Uganda opposition leader Bobi Wine emboldened by Oscar nod

Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, the president of the National Unity Platform Party. PHOTO/COURTESY

Summary:

  • The opposition leader has been arrested multiple times, but told AFP he felt emboldened by the recognition granted to “Bobi Wine: The People’s President”, which chronicles the violent crackdown during his 2021 bid for Uganda’s presidency.

Bobi Wine has worn many hats — pop star, politician, and now, the star of an Oscar-nominated documentary, which the 41-year-old Ugandan credits with giving him “an extended lease of life”.

The opposition leader has been arrested multiple times, but told AFP he felt emboldened by the recognition granted to “Bobi Wine: The People’s President”, which chronicles the violent crackdown during his 2021 bid for Uganda’s presidency.

“It makes me (feel) safer… because we know at least the world is watching what is happening in Uganda,” he said during an interview at the headquarters of his National Unity Platform (NUP) party.

Despite the threats to his life, Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, does not deploy gun-toting guards at his residence or offices, with unarmed volunteers manning the entrance to the NUP headquarters in a low-income suburb of Kampala.

He said he was “initially hesitant” about participating in the documentary, which premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival before being acquired by National Geographic.

But he was soon persuaded to allow filmmakers Christopher Sharp and Moses Bwayo to follow him on and off the campaign trail, as he challenged veteran President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled Uganda with an iron fist for decades.

“We realised that it was a brilliant idea because now the world can see the reality in Uganda,” he said, likening the camera to a “potent weapon (that) is more powerful than guns and bombs”.

The film is the “story of our struggle for freedom and democracy in Uganda and seen through the eyes of myself and my wife, my family and those that I work closely with”, he said.

“Ultimately it is (the) story of people of Uganda, uncensored.”

Although the film has never been screened at a cinema in the East African nation, it can be accessed for free on YouTube, where it has garnered over 200,000 views since November.

– Brought to tears –

In a plot twist that would not be out of place in a Hollywood film, Wine said he was “in hiding” when he heard about the Academy Award nomination last month.

He had sneaked out of his home to evade “house arrest” by the Ugandan authorities ahead of a planned protest, with police telling AFP they had deployed security forces at his residence to stop “unlawful” demonstrations.

“I forgot… that I was in hiding, I screamed because I thought that was an ultimate win. Honestly I didn’t expect it,” he said, recalling how news of the nomination brought him and his wife Barbie to tears.

It also served as a poignant reminder of his former life as a rapper, he said, describing music as his “first love” and one he still yearns for.

“I cannot perform or even have my music played on radio because I sing revolutionary songs that annoy General Museveni,” he said.

– ‘Walk the talk’ –

Victory at the Oscars ceremony next month could be “a game changer” for Uganda, he said.

“The United States of America and European Union will no longer have the luxury to pretend that they don’t see what is happening in Uganda. They will have to walk the talk,” he said, calling on Western powers to stop supporting Museveni’s government.

Washington has previously voiced concern over the political situation in Uganda, with the State Department’s Bureau for African Affairs saying in October that “democratic space is shrinking” in the country.

But Wine said more needed to be done.

If “the West changes its policy (on) Uganda and stops supporting dictatorship and mass murder, we believe that will be the beginning of our liberation”.

“My hope is that the world will appreciate the resilience of the people of Uganda, especially the young people that refuse to give up,” he added.

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