Last month, Uganda’s two most prominent opposition leaders announced that they would join forces to compete against President Yoweri Museveni in the 2021 presidential election.
Under the banner of the United Forces for Change, veteran Kizza Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change and Bobi Wine’s People Power said that only by working together could they hope to unseat Museveni, who has been in office since 1986.
But one crucial detail was missing from this announcement: Which of the two men would be the presidential candidate?
On Wednesday, Wine — real name Robert Kyagulanyi — said he was in the strongest position to lead an opposition coalition. “We [opposition leaders] all agree in principle that we need to field one candidate. What we are yet to agree about is whether they are joining us,” he said.
Wine said Uganda needed a youthful leader. “Uganda’s dynamic being that more than 80% are young people, then a young person will do better, a very well known household name will do better.”
Wine made his name as one of Uganda’s most famous musicians, before he turned his hand to politics in 2017. “I am confident to inform you that President Museveni is meeting a competitor like never before,” Wine said. “I am an artist and have been performing for the last 20 years. I am a household name. I am in everybody’s living room, including President Museveni’s … We are confident that my team is presenting a candidate that is just going to sweep over.”
Uganda’s presidential election is scheduled for early 2021. Citing the coronavirus pandemic, the electoral authority has banned physical campaigning, and asked candidates to campaign virtually instead. Wine said this is an attempt by the president to stack the decks in his favour, and that physical campaigning could go ahead as long as all necessary precautions were taken.
“[Museveni] has claimed that people in Uganda should use the internet to campaign. But remember this is the same president who put a tax on social media, because young people were speaking out too much,” Wine said.
In 2018, the Ugandan government introduced a social media tax, requiring users of WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to pay an extra 200 shillings a day (R0.90) for the privilege.
Wine was speaking on the inaugural edition of The Resistance Bureau podcast, which “brings together leading activists, civil society representatives, lawyers, journalists and political leaders from all parts of the continent to share perspectives and strategies on how to effectively resist authoritarianism and repression”.
Also on Wednesday’s programme was Tanzanian MP Tundu Lissu, a senior member of the opposition Chadema party. He is not in Tanzania, having fled after surviving an assassination attempt in 2017 — an attack he believes was orchestrated by government.
But he recently announced his plan to return home to contest the presidential election scheduled for late October, and on Wednesday gave a concrete day for doing so: July 28. This is just in time to attend the Chadema party nomination convention on July 29, where he hopes to secure the presidential ticket.
“Dictatorships can only be defeated if we are prepared to take risks. Running away is not going to defeat these dictators or remove them from office. Therefore I’m returning back to Tanzania despite the immense risks associated with my return,” Lissu said.
He said he supports any effort to work together with other opposition parties, such as Zitto Kabwe’s ACTWazalendo. “We are talking with our opposition partners in the country. My own personal view is we cannot face President [John] Magufuli and his authoritarian regime without presenting a common united front.”
Lissu said his party, Chadema, is stronger than it has ever been. “We are even stronger organisationally than we were in 2015. In 2015, when Magufuli came to office, he prohibited all local political activity. We were always able to build our membership through mass meetings. When these were prohibited, we went underground.
“And after five years we have built an organisation that is present in almost every small locality in Tanzania.”