Mon | Mar 8, 2021

Despite election loss, Uganda’s Bobi Wine wins growing power

Published:Tuesday | January 19, 2021 | 12:14 PM
FILE- in this Jan. 15, 2021 file photo, Uganda's leading opposition challenger Bobi Wine walks back to his residence after giving a press conference outside Kampala, Uganda. Despite failing to dislodge the long-time leader President Yoweri Museveni, Wine has emerged from Jan. 14, 2021 disputed polls as the country's most powerful opposition leader after his party won the most seats of any opposition group in the national assembly. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandan presidential challenger Bobi Wine has emerged from last week’s disputed election as the country’s most powerful opposition leader after his party won the most seats of any opposition group in the national assembly.

It’s a major achievement for a party that’s barely six months old and almost didn’t make it on the ballot when it was accused by government officials of being an illegal entity. While longtime President Yoweri Museveni has been declared the winner of a sixth term, the rise of the 38-year-old Wine’s party marks a generational shift.

“We set out to see change of leadership at all levels. We have not achieved the ultimate, but we are still on course. It’s like felling a tree. You keep cutting, chipping away until the tree falls,” said Joel Ssenyonyi, spokesman for Wine’s National Unity Platform.

Removing Museveni through voting, he added, “is not easy, but it’s not impossible.”

Wine, a singer-turned-lawmaker whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, now will decide who leads the opposition in Uganda’s legislature after his party won at least 56 seats. That number could rise to 61 when final results are announced. But the ruling National Resistance Movement party still has over 300 seats, an absolute majority that means Museveni can move ahead with his agenda without negotiating with the opposition.

Wine’s party, however, also will lead the influential oversight committees that long were dominated by an opposition group led by Kizza Besigye, who sat out this election amid Wine’s meteoric rise.

“He has managed to write something new,” Nicholas Sengoba, an analyst and newspaper columnist, said of Wine. “He has put a dent in the Museveni establishment. He has dented the narrative in Uganda that to be a national leader you must have a military background.”

Museveni, a former guerilla leader who has held office since 1986, faced arguably his greatest election challenge yet from Wine. The 76-year-old president was able to run for another term, allowing him to extend his rule to four decades, after lawmakers in 2017 removed the last constitutional obstacle — age limits — to a possible life presidency.

For decades a U.S. ally on regional security, Museveni now finds himself increasingly at odds with an outside world he sees as hellbent on regime change. Wine has urged the international community, including the United States, to suspend the billions of dollars in foreign aid that he says props up a brutal regime.

Museveni, in response, has called Wine a foreign agent and says he will not tolerate interference from the international partners whose money helps his government provide important public services.

“The Bazungu. I don’t want to be racist, but they are the ones who are mostly involved” in meddling, Museveni said in a televised address on Saturday after he was declared the election winner, using a Swahili word for white people. “Foreign meddling will not be tolerated.”

On Monday, the U.S. ambassador to Uganda was blocked by security forces from visiting Wine at his home, which is surrounded by soldiers. Wine tweeted on Tuesday that his family is “stuck” with his wife’s 18-month-old niece whose father has been denied access to the home. “We have run out of food and milk,” Wine said.

Police, who insist the deployment is to prevent Wine’s presence in the public from inspiring riots, said they had made arrangements for Wine to meet with associates and lawyers but Wine “refused to meet with them and offered to do so at a later stage.”

Museveni won Thursday’s election with 58% of the vote while Wine had 34%, according to official results. That’s Museveni’s lowest share of the vote since his government first organised elections in 1996, when he won 75%.

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