People Power, Our Power

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The People Power, Our Power movement (also known as the People Power Movement) is a resistance pressure group in Uganda Led by Hon. Kyagulanyi Ssentamu Robert aka Bobi Wine who is the Parliamentary representative for Kyadondo East constituency. [1] The movement seeks to unite Ugandans on issues such as ending human rights abuse, corruption and redefining the rule of law, with a focus on young Ugandans.[1] In large part, the movement precipitated through civil unrest with Yoweri Museveni's extended presidency, as the leader with the third-longest tenure in Africa has announced plans for re-election in 2021.[2]They commonly use the RED colour.

Origin and Foundation[edit]

Taking a stand[edit]

People Power, Our Power first came into the international spotlight in 2017, when singer and social influencer Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (otherwise known as Bobi Wine) announced his candidacy for the Kyadondo East seat of the Ugandan parliament.[3]

After the main opposition to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), declined Kyagulanyi's outreach to run on their ticket, he finalized his candidacy as an independent.[3] Kyagulanyi went on to defeat opposition from both parties in the by-election, more than quadrupling the vote total of his NRM opponent.[4]

Kyagulanyi had begun to politicize his voice through music as Bobi Wine even earlier than gaining such attention, voicing his thoughts on the upcoming 2016 election through his song Situka:

"When our leaders have become misleaders and mentors have become tormentors. When freedom of expression becomes the target of oppression, opposition becomes our position."[5]

The Museveni Amendment[edit]

After coming out victorious yet again in 2016, Museveni began to lay the foundation for a 2021 run early. After a bill crafted by an aligned legislator sought to extend the presidential term limit was brought to the floor in October 2017, the Ugandan Constitution was eventually amended with an overwhelming 315-62 vote.[6]

The unrest with the bill first became visible within the parliament itself. In December, violence broke out of the parliament floor during debates over the amendment and its provisions.[2] By the end of the affairs, NRM security forces had been deployed to detain lawmakers involved, and six opposition legislators were arrested and suspended from parliament.[2]

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) officially banned all live broadcasts of the debates over the amendment abolishing presidential age limits.[7]

Museveni, 73 at the time of the vote, is now officially eligible to run in 2021 and beyond, as any term limits pertaining to age were wiped from the original constitution.[8] The amendment has faced and withstood many appeals battles since its establishment, and at least six opposition lawmakers remain in legal battles over the term limit issue. Within the appeals, the lawmakers make claims of bribery for the introduction and support of the bill, as well as violations of free speech and association, as soldiers removed lawmakers from the parliament chamber during debates.[2]

Structure and Organization[edit]

Key players of the movement have not shied away from criticism that the movement lacks structure and policy goals. Without a hierarchy or policy portfolio, People Power seeks to unite citizens on current issues rather than on one side of policy.[1]

Kyagulanyi, as well as other movement members, have an open stance within People Power:

"People Power is not a political party or political organization for that matter. We’re aware that the state is so scared of the people who come together regardless of their political affiliations, regardless of tribe or religion but people who envision an idea of having power back in their hands. And I want to emphasize that every Ugandan has equal stake in the idea of people power."[1]

Kyagulanyi has flipped the script of his celebrity status while mobilizing People Power, referring back to his upbringing within Kampala's slums.[9] By relating to the average Ugandan, he believes People Power can transcend the nature of a figurehead in Ugandan politics, using a system built to outlast Kyagulanyi himself.[10]

Part of the reason for a lack of structure within the movement is speculated to be due to the NRM's surveillance over opposition activity. In response to rumors of the government plan to require formal registration of the movement as a political party, Kyagulanyi again reminded Uganda that the movement was continuing to accept members from all parties.[11]

Despite People Power, Our Power's ability to mobilize, many critics insist further entering the political sphere is necessary for a true shot at presidency in 2021. A stronger political message, more organization along the campaign trail, and stronger outreach beyond youth populations are among the list of improvements of the movement's structure to be made.[12]

Momentum in Uganda[edit]

Political support[edit]

By 2018, just one year after Kyagulanyi's winning MP election, People Power had gained significant political momentum elsewhere in the country. In the Jinja, Bugiri, and Arua municipalities, the People Power-pioneer endorsed candidates in opposition to the NRM with one hundred percent success.[1] Of note, the candidates endorsed were of different party alignment in opposition to the NRM, consistent to the movement's plan of openness.

