A court in Uganda has charged the popular musician and prominent opposition leader Bobi Wine with breaching Covid regulations, after two days of spontaneous protests in which between 28 and 35 people are thought to have died.
The arrest of Wine led to the worst unrest seen in Uganda for many years. The army was deployed to the streets of many cities, and live ammunition was used against unarmed demonstrators.Magistrates granted Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, bail of 1m shillings (£203) and told the 38-year-old politician to limit rallies to a maximum of 200 people and avoid any “processions to or from the campaign venue”.Advertisement
Wine told the court that Yoweri Museveni, the veteran leader of Uganda who is seeking a sixth term in office, should be in the dock, not him.“It’s in my opinion that this case shouldn’t be Uganda versus Kyagulanyi. This case should be Uganda versus Museveni,” said Wine. “I am not here because I committed a crime. I am here because I offered myself to lead Ugandans into ending 35 years of a dictatorship,” Wine said. “Let Museveni know that we are not slaves and we shall not accept to be slaves. We shall be free.”
Wine has been attracting massive crowds and his campaign has rattled the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).Museveni, 76, told a rally in Karamoja region on Thursday that the protesters were “being used by outsiders … homosexuals and others who don’t like the stability and independence of Uganda. But they will discover what they are looking for. We shall not tolerate confused people. They are playing with fire.”
Earlier this month, Wine was temporarily blinded by police when he was arrested just after being confirmed as a candidate in next year’s election.Security forces have frequently fired teargas at his rallies and detained and beaten his supporters.
Known by supporters as “the ghetto president”, Wine is one of a new generation of African politicians across the continent who are challenging longtime leaders, hoping to harness deep dissatisfaction among younger, more educated and often urban voters. He broke into formal politics in 2017 when he won a seat in Uganda’s national assembly, and has been since been badly assaulted and detained many times.
Fred Enanga, Uganda’s police spokesperson, said the death toll in the unrest had reached 28 even though other sources insist the numbers are far higher.
A total of 577 suspects were arrested and police seized bows and arrows, piles of tyres, bottles, drums of fuel, and evidence of mobile money transactions funding the rioters, Enanga claimed.“As you all know, the joint task force respects freedom of assembly and people’s democratic rights but will not allow for violent demonstrators and criminal opportunists to disrupt the peaceful environment we have had over the years,” he said.
Enanga said the police would try to avoid the use of “indiscriminate” teargas in favour of “the use of batons, which are more specific”.
Deo Akiiki, Uganda’s deputy military spokesperson said troops would “respond quickly and effectively to any incident of criminality across levels”. “Surveillance mechanisms have been put in place to nip in the bud all evil plans by the already identified groups and individuals bent [on bringing] chaos to Ugandans,” Akiiki confirmed.
Museveni is eligible to seek another term next year after lawmakers removed constitutional age limits on the presidency. The former rebel leader’s party insists he remains its most popular member.Uganda has never witnessed a peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1962.
By Eric Knight