Uganda 2021 is akin to apartheid - an exclusive Q&A with Uganda's Bobi Wine

Ugandan opposition leader and presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, known by his stage name Bobi Wine, spoke to Eyewitness News on Saturday.

Wine said that only the EU, the US and human rights bodies had condemned the human rights violations in his country. He remains under house arrest after being cuffed by police, with his home surrounded by soldiers and the deafening silence of regional bodies such as the East African Committee and African Union.

This is his full interview with journalist Eyewitness News' Nthakoana Ngatane.

Nthakoana Ngatane: Bobi, thank you very much for making the time to talk to us. Now, we understand that you are under house arrest, you and your wife have been in that position since the 14th of January. That was the day of the election. And that's almost two weeks. How are you both doing? Access to food? You know, I initially you had your 18-month-old niece with you, but we understand that she's no longer there. But how are you doing?

Bobi Wine: Here, we are still alive. Nobody is allowed to come in or get out. Two days ago, my lawyers insisted, and they were allowed to come and evacuate the baby. And now it's me and my wife stuck in here. Of course, it is illegal. The military and police have surrounded our house, they've jumped into a compound. They invaded our privacy, they've taken out all our rights. We cannot be allowed to even go and shop for food. And when our lawyers petitioned the court five days ago, court said it can only give judgment on our case on Monday. That means we are still under house arrest until court orders the military and the police to leave our house. But again, the police are supposed to keep law and order but the police of Uganda is the chief law breaker. They have no regard for the law whatsoever.

When you tell us about the situation of food, tell us exactly what's happening. Do you have food now? When was the last time you ate? And how much food do you have?

We had completely run out of food. But when my lawyers came two days ago, they brought in some food and that food can last us maybe up to tomorrow (Monday).

Listen to the full interview:

And how's your wife? I mean, we saw disturbing images of her being dragged by the police.

Yes, my wife was assaulted by the army when she tried to access our garden. Where we grow our own food. But we are even blocked from going to the garden to keep our own food. That is the challenge that we are facing. All this is being done on the shoulders of General (Yoweri) Museveni, who was defeated in an election on the 14th of January. I'm supposed to be the president-elect of Uganda. But instead they've rigged the election and they placed me under house arrest.

Well, we'll come to that in a moment. You have had several assassination attempts. You've been arrested many, many times, I think we've even lost count. Are you able to even remember how many times you've been arrested since you announced that you were running for president?

I cannot. I lost count all the time that have been arrested. On the campaign trail alone, I survived assassination by gunshots. Three times, I was shot at three times. But by the grace of God, I was able to survive all the times that there was an attempt in my life. Of course, many of my friends died, many were shot and killed. While a journalist, who took one of the hits that was supposed to be in mine, he was shot in the head. By the grace of God he is still fighting for his life in the hospital. And many others, we have buried them already. My entire campaign team is in prison. They were all rounded up in the island of Kanangala. And they were taken to prison. They were arraigned before a military court. Thereby maybe the government of Uganda is suggesting that being a supporter of Bobby Wine and being on my campaign team military crime because we were all we were arrested together. I was hand picked and airlifted by a military chopper and detained at my house. But everybody else was taken to prison, and up to today, they are in prison. These include Nubian Li, my music partner. It includes Dan Magic, my music producer, they include my personal assistant. They include our nurses, our cooks, our drivers, our photographers and videographers, and all the young people that we were working with in the music industry before we went into the politics

But this must have taken a toll on your family. Are you not scared? Why do you continue fighting? Has your wife not asked you sometimes to give in?

My wife is actually stronger than me. I know that women are stronger than men. She reads a lot of Winnie Mandela books. And she knows that when you strike a woman, you strike the rock. But again, it has had, of course, a big toll on me. I've had to send my family, my children into exile because there was a target on their lives. But we know that if my wife and myself is all we can give as the contribution from our family, we are happy to contribute that. We will keep fighting because we know that it is even more dangerous to give up.

