NNANDA KIZITO SSERUWAGI: The anatomy of Bobi Wine’s political strategy

Nnanda Kizito Sseruwagi is a lawyer

Bobi Wine’s (Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu’s) political strategy can be summarized in two Luganda words: kangammu awo (loosely translated as “cause some chaos”). Observed, this has been his modus operandi since 2016 when his star shone on Uganda’s political landscape. This strategy, which I am about to describe in detail, has no doubt been successfully employed by him if we are to judge success based on what the National Unity Platform has achieved- becoming the leading opposition party now, yet it is also the youngest political party in Ugandan politics. But we might also call it a success since it has continuously been used by Bobi Wine, which implies he thinks of it as a great strategy to achieve his political ends.

However, I decry not just the Political shallowness of this strategy, that generally constitutes making appearances of doing something, while doing nothing at all. I criticize it as something that plagues not just our politics but many other aspects of Ugandan life today. These include self-asserting “elites” who tweet all day and keep appearances of middle-class life. As a generation, we are more interested in “appearing” intellectual or rich than “actually” being intellectual or rich. It is impossible today to name Ugandans in any field that would compare to the generation of Yoweri Museveni in politics, Mahmood Mamdani, Dani Wadada Nabudere, Oloka Onyango etc. in academia, or Byron Kawadwa, Okot p’Bitek in art, Andrew Mwenda, Peter Mwesige or Charles Onyango Obbo in journalism, etc. What we have in full supply is a generation of people holding up social appearances of being elite or rich, or activist, etc. And like Bobi Wine, we have recorded every bit of our kangammu awo life, while doing so little of net impact to Uganda.

Since 2016, Bobi Wine has been a rising and rising star in the dark skies of Ugandan politics. He inspired hope among the youth and restored it among the old. He shook up politics and awakened it from the slumber and lethargy that had eclipsed it over the years. Our opposition politics had for a long time seen only one potential figure that shook the NRM administration, Dr. Kizza Besigye. But Besigye had suffered exhaustion and the hands of military brutality and had also lost faith in elections. He felt strongly that elections would forever be rigged as long as President Museveni was on the ballot. Therefore, he resorted to calling for an armed insurrection, although he cautiously claimed it was constitutionally sanctioned under Article 3 (4) of the Constitution of Uganda 1995. This provision invites all citizens of Uganda, at all times, to defend this Constitution and, in particular, to resist any person or group of persons seeking to overthrow the established constitutional order; and to do all in their power to restore the Constitution after it has been suspended, overthrown, abrogated or amended contrary to its provisions. However, it seemed that not enough Ugandans were sufficiently aggrieved to walk with Besigye on this talk.

Then came Bobi Wine. He was youthful, dynamic, brazen, exciting, and inspiring. He espoused all the hopes and ideals of ignorance. He sometimes called out Besigye on claiming that elections cannot change government yet he keeps standing for election. This hope in Bobi Wine might have been borne of ignorance and rookie inexperience in Ugandan politics but it raised a new wave of support that bent the NRM in the 2021 elections. Bobi Wine emerged from a musician cum politician whom no one respected and assumed the high pedestal of an opposition leader. He was invited to speak in various fora to Ugandans in the diaspora as well as to Western media.

There is no doubt that Bobi Wine is now a very potential candidate for the presidency. The beauty or curse of democracy is that numbers are always right. it doesn’t matter how intelligent skilled, or intentioned, or experienced a candidate is. The best candidate is one who marshals the most support. And Bobi Wine currently has significant support. However, he has and will continuously appeal to a narrow margin of Ugandans, specifically urban, poor, youthful men. Bobi Wine has defined himself and his message as one tailormade to appeal to a fringe group of fanatical, chaotic, male supporters and as such ostracized a wider majority of tolerant, working-class Ugandans in towns, especially females, as well as the majority (70 percent) of the village dwellers. He has also only appealed mostly to the Baganda ethnic group at the expense of other regions. This myopia in strategy guarantees that he will keep losing elections.

His political strategy of causing chaos here and there as he did on the afternoon of 19th January 2024, only excites this fanatical base he already has. It does not expand his support. He claims he is the true president of Uganda, yet all his members of parliament pay homage to the speaker of parliament. His message is very banal and “ghettoish” in substance and style. It can only keep moving the small base he already has. This base is not substantive sufficiently to express an alternative political establishment that would appeal to the business community, or farmers, or any group materially interested in the future of Uganda. They are unemployed vagabonds who promise only to loot and destroy what everyone that has an economic stake in Uganda has built. A significant number of other supporters are in the diaspora, geographically detached from making any fundamental addition to his political advantage here.

The writer, Nnanda Kizito Sseruwagi is a lawyer.

To Top