Bobi Wine, a Ugandan Pop Star Turned MP, Freed on Bail
On Thursday, May 2, Ugandan Member of Parliament (MP) Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, was released on bail. His release comes after three nights in maximum security prison on charges of “unlawful procession” for staging a protest. The protest was against a controversial social media tax that was upheld by MP votes.
Wine plead not guilty during his court appearance via digital media link from the Luzira prison where he was being held. In court, Wine stated, "I'm confident because indeed it's not me on trial; it's the court itself on trial. I have not committed any crime."
He went on to say, "I'm only here because I disagree with the political leadership of this country and in particular President Museveni. But my spirit is confident because I'm here not because I've stolen public funds or killed somebody."
Wine, once a popular musician, has turned to politics in recent years and has sought to unseat Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Museveni, who is 74, has been in power since 1986. Recently, Wine has objected to a supreme court hearing that abolishes the age limit for the president, which is currently set at 75. The ruling of Uganda’s top court on this constitutional amendment now makes it possible for President Museveni to hold office until 2021 if he wins the upcoming election.
Wine has separate treason charges from an incident in a northern Ugandan town in August last year. Street protests broke out when Wine was arrested, resulting in scores of people being detained, a campaign created to #FreeBobiWine. International musicians such as Chris Martin also signed a letter demanding his release.
Bobi Wine has garnered overwhelming support from the youth population of this East African nation, many of whom are poor, frustrated, and have struggled to find jobs, if they are employed at all. As the economy continues to worsen, the population, especially the youth, harbor more and more grievances against their government. The government is battling a “youth bulge” which tends to mute the effects of economic growth.
Wine’s bail has forbidden him from participating in any “illegal demonstrations,” but he has vowed to continue to protest against the government. While his following has grown, his ability to appear in public has decreased. Wine was arrested last month trying to get to one of his own concerts. His music is often very critical of Uganda’s President.
Uganda has not witnessed a peaceful transition of power since its independence from Britain in 1962.