel coronavirus. His unruly, disruptive, and unlike-statesman smirks and expressions, once again, left only his sponsees in awe of him, so much so, the social media erupted in praising the one handsome prime minister this country has ever had. Khan deserves the praise, though, for only his visionary self could apprehend spending Rs42 million of taxpayers’ money for the constitution of a digital media wing at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the only responsibility of which is to defend the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government over the internet and on social media platforms.
As of Wednesday, Pakistan has recorded at least 245 cases of the highly contagious coronavirus – the highest number of confirmed cases in South Asia, compared with 147 in India, 44 in Sri Lanka, and 22 in Afghanistan. Furthermore, NayaDaur, a Pakistani media outlet, has reported that if the government continues doing the bare minimum, which it is, the cases may rise to over 80,000 by mid April.
In mainland China, the coronavirus has infected over 8,500 people and killed 3,248, in Italy, the coronavirus has infected over 35,00 people and killed 2,978, and in Spain, the coronavirus has infected over 17,000 and killed 767. What Khan needs to understand is that Italy, China, and Spain boast some of the world’s best healthcare systems, furthermore, they are top-tier world economies while Pakistan doesn’t even have enough protective kits to equip their doctors with. Khan also needs to understand that the novel coronavirus is highly contagious and that the new cases will rise exponentially, which means, if simply put, that there will be a need for a lot of ICU beds and ventilators that the country doesn’t have. In figures, Pakistan has 0.6 ICU beds available for 1,000 people while China, Italy, and Spain have 4.2, 3.4, and 3.0 beds per 1,000 people respectively. What Khan needs to understand is that if the government doesn’t take decisive measures now, it will be too late.
Khan refuses to halt his populist stance, so much so, he refuses to visit anywhere without having at least a dozen photographers following him. In a video that Khan posted on his social media profiles, he can be seen observing the state of a quarantine center in DG Khan inquiring about the patients’ health, to which, of course, the patients, or so, answer in all-praises for the management – in this case the PTI’s Punjab government. The patients sing Khan’s name and throw their support behind him to conclude what seemed like a textbook scripted PR stunt. But God works in mysterious ways for the points that the video had scored the Punjab government were quickly balanced out by Sardar Usman Buzdar who, shockingly, is also the ‘Chief Minister’ of the province. According to a Pakistani media outlet Dawn, which also happens to be the country’s oldest and most reliable English newspaper, Buzdar asked such an innocent question that it rocked, rather sunk, the very idea of him leading the fight against the coronavirus. Dawn reported the incident as follows:
“A few days ago Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar received a detailed briefing on coronavirus from relevant experts and officials. The purpose was to provide him all the information he required as the chief executive of the largest province, so he could make the right decisions. At the end of the briefing, the chief minister asked a question innocently: ”Yeh corona kaat-ta kaisay hai?” (how does this corona bite?)”
On the other side of the country, Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah is leading the country’s fight against the vicious virus. Shah, 57, holds two masters degrees from Stanford University and is concluded in the list of Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) most senior politicians and figures. Shah’s plan is simple: halt the spread of the coronavirus as soon as possible, quarantine all those showing severe symptoms, provide for the families of those quarantined, and isolate and test all those returning home from countries with the most coronavirus cases. To implement his plan, Shah ordered the closure of all educational institutions when the very first coronavirus case was confirmed in Sindh. Later, he ordered to shut down all public monuments, parks, offices, restaurants, beaches, and shopping malls. He set up a 10,000-bed hospital in Karachi, a 2000-bed hospital in Sukker, and isolation centers in all districts of Sindh. Furthermore, he has been thorough in reporting cases, spreading awareness, and containing panic by holding press conferences almost every other day. Shah’s plan has worked out so well that even the World Health Organization (WHO) has applauded his efforts calling his work “the best after (that of) China’s.”
Khan’s team lacks greatly what Shah’s team is doing so wonderfully well, but he still refuses to acknowledge it, so much so, not once has he passed any positive comments Shah’s way nor is he committed to consider Shah’s many suggestions any seriously than he would take anyone’s not wearing boots to go with their suits. Khan is stubborn, weak, and controlled by one too many fronts and so, it is our duty, as citizens of this great country, to question his policies, grudges, politics, and decisions for we have voted him into the office he’s not working hard enough to keep. It is our duty as brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters to make sure our loved ones are taken care of in this testing time. And it is our duty as daily workers, housewives, doctors, and students to fight for our right of survival.
Khan needs to realize that he is the prime minister of not only Punjab and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, but also of Sindh, Balochistan, Kashmir, and Gilgil-Baltistan. Khan needs to realize that the country can only survive this pandemic if it projects a common front, defended equally by all parties of all provinces. And Khan needs to realize that the time to act is now and no amount of Nathiagali walks is going to contain the novel coronavirus that has brought the country to a standstill.
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.
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.
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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.”