Let's come to the issue of the elections. Now, electoral officials in that country have said that President Yoweri Museveni has won the election with 59% of the vote and they say you only manage to secure 35% of the votes. By contesting under the Constitution and the current electoral laws. my understanding is that you are agreeing to accept the determination of the Electoral Commission. So on what basis, what evidence do you have to contest the results. And secondly, by being a part of this, and then coming out and declaring that you've won before the results were released, isn't that by itself undermining the system and pre-determining the outcome somewhat?

First of all, the system has already undermined itself. For lack of a better word, the system was flawed right from the beginning. The Electoral Commission was not inside. The military took over the election. That is why on the 18th and 19th of November, more than 100 of my supporters were shot dead by the police and military. We were blocked from campaigning, I was arrested numerous times, the Electoral Commission never said anything. The Electoral Commission itself, blocked me from campaigning in more than 45 districts in Uganda, on the orders of General Museveni. So we complained and raised the issue with the Electoral Commission, so much irregularities, and even on the day of the election, the military took over the western region. There was no election, the military took charge and started taking ballots and stuffing them in the boxes. And where they? The voters were (held at) gunpoint. And they were taking General Museveni as instructed by the military. But even with all these irregularities, I am confident to report to the world that we defeated General Museveni resoundingly because in many, many districts, we beat him hands down. He did not get as much as 10%. What the Electoral Commission was announcing is completely, completely different from what took place at the polling stations. The internet was completely shut off because the Electoral Commission and General Museveni certainly did not want the world to see what was happening and did not want the people to be getting the news in real time. We won in almost all places, regardless of the region - that has taken place. Therefore, the Electoral Commission did not even alter the results that came from the polling station - they just manufactured the new results that were announced General Museveni as the winner. I am confident that General Museveni did not even get 10% of the vote.

FILE: Ugandan musician turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi (C), also known as Bobi Wine, raises his arm as he walks to the court in Inganga, on November 19, 2020. Picture: AFP.

FILE: Ugandan musician turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi (C), also known as Bobi Wine, raises his arm as he walks to the court in Inganga, on November 19, 2020. Picture: AFP.

Are you saying that your party agents have results and evidence that show that at the polling stations you actually won? Is that what you're basing your position on?

Yes, even when so many party agents of ours were arrested and abducted from a few meetings, we were able to obtain enough declaration of results that gives us confidence that we won. We have the evidence in terms of declaration of results that we got from the polling station and these ones clearly differ from what the Electoral Commission announced. The military has been on an operation and continues to be on an operation to raid the home of our polling agents, confiscating those declarations of foreign reserves because they don't want us to present that evidence before court. They have so far, confiscated more than 4,000 declarations of results. But much, much, much more. We have more than 15,000 declarations of results from different regions of Uganda that clearly prove that we won and indeed what the Commission announced was fraudulent. Also, we have videos of the soldiers and police officers repeating ballots in favor of General Museveni. We have videos, the police, and soldiers are putting people on gunpoint and ordering them to vote for what they want. And also we have videos of police and soldiers, actually, you know, blocking people from voting for the president and ordering them to only vote for Members of Parliament, telling them that the presidential vote has already been cast on their behalf.

Under normal circumstances, what recourse would you have at your disposal? I mean, it sounds like you would not have confidence in the system any way. But ordinarily, what recourse would you have within the laws and constitution of Uganda to contest the outcome?

Yes, under normal circumstances, and indeed, under our Constitutio, and our laws we need to know that there are good. The recourse that one would have is to petition the Supreme Court of Uganda. However, in the context of Uganda, all institutions have been taken over by General Museveni. All institutions of state, the military, the police, the Electoral Commission, the Bank of Uganda, all institutions of state - even the courts of law. That explains why even when I reported to court about the grave human rights abuses and the grave irregularities, no court was willing to hear me. No judge was willing to hear me. Right now I am under house arrest for the ninth day. But the court, many judges were fearing to hear my case. And even the only judge that my legal team got to hear my case, referred it to Monday, even when I am starving in the house. You can imagine that I am serving in the house, I am illegally incarcerated by police and the military. But the judge said they have my case, they can only give judgment on my case until Monday.