A victor of the Bugiri municipality MP position with Kyagulanyi 's endorsement, Asuman Basalirwa of the Justice Forum (JEEMA) credited Ssentamu for being a changemaker who has used demographics to his advantage in ways undiscovered throughout traditional Ugandan politics.[3]

While FDC leadership, such as former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, and People Power have not joined forces in the political sphere often, individual FDC politicians, such as Makindye East MP Ibrahim Kasozi have put their own spin on the movement's message of accountability for the people.[3]

Youth involvement[edit]

Professor Sabiti Makara, a lecturer of political science and public administration at Makerere University in Uganda, sees more of a policy focus within the movement than many of its critics. "They speak to the aspirations of the voters in 2021; it shows that the issues will be employment and not NRM transitional politics like it has been the case in recent elections.”[3]

Contributing to the effectiveness of People Power's youth focus, the Ugandans under 30 years of age comprise almost 80 percent of the country's population.[13] While this age group consists of those legally able to vote and many not yet of age, People Power seeks to begin youth activism at all ages.

With Museveni in rule since 1986, People Power unites those who feel out of touch with plans for Uganda's future. Political analyst Robert Kirunda believes the sensation around People Power and new leadership comes from a desire for citizens to relate to their lawmakers.[5]

"There are many young people who are not interested in the historical struggle that brought NRM to power, nor with the radical defiance of the main opposition (FDC). Most of them want jobs and they feel the economy is not working for them."[5]

When Museveni came to power in 1986, about 65 percent of the current Ugandan population was not even born.[14] Now, the People Power movement hopes Kyagulanyi can shake up his extended presidency with a 2021 run.[15]

Role of social media[edit]

With a focus on youth participation, People Power has implemented social media strategy as a main source of their organization. In response to the movement's social media activism, President and NRM leader Yoweri Museveni put forth a social media tax to be implemented on platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.[5] While many saw this legislation as a direct shot at Kyagulanyi and the emerging movement, Museveni claimed it was time to end "gossip' that could harm public discourse.[5]

The blackout came at the dawn of the February 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections, and was reaffirmed as a security measure by the Ugandan Communications Commission, who also added that the matter was deferred to the commission from Uganda's Electoral Commission.[16] Acclimating themselves to the possibility of such blackouts, Kyagulanyi and other Ugandan resistance influencers have promoted the use of VPN's as a response to government censorship.[16]

Role of music[edit]

Messages[edit]

Aside from Wine's aforementioned Situka single that was developed into a socially-charged film, such messages have prevailed through his music since the start of his career, long before the start of People Power.[15] The nicknamed "Ghetto President" spoke from his upbringing in the 2007 song Ghetto, advocating for the better treatment of Ugandan slums, such as the ones he was raised in in Kampala.[15]

Wine believes his medium of music allowed him to stay under government radar for quite some time, without any direct political discourse to respond to.

“I never really got into trouble with Museveni, because for a long time there was a disconnect between the common people and the elite...I was not important to them, and that was advantageous for me.”[15]

Wine's political rhetoric within music did not halt as he gained a seat in the parliament, and he released Freedom in 2017. The self-proclaimed "Ghetto President" addressed President Museveni directly as he advocated for solving issues of corruption, high unemployment, and free speech violations in Uganda.[15] After going viral in Uganda and abroad, the Uganda Communications Commission banned the song less than a month after its release.[17] While this action was not performed on all of Wine's politically-charged music, it was not the first time the UCC took action against his expression on the airways.[18]

Breaking the trend[edit]

In an era where other Ugandan artists and musicians have seemingly endorsed President Museveni's rule through music, Kyagulanyi has changed the rhetoric as Bobi Wine. As a song titled Tubonga Naawe (We are with you) gained traction throughout Uganda in support of Museveni, Wine timely released his single Dembe (Peace).[14] Here, he continued directing his unrest toward the president, citing his political greed after Museveni erased Ugandan term limits in order to extend his presidency.[14]

Opposition and NRM dealings[edit]

Arua elections[edit]

As they gained momentum in social and political spheres, Kyagulanyi and other People Power protesters have faced the troubles with gaining a larger platform in opposition to the NRM.

