So much of Bobi Wine’s political popularity has been attributed to his ability to connect with the country’s enormous youth population beyond the platitudes typical of an out-of-touch politician, party, or government. In President Museveni’s case, the ability to appeal to the nation’s masses is waning as Bobi Wine’s popularity grows. So accustomed to controlling the dialogue, social media coverage, youthful passion and international attention are subverting Mr. Museveni’s capacity to overcome the political backlash he’s invited.
It is not new for President Museveni’s regime to arrest politicians and journalists covering protests. What is new, with the arrest of Wine, however, is a clear resistance from citizens who would normally identify as apolitical, and who have started using the hashtag #FreeBobiWine to criticise the government and put pressure on it to release the opposition politician.
A press freely covering protests is a thorn in Museveni’s side, as it pokes a hole into his claims of citizen support.
What the National Resistance Movement government, its supporters and sympathisers have failed to understand, is Wine represents a generation of young Ugandans tired of the entitlement of the Museveni generation, and who have no direct access to resources and power.
The #FreeBobiWine movement has highlighted what many are now calling the new, digital “pan Africanism”. Kenya has shown huge support with a concert organised by famous political activist Boniface Mwangi and South Africans and Ghanaians have shared their support online through Twitter videos.
More than 20 artists from around the world, including Chris Martin, Angélique Kidjo and Femi Kuti have signed a lettercondemning the imprisonment of Wine.
The protest movement and the international attention has finally put pressure on President Museveni, who now appears to be a professional blogger as his media team churns out posts in an attempt to counter the movement.
Journalism, to me, matters as a form of truth telling. As a young Ugandan born under Museveni, the only form of governance I know is tainted by harassment of the media and stifling of freedom of expression.
If anything, the online movement has clearly shown the disconnect between Museveni and my generation; he normally, condescendingly refers to us as his grandchildren, with more than 70 per cent of the population under 35.
Museveni, with more than 30 years in power, has made his feelings about the media clear. In public addresses, for example, he never fails to ridicule the press, labelling independent media outlets “fake news” and journalists “rumour-mongers”.
Media houses have routinely been shut down, with the most recent the Red Pepper publication, whose editors were remanded in Luzira, a maximum security prison.
The president’s approach gives the lie to the popular hashtag #JournalismIsNotACrime in Uganda.