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Artists rise up as Ugandan MP ‘Bobi Wine’ faces fresh charges of treason

Nairobi, Kenya: Organizer Boniface Mwangi (center) leads a protest against the torture and arrest of Ugandan MP ‘Bobi Wine’, August 23, 2018. Photo by Peter Meshack Mwangi, used with permission.

Ten days after the arrest of independent Ugandan MP Robert Kyagulanyi (“Bobi Wine”), Uganda's General Court Martial suddenly dropped charges of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, stating the military was “no longer interested” in pursuing the case.

However, Bobi Wine now faces fresh charges of treason “for stoning the Presidential motorcade” brought forward by the Gulu Magistrates’ Court.

The arrest of Bobi Wine, a popular former singer-turned opponent of ageing Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni has ignited public anger and sparked protests. Many Ugandans argue that achieving free, peaceful elections and political justice will now require continuous demonstrations and shows of solidarity.

Bobi Wine was in Arua campaigning for independent candidate MP Kassiano Wadri when supporters of Wadri — who claimed victory over a pro-government candidate in a tense by-election — allegedly stoned a government convoy.

While Bobi Wine was not present during the incident, he was still targeted, arrested, and reportedly tortured by police:

In court on August 23, Bobi Wine appeared frail on crutches and required assistance to walk. He was also seen crying having traveled from a military detention center in the capital city of Kampala back to Gulu, some 335 kilometers away:

Bobi Wine now waits in Gulu prison for a court appearance on August 30, 2018. He joins three other independent MPs who have also been charged with treason — MP Kassiano Wadri of Arua, MP Paul Mwiru (Jinja East) and Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality). Thirty other people including former parliamentarian Mike Mabikke await trials on various charges.

MP Francis Zaake remains hospitalized in critical condition having been arrested and allegedly tortured. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah visited both Bobi Wine and Zaake and strongly condemned the violence, stating:

The extent to which violence is escalating in this country is worrying and we should all be concerned. We need to reflect on these matters and find a way forward.

Before his arraignment on August 23, Bobi Wine wrote an emotional letter to his family, stating, “I'll be home soon.”

After last week's protests, security patrols in Kampala have increased.

Prayers were held at Kampala's Lubaga Cathedral:

Leading opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye was arrested in Kampala as tensions grew in the build up to Bobi Wine's court appearance.

Violence against journalists

Widespread attacks on journalists attempting to report on recent election violence have been met with condemnation.

Reuters photojournalist James Akena's beating and arrest by soldiers in Kampala has sparked outrage. Human Rights Watch warned that these actions “curtail the public's access to information — information they could use to question the government's policies.”

In this video, Ugandan police are seen pouncing on Akena while he was attempting to report from the streets of Kampala:

Artists of all stripes rise up

Beyond the streets, Ugandans have expressed their outrage through the arts. Musician Pallaso released a song “Free Bobi Wine” that was heard throughout Kampala's suburbs last week:

Nshuti S. Mbabazi performed Bobi Wine's “Situka”, a song he did shortly before the 2016 presidential elections.

Over 80 influential people including Angelique Kidjo, Femi Kuti and Wole Soyinka signed a petition demanding Bobi Wine's release, medical treatment, and an investigation into his arrest.

In Nairobi, Kenya, the activist group PAWA254 organized a solidarity concert on August 22:

South African reggae musicians also added their voice to the collective call to end the political violence.

Cartoonists in Uganda and the East African region meanwhile have been commenting on current events in their own unique style.

Kwizera Alex drew Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as a young man staring in the mirror only to see Bobi Wine in the reflection:

Illustration by Kwizera Alex. Used with permission

Jim Spire Ssentongo, the editorial cartoonist for The Observer, drew out the complexities of power:

Tanzanian political cartoonist Gaddo based in Kenya weighed in:

Ugandan comedians came out in unison to denounce the treatment of Bobi Wine:

Growing global protest

In Nairobi on August 23, protestors chanted for change with Bobi Wine's songs played in the background and delivered a petition to Kenya's parliament:

Other protests have taken place in Washington D.C. (United States), Germany, the Netherlands, and Japan.

After being forced to taste political defeat by Bobi Wine and his allies, Museveni's regime will no doubt attempt to bury the emerging opposition in legal battles.

While this tactic has been effective in the past, only time will tell whether it will work again now that new faces have breathed fresh air into the Ugandan political scene.

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