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The case of Bobi Wine: From songs of entertainment to songs of political struggle

Barbie Kyagulanyi organising Bobi Wine for the presidential poster photoshoot. Courtesy Photo

It is November 3, 2020 and Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine has been nominated as a presidential candidate for the General Elections 2021. Who would have thought, even four years ago, that this would happen? Not many. But, if anyone thinks that Bobi Wine suddenly decided to join the political world a couple of years or slightly more, ago, they are mistaken. Although the singer, and now presidential candidate, came on the scene as one of those “ghetto yout’”, giving us songs that made us shake our bones on the dance floor and fall in love with him as his lyrics and tunes were those so easy to master, the singer started his political career, earlier than many think. In fact, it is safe to say that by around 2012 Bobi Wine was already on that path.  A look at the type of songs he released during different periods over the years can show how Bobi’s career plans changed over the years.

Bobi Wine joined the music industry at around the same time as Moses Ssali aka Bebe Cool and Joseph Mayanja aka Chameleone. The trio were friends as they found their way out of being struggling artistes to become established. In the early 2000s they were a big force on the scene; and even though many other good artistes have since come up, creating competition, these three are still a force to reckon with.

Bobi Wine, Jose Chameleone and Bebe Cool in the early 2000s when they had kicked off their music career

As with Bebe Cool and Chameleone who have unique stories, Bobi was a grasshopper vendor, brick maker and did all sorts of odd jobs in the ghetto before he started on his music career. One wonders if during those days, Bobi would have thought he would make it to the August House as a Member of Parliament, let alone becoming a presidential candidate.

The genesis of Bobi Wine

Bobi started his music career in the early 2000s with songs like ‘Akagoma’, ‘Funtula’ and ‘Sunda‘. These are some of the songs that helped him kiss goodbye to the phase of “struggling artiste” where he had been working hard to make ends meet. With those songs, he was talked about by the listeners, did not have to beg to perform on stage, and his music was played on the big radio stations.

Well-conversant with the music industry, Bobi also did songs that impacted on the lives of the people every so often. One of these songs was titled ‘Kadingo‘. It was a song was urging people in the ghetto to keep clean and maintain good sanitation in their neighbourhood.

Before that, he had recorded a song with the late Weather Man titled ‘Mwekume‘ as contracted by Life Guard, makers of condoms, during an HIV Free Campaign. The campaign didn’t have a particular name apart from Bobi Wine and Weather Man going to the studio to record a song.

Wendi was another inspirational song urging the youths to work hard as he told them his story from grass to grace in the lyrics. Yet even though he impacted on the lives of many, he also took others to the dance floor with songs like ‘Abalungi Balumya’ which was released in 2007. Other songs such as ‘Bada’, ‘Kiwaani‘ and ‘Manzi Mavanvu’ were released around this time making him even more famous in the country.

And then, Bobi who we had known mostly for entertaining us, started consistently changing statements in his songs saying they were edutaining, a word that combined entertainment and education. “Welcome to the Bobi Wine Edutainment” was one of the lines in his song titled ‘Carolyna‘. Other songs that fell in this group included ‘Kikomando‘ and ‘Ghetto‘. The latter was a song that mainly questioned the political leaders who ask for votes but never help people in the ghetto and yet accuse them of being goons, forgetting that talent hails from the ghetto. In this song, Bobi said he was not a politician and would never be one; instead he said, he was one who advocates for change.

Going bare knuckles

After Ghetto, Bobi seemed to go bare knuckles with whoever it concerned. At the time when Kampala Capital City Council Authority (KCCA) Executive Director Jennifer Musisi changed the laws of operating in the city centre and suburbs, some of these were stringent and sent Bobi to the studio to do a song titled ‘Tugambire ku Jennifer‘. This was 2012.

