/ 18 April 2024

Bobi Wine, Uganda’s democracy hunter

Uganda Politics Election
Celebrity charisma: Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine. Photo: Sumy Sadurni/AFP

The documentary, Bobi Wine, the People’s President, which made it to the Oscars 2024 awards, showed music and art’s role in the pursuit of freedom and democracy.

The documentary should have won because it enlightened the world on the role of music and art in the fight for freedom and safeguarding democracy.

Unfortunately, music and art are still regarded as mere entertainment, but Africa and the rest of the world need reminding that there is much more to music than showcasing posh life, singing and dancing.

Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, best known by his stage name Bobi Wine, is a Ugandan musician and actor turned an activist and democracy hunter whose music has made him into a communicator against human rights violation, gloss inequalities, atrocities, corruption, oppression, suppression and repression of political activism in a seasoned authoritarian regime of 38 years that came to power in 1986 through gun violence and a military coup.

Bobi Wine, the People’s President missed the top spot but was among the top five Oscar nominees.

The documentary enlightened the world about the atrocities, the brutality wrought on journalists, gross inequality gaps, violence against civilians and the plight of Ugandans demanding change. 

It showcases video-geographers and photographers using camera and digital tools as a deterrent to gun violence and, shading light on broad daylight political injustices and repression in the country.

Music’s direct effect on human behaviour starts with the putamen (nucleus) of the brain that processes rhythm, regulates body movements and coordination of rhythmic music slogans.

For example, the rhythmically thrilling slogan used by Bobi Wine’s opposition party, the National Unity Platform, has been used for political assemblies and encouraging the younger generations’ participation.

The Ugandan opposition political leader is not the first to use the confluence of music and art. He joins the likes of Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Caiphus Semenya, Mama Letta Mbulu, Philip Tabane, Julian Bahula among others.

Fear is one of the leading factors upon which authoritarianism springs to suffocate democracy. But music sparks the minds of fearful populations to gain courage for protesting against authoritarianism and kleptocracy. 

Scientifically, music triggers the Amygdala parts of the brain that process and trigger emotions. “Music can control your fear, make you ready to fight and increase pleasure,” neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya and world-renowned violinist Ayako Yonetani wrote in an article published in Pegasus, the magazine of the University of Central Florida.

Bobi Wine’s music genres has overwhelming sparked the minds of young people into meaningful participation in democratic processes amid authoritarian orchestrated fear;

For instance, his presidential bid in 2021 launched young people into political spaces, including Frank Kabuye Kibirige becoming an MP for Kasanda South and SSempijja Joseph as Mpigi District governor, both at the age of 24.

Bobi Wine’s music went further than minimising fear; it instilled courage. Today young people are in local and central government, and parliament dominating headlines and front pages.

In South Africa, Miriam Makeba’s song, Soweto Blues, gave courage to many South Africans to overcome and push back against apartheid oppression.

If you play someone’s favourite music the brain lightens up for reaction. Music and art are used as an avenue for freedom of expression to deliver critical messages; express political demands and catalyse democratic leadership around the world.

In the documentary art is used as a tool for personal reflection and fostering an understanding of people’s desire for freedom from President Yoweri Museveni’s kleptocratic regime.

Bobi Wine’s music and art has sparked other artists’ minds to become activists for a fair, just and inclusive democratic society. For instance, Jimmy Ssentongo, commonly known as Dr Spire, is a university professor who is using cartoons in print and social media to drive public discourse, change narratives, bridge diverse opinions and promote accountable governance in Uganda. 

Dr Spire’s recent parliamentary exhibition commented on corruption in parliament and wasteful expenditures of taxpayers’ money with gross impunity.

Isano Francis, a photojournalist with Next Media, is using the camera to shed light on  political dialogues, public life and political liberation demonstrations.

But authoritarians worldwide are not blind to the influence of music and art. They are aggressively clamping down music spaces, cyberstalking artists and musicians and introducing draconian laws and regulations.

Bobi Wine has been banned on stage for five years since 2018 while Jimmy “Spire” Ssentongo has received numerous death threats.

Regardless of the challenges, music and art has the soft power and potential to push back authoritarianism and kleptocracy.

Robert Kigongo is a democracy deliverer supporting reformers and a sustainable development analyst.