That's the case of my illegal detention. General Museveni does not want me to go to court, even when he knows that he controls the courts, right from the Supreme Court because he is the one that has appointed all the judges, all the justices on the Supreme Court bench. He is still detaining me in my house to ensure that I do not go to court. Ideally, it is supposed to be the Supreme Court. And that is why I am trying as much as possible to get my freedom, so I can be able to contest these fraudulent results in the courts of law. But again, I also know that General Museveni, over time has bulldozed the course of law. Twice he has lost his case in the Supreme Court and Uganda was supposed to have a presidential rerun. However, he has always used the military to build the courts of law. This, in my opinion, is supposed to be our opportunity to expose that to the world because part of our efforts to fight the dictatorship is to expose it for what it is. General Museveni has only been presented himself as a Democrat, but we want the international community - but most importantly the African Union - to know what kind of dictator they are breeding. We have raised our pleas to the African Union and to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is the chairman of the African Union, to stand with the young, and the people of Uganda, because we have a modern day Idi Amin in Uganda, and he is being supported by a democratically elected presidents in Africa. It is a very big tragedy.

So, in other words, at this point in time, you have not been able to start any process, any legal or constitutional process, to contest the election as we speak?

As we speak, I am under house arrest for nine days, since the day I cast my vote. Nobody is allowed to come in. My lawyers were only allowed to come in and evacuate the baby. I am not allowed to meet my people, to meet my agents, to meet my lawyers, to do anything.

A supporter of Ugandan musician turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, carries his poster as they protest on a street against the arrest of Kyagulanyi during his presidential rally in Kampala, Uganda, on 18 November 2020. Picture: AFP

A supporter of Ugandan musician turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, carries his poster as they protest on a street against the arrest of Kyagulanyi during his presidential rally in Kampala, Uganda, on 18 November 2020. Picture: AFP

Right, let's come to the institutions that you do have access to, and that would probably be the East African Community, and as you say, you have not received much joy from the reaction, at least, of the African Union to what's happening in Uganda. Who have you been talking to? Have you been talking to anyone? Has anyone spoken to you about what's happening from the East African Community and from the African Union?

Nobody from the East African Community or from the African Union has spoken to me. And indeed, nobody from the East African Community of the African Union has raised their voice about the injustices that we have been facing. It is very disheartening to see that it is only the European Union, the United States of America, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations that are raising their voices about the grave injustices that are taking place in Africa today, I thought Africa would stand for Africans, especially the new generation of Africans. We really want to have confidence in our leaders in Africa. We want to believe that our leaders are leading us to believe in democracy, to believe in human rights and to believe in the rule of law, which is not the case today. I continue to use this opportunity to call upon Africans to stand with Uganda and to stand with all democratically elected leaders, to stand up for democracy. Because this will save us from the constant shame that we are getting. We should not continue being a laughing stock among the continents, among nations. Africa is better than that.

If President Cyril Ramaphosa is listening, what would you like to say to him?

If President Ramaphosa is listening, I would like to request him not to allow himself to be seen as a partner in crime. I request him not to be silent in the face of injustice. Back in the 80s, when South Africa was grappling with the pain of apartheid, all African countries, including the Uganda stood with South Africa. Now, we, as Ugandans, are going through the same situation. People are being murdered on streets like insects. We are being oppressed, young Africans are being murdered, we don't have any rights. The people of Uganda went to the polls and then they made a decision. But that decision is being subdued by a few gunmen. We are being governed on gunpoint, what we are going through in Uganda in the year 2021 is equated to what South Africa was going through in the days of apartheid. We request President Ramaphosa and the African Union to stand with us, standing with the people of Uganda to stand with the values of the rule of law and the principles of democracy and human rights for all Africans... the African Union to be a union of Africans and looking out for Africans, especially the young Africans that are supposed to guarantee the values of Africa...