In August 2018, he and approximately 30 other opposition lawmakers were arrested while on the campaign trail alongside Kassiano Wadri in Arua, Uganda.[19] While the initial charges released were identified as illegal firearms possession by him and others on the trail, such charges were eventually dropped and changed to treason.[15] The charges stemmed from an accusation that Kyagulanyi's group had been stoning the nearby motorcade of President Museveni, who was also participating in campaign activities for the NRM that day.[19] People Power has denied any involvement in the stoning, and it came into question whether Museveni was still in Arua at the time of the apparent harassment.[14]

While still denying any involvement with the incident, Kyagulanyi claims his driver in Arua was shot and killed by NRM security forces set out to capture Kyagulanyi himself, as he was arrested in a raid of his hotel thereafter.[14]

Human Rights Watch released a full statement after the events of the Arua election, discussing the implications of mass public arrests of opposition lawmakers and journalists.[20]

Two Eras[edit]

Kyagulanyi spoke of the human rights abuse against himself and his co-defendants while jailed, and was allowed to seek treatment on bail in the United States, where he spent time recovering and speaking to international press about his concerns for Uganda.[10] His lawyer sought action from the United States, who brought attention to Uganda's reliance on Washington:[15]

"We call upon the U.S. to immediately suspend military funding to Uganda and launch an investigation into the use of military equipment to torture Ugandans."[10]

President Museveni has publicly discredited Kyagulanyi's plans and route for change in Uganda, referring to him only as a "weed-smoking hooligan" from the slums of Kampala.[15]

Return to Uganda[edit]

As Kyagulanyi returned from the United States with plans to mobilize People Power immediately, NRM security forces prepared for the events. After thousands of extra forces were deployed across the country, especially in Kyagulanyi's municipality, four of his concerts were cancelled by the government.[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e URN. "Can 'People Power' change Uganda's political fortune?". The Observer - Uganda. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  2. ^ a b c d Mahr, Krista (2017-12-20). "Ugandan parliament descends into violence over bill allowing President Museveni to extend his 31-year term". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  3. ^ a b c d e Kakaire, Sulaiman. "Bobi Wine: The making of people power". The Observer - Uganda. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  4. ^ "Bobi Wine overwhelmingly wins Kyadondo East seat". www.newvision.co.ug. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  5. ^ a b c d e Olewe, Dickens (2018-09-06). "Bobi Wine: The pop star seeking 'people power'". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  6. ^ Biryabarema, Elias. "Ugandan parliament passes law allowing Museveni to seek re-election". U.S. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  7. ^ "Human Rights Watch". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  8. ^ Biryabarema, Elias. "Ugandan lawmakers appeal law allowing Museveni re-election bid". U.S. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  9. ^ Bullock, James; Shearlaw, Maeve; Rao, Monika Cvorak Gary Marshall Akshata; Reuters/AP, Source: (2018-08-23). "Who is Ugandan pop star turned politician Bobi Wine? – video profile". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2018-11-29.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  10. ^ a b c Lubwama, Siraje. "With or without me, change is coming to Uganda – Bobi Wine". The Observer - Uganda. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  11. ^ "Bobi Wine Accuses Government Of Trying to Register 'People Power' As Political Party | ChimpReports". chimpreports.com. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  12. ^ (www.dw.com), Deutsche Welle. "Bobi Wine: The changing face of Ugandan politics | DW | 26.09.2018". DW.COM. Retrieved 2018-12-04.
  13. ^ "State of the Youth Report 2017, Assessing Government Responses to Youth Demands in Uganda •". 2017-12-19. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  14. ^ a b c d e Kagumire, Rosebell. "Bobi Wine and the beginning of the end of Museveni's power". www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i "'They're Going to Imprison Some of Us. And, Yes, They Will Kill Some of Us.'". Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  16. ^ a b Turkson, Nshira (2016-02-18). "A Social-Media Shutdown in Uganda's Presidential Election". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  17. ^ "Bobi Wine's Freedom banned in Uganda". Music In Africa. 2017-11-20. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  18. ^ Greenslade, Roy (2012-09-26). "Ugandan song banned from the airwaves". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  19. ^ a b "Uganda Charges Pop-Star Lawmaker With Treason". Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  20. ^ "Human Rights Watch". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2018-12-03.

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