Security forces raided the offices of reggae star and prominent opposition leader Bobi Wine this week, reportedly seizing cash, posters, banners and boxes of red berets – Wine’s signature headgear and a “symbol of resistance” which the government says is illegal.
The raid took place in a suburb of Kampala, the capital, on Wednesday. It comes as tensions are rising ahead of upcoming presidential elections.
“Hundreds of police and soldiers came and broke into our offices. They said they were looking for berets but that was just a pretext,” Wine, 38, told the Guardian newspaper.
“I’m telling our supporters in Uganda and all over the world that this is the sign of a crumbling dictatorship. All dictators behave like this before they fall. We are strong. We are not giving up. We know that history is on our side.”
Fred Enanga, Uganda’s police spokesperson, said the operation at Wine’s offices was aimed at seizing red berets, banned last year with a potential penalty of imprisonment for life.
Joel Ssenyonyi, a spokesperson for the Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP), said 20 party workers had been arrested and forms carrying hundreds of signatures necessary to support Wine’s presidential nomination seized.
Since he won election as a lawmaker in 2017, Wine has been assaulted and arrested or detained many times, including over a treason charge that he denies.
Ugandans have seen the rise and fall of challengers to President Yoweri Museveni over the past three decades but many seem to sense that something is different this time, wrote freelancer Eric Mwine-Mugaju in an article for Al Jazeera.
“It seems the 36-year-old musician-turned-MP has managed to get under Museveni’s skin, rattling and unsettling him in a way that no politician ever has.”
Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, whose theatrical name is Bobi Wine, said he was calling on people all over the world to “keep their eyes” on Uganda because international attention was the only way to “stop human rights abuses and impunity in Uganda today”.
But, wrote Eric Mwine-Mugaju, it would be foolish to start writing Museveni’s political obituary now since he has managed to fortify himself in power in a way that gives him absolute control and unquestionable loyalty, which Bobi Wine will most likely fail to break.”
Museveni, in power since 1986, has been promising to fix the country’s intractable problems. But disillusioned Ugandans, mostly young Bobi Wine followers, see him as an old man out of touch with reality, obsessed with past glories and clueless about present-day challenges. Should he be re-elected in January, he could serve five more years, renewable indefinitely. w/pix of Y. Museveni and B. Wine