Can you hear me?

Yes, I can hear you. I'm sorry. There's a helicopter hovering around. I believe it is interrupting the network.

I think let's continue as far as we can, Bobi. If you look at the situation of multilateralism in that region, we're talking about the East Africa community, and what we've seen is that President Museveni is now making inroads into a relationship with the deputy president of Kenya, who is likely to contest elections in Kenya when President Uhuru Kenyatta goes out of office. And political commentators are saying they're worried about that, because it looks like he is advancing in some kind of influence in the succession of Kenya. Also, recently, we saw him directing the Makarere University to establish a William Ruto Institute of African Studies and even pledging US $100,000 towards it. So analysts, are they correct to be worried that this could mean that Museveni is investing in a continued hold on power, and a crackdown on the opposition, you know, of people like yourself, while also controlling the narrative of the East African Community of remaining silent?

General Museveni has always tried to present himself as the godfather of East Africa. But our stance is that we should look at values, not individuals; we look at institutions, and not individuals, and institutions should... uphold the values that they stand for. Our problem in Uganda and in Africa as a whole has been the Big Man syndrome. And that has been the undoing of the people of Uganda and the people of East Africa, if not all of Africa. We should do away with the Big Man syndrome, and at the end of the day, it should be the people of Uganda, the people of Africa and the people of East Africa that should have their way. Of course, General Museveni is not only starting to meddle with the politics of Kenya alone. We have seen him militarily and violently getting involved with the Congo, with South Sudan with the Central African Republic, and many other African countries. We believe that the people of Kenya, just like the people of Uganda should make the choice. But that choice should be based on the values that we share together as the East African Community as the African Union.

One of the first times that you were arrested was in December 2017 and it was after Parliament had passed a constitutional amendment to remove the age limit (on presidential candidates), allowing President Museveni to contest these elections that have just passed. And, you know, many Ugandans took to the streets to protest that they were against the amendment. And clearly, there's a disconnect in that sense, because if Parliament eventually decided to pass the amendment, it means that they are not quite in touch with what the masses want. So help us to reconcile why it is that that happened, because maybe it lends itself to the current situation with these elections.

Allow me to remind you that Uganda is a complete military dictatorship. The Parliament is in the firm control of General Museveni, and so are the courts of law. I was in the 10th Parliament when the military raided the parliament and... all of us as Members of Parliament, we were beaten up by the military, and the Constitution was changed forcefully. Many of the Members of Parliament - in fact, all the Members of Parliament of the ruling party - were paid 20 million Ugandan shillings as a bribe to change the constitution. And for us who were disagreeable with the change of the Constitution, we were arrested from the floor of Parliament and we were detained, tortured, and many of our Members of Parliament are still recovering. So the constitution was changed forcefully to allow General Museveni to be able to be president for life.

Now, you were very active on social media ahead of the elections. And played quite a crucial role because you have 1.1 million followers on Twitter. How has this assisted in your fight against human rights being violated? Particularly, I think, with the election and the campaigning, how big a role did social media play for you?

First of all, the local media is in the firm control of General Museveni. News about us and news about the values that we stand for - there's no future on local radio or local TV. Therefore, social media is our only platform to express ourselves and to communicate the raw reality that is happening in Uganda. That is why in 2017, General Museveni introduced a social media tax to ensure that you cannot do not communicate adequately. However, even with the tax, Ugandans paid the tax and made sure that they use social media to interact. Now, on the eve of the election... social media was blocked, and Ugandans had to use VPNs to access it. But again, on the eve of the election, the internet was completely shut down. And we could not use the internet. Because General Museveni certainly knew that that is the only way news would be disseminated throughout Uganda and to the rest of the world. Therefore, social media being the only way for our communication, it is only what we use, and it is very many times targeted and blocked by General Museveni's operatives.