He was still the Ghetto president then, who insisted he was not a politician but one who spoke for the ghetto, and the song, like Ghetto, had a disclaimer that said those were not the views of the artistes but of the ghetto and poor people. The song however raised eyebrows, and excited some of the people in the ghetto and those running roadside businesses in the city centre. It also got people talking about how Bobi seemed to have changed his music style to attacking the government and doing less bone-breaking songs. He went on to do another political song titled ‘Ebibuuzo‘, in which he talked about the mess in the community with the bad economy and the bad deeds done by politicians and religious leaders.

Becoming a politician

From that point, it seems, Bobi started secretly eyeing a Parliamentary seat. The things he did, functions he attended and posts he put up made people begin to wonder if he was indeed gunning for a political career. At about this time, he changed his dress code. He was seen in well-fitting suits and African attire, no more baggy jeans and huge shirts. He also cut off his dreads settling for a neat short haircut. The photos he posted were not so much those of fellow singers, but of political figures. He posted a photo of himself with Getrtrude Njuba, wife to Sam Kalega Njuba, NRM bush war fighters. Bobi Wine made friends with people like Dr Kizza Besigye and photos of these made rounds on social media. It was evident his circles had started to change from fellow singers to politicians.

The People’s Government boss Kizza Besigye having a converstion with with Bobi Wine, the NUP leader recently

Whenever he showed up for media interviews and was asked about becoming Member of Parliament, Bobi Wine denied it, saying he had never thought of it because for him, politics was a dirty game. He continued denying it until May 2017, when we discovered that the speculations and rumours had been right. He was looking to become MP. It was in that month that he announced candidacy for Parliament in an upcoming by-election for the Kyadondo East Constituency.

Bobi Wine with Gen. Mugisha Muntu

The reactions that followed his announcement showed that he was a well-liked man. From the ghetto to the corporate offices, there was an excitement and a positive vibe about it all. People cheered, rooted for and wished him well. Bobi’s involvement in politics clearly interested many, even those that didn’t follow Ugandan politics closely. The artiste was making waves. He had made the leap from the society/lifestyle pages to the front pages of the newspapers and was now competing for space with other politicians. And not only was he covered in the local media, but international media too.

In June 2017, he was announced victor and became the Member of Parliament of Kyadondo East Constituency after beating Apollo Kantinti, the former Member of Parliament in the same Constituency.

Robert Kyagulanyi at parliament after taking swearing in as Member of Parliament for Kyadondo East Constituency

After that, Bobi Wine became less involved in the industry that saw him grow into the person that he had become and his focus turned to politics. When he became Member of Parliament, he dropped the title of Ghetto President and started a movement known as People Power. Speculation rose again, as to whether this was a simple movement or a party, and whether he was interested in the presidency. Again, he seemed non-committal, saying neither yes, nor no but insisting his goal was to see President Museveni leave the presidential seat. But as he had done before with the MP seat, Bobi eventually announced that he had joined the race to become President of Uganda in 2021. At this time, he was not so into just singing like the Bobi Wine we knew. Not to leave out his musical fans however, he went to studio and did songs like ‘Specioza‘ and after a while, ‘Kyarenga‘.

Kyarenga‘ and ‘Specioza‘ were some of the last songs he did that were cleared to play across all airwaves. The next songs he released were blocked and stopped from playing on air: ‘Tuliyambala Engule‘ was the climax. Bobi Wine released ‘Tuliyambala Engule‘ at his Kyarenga Concert that took place at his One Love Beach in Busabaala on November 10, 2018.

Bobi Wine during Kyarenga concert in 2018

It was a song that was blocked from being played on air and also saw him being stopped from performing on every stage. But this did not stop him from releasing other songs like ‘Afande‘ and ‘Kasukaali‘ among others.

Ever since Bobi became an MP, he has seen some highs, including getting favourable support from the youths; being named in the “2019 Time 100 Next List”; earning various awards and so on. He has also seen some lows such as being arrested and tortured in Arua during by-elections; the fiscal policy saga; being constantly hounded by the police and many others.

As the presidential candidate fronted by the party National Unity Platform, we are definitely going to see more politics from Bobi Wine in the next few months. As to whether he will continue to release more songs, remains to be seen.

Bobi Wine’s campaign poster

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