A Ugandan love story – how to create a martyr

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Keishamaza Rukikaire-Kagwa

About 15 years ago, Bobi, an upstart from the Kampala ghetto, meets Barbie, in college. They start a relationship (initially against the wishes of her well-to-do family), moving into his tiny room in Kamwokya. He becomes a musical super star in Uganda, known to be somewhat wild but always with a socially conscious musical message (remember Ekirooto, when he had a dream about Museveni & Besigye uniting?). Slowly, he and Barbie understood that his platform could help the ghetto youth who had not been as lucky as he had to find fame and fortune.

He enters active politics in 2017, is rejected by the main opposition party during the primaries and stands for legislative office as an independent candidate, winning comfortably. He is now Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu. He and Barbie are now married with a few little ones running around, and have become entrepreneurs, champions of maternal health (16 Ugandan women die every day giving birth). The dreadlocks are gone, replaced by a sleek suit occasioned by the reverence with which he viewed the Office he was undertaking. We all saw him educating himself, always quoting the greats – Mandela, Martin Luther King – even doing a course at Harvard. Imagine, that “bad man from Kamwokya”…Harvard!!

We all have that wonderful and wild relative you wish would just get it together a bit more. Bobi gets it together and then some, and Ugandans embrace him. Everyone loves a rags-to riches story; everyone loves shiny young people with nothing but big dreams.

His first year in parliament is rough – the old man decides he wants to violate our Constitution once again to extend his term in office, this time trying to rule ad infinitum. Bobi and others fought – ultimately physically, in an august House invaded by plain clothed security elements who, in full view of cameras, brutalized MPs attempting one last stand against life presidency for President Museveni…we all remember the tragi comical Michael Jackson spins on the table.

Bobi is arrested, and comes back, Barbie strongly by his side, even more determined to remove the forces of oppression – through the ballot and the same Constitution he has stood for and our rulers have spat on. He becomes the ultimate hype man for underdog after underdog in by-election after by-election, that rare thing in Uganda…someone who is able to rouse Ugandans across generations, across ethnic and religious lines, across socio-economic groups. His message is universal – Uganda deserves leadership that works for the good of the common man. We’re not insane about democracy, we are just asking for the basics. To use my earlier example, Uganda deserves better than to lose 16 women every day in childbirth. He also pleads for a peaceful handover of power (Uganda has had none since independence in 1962); for Mzee to respect the Constitution and leave when his time is up. It’s a message few Ugandans can disagree with.

Anyway, fast forward one year. Bobi is “disturbing” both the regime and the opposition, but he is a beacon of hope for the 75 percent of the population under the age of 30. President Museveni is 74 years old; a mere 2.5 percent of Ugandans are over 64 years of age. Imagine that.

During heated campaigns for one of these by-elections, in Arua, a bustling commercial municipality at the nexus of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, security officials shoot dead Bobi’s driver – Yasin Kawuma – at point blank range in Bobi’s parked vehicle in the parking lot of their hotel. Bobi escapes to his hotel room but is soon violently arrested and beaten, along with another legislator, Hon. Zaake, and others (33 people in all). The President blames Bobi and Kasiano Wadri, the candidate he has backed, for the violence. Kasiano Wadri, still behind bars, goes on to easily win the Arua Municipality seat. The regime puts together a really embarrassing fabrication, accusing Bobi Wine and his colleagues of weapons possession and of trying to assassinate the President by stoning his bulletproof behemoth (while allegedly in possession of a gun. Yeah.)

We last saw Bobi Wine on 13 August. Barbie has seen him once or twice since then – the news is not encouraging. Words like renal failure are being bandied about; he has not been granted access to proper medical care. We are worried. As a nation, we are on a knife-edge.

Hon. Zaake remains in serious condition; the rest of the 33 who were arrested – God only knows what condition they’re in, both mental and physical. We are told some of the women came to the courtroom bleeding from their private parts, having spent the night in police cells…Ugandan ”nobodies” I’m ashamed to say we’ll soon forget.

Barbie Itungo Kyagulanyi – and this will be no surprise to those who have followed this story – has emerged as a lioness, roaring to protect her man, her children, her country.

I’m a sucker for a good love story. Bobi & Barbie aren’t over. Nor are Bobi & Uganda. #FreeBobiWine

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