Protesters set a bonfire on a street to demand the release of the Ugandan politician Robert Kyagulanyi, known as Bobi Wine, who was recently arrested for treason and possession of firearms in Kampala, Uganda, on 20 August 2018. Picture: AFP.

Protesters set a bonfire on a street to demand the release of the Ugandan politician Robert Kyagulanyi, known as Bobi Wine, who was recently arrested for treason and possession of firearms in Kampala, Uganda, on 20 August 2018. Picture: AFP.

And what's the state has at the moment in terms of your access to data, your access to social media, your access to even simple telephone calls, like the one that we're having now?

The internet has been restored. The internet was restored some days ago. In Uganda, however, social media is still blocked. For anyone to access social media, they must use the VPN. However, the Minister of ICT and information (Frank K. Tumwebaze) here in Uganda has announced that if anybody is caught using social media, they will be arrested and charged. That is the order in Uganda, nobody is allowed to use social media. Of course, many of us are using social media and apparently we are using social media illegally. Now about ordinary telephone numbers, telephone calls, my phone has been blocked, my wife's phone has been blocked. However, we were able to smuggle in another phone line that I am using. I'm glad...

I'm sorry, please say the last bit again, you were cut off when you were saying you're glad.

I said my phone number was blocked and my wife's phone number was blocked too, even our home line was blocked. However, I am glad that I was able through some ways, I was able to smuggle a phone line, a new line. And this is the one that I'm using. And I know that as soon as the authorities land, that they have this line with me, they will block it.

What happens going forward? What's your plan?

The question should be what is our plan as the people of Uganda, I am playing by fact. First of all, you don't believe in violence. We are different from Museveni. We know that if we continue raising the voices, we know that if the world stands with us, we will not die in the dark. I know that the regime is ready to do everything including taking our lives. But we only intend to continue speaking out, to continue resisting, non violence, and to continue asking the world to amplify our voices and stand with us. We are like the people of South Africa in the 1990s. We are like the people of South Africa in 1980. We are stuck here. We are being colonised by fellow black people. We are being ruled (at) gunpoint by a military general that captured our country 35 years ago, and does not allow any dissent, does not allow any voice of reason. However, as a new generation of Ugandan, we refuse to be slaves in our country, and we request the rest of Africa, especially the leaders, and the young people all over Africa, to stand with us in our pursuit for freedom. We want to be free in our lifetime. We want to stop being slaves in our lifetime. We want to be able to determine our destiny in our lifetime. We want our vote to matter in our lifetime. We want to feel like full human beings in our lifetime. And we know we cannot do it alone, we can only do it with our fellow Africans, with our fellow human beings.

You are in the public eye. So probably the reason why you will be under house arrest as opposed to being violated like other people who have in the course of this revolution lost their lives. Are you not worried that ordinary Ugandans who are following you are being put in harm's way as you go through this revolution?

I know that many Ugandans are being murdered every day. Many are being picked up and they disappear. My brother-in-law, a cousin into my wife, was picked up some two weeks ago. Up to now we don't know he is. And very many people are being killed even on the street, shot dead. The other day four people were shot dead up in a city called nasaka. Nobody questions it. You know, military generals move around with their pistols killing for fun... It is our worry that again, we have to do what we have to do for as long as we are not breaking any law, we are not infringing on anybody's human rights. We are willing to take any kind of pain until we see freedom.

Bobi Wine, thank you very much for making the time to talk to us.

Thank you very much for talking to me.

Pop-singer-turned-MP Bobi Wine was arrested on Monday over a protest he organised in 2018. Picture: @HEBobiwine/Twitter.

FILE: Bobi Wine arrested over a protest he organised in 2018. Picture: @HEBobiwine/Twitter.

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