For those who may not know, Stella Nyanzi is the original People Power.
She was People Power before many young folks appreciated the struggle – and before our dark-suited brothers boxed Bobi Wine into reducing his influence to just a political party. [Save me of the justification, please]. Perhaps the only Ugandan activist who is both eloquent online, and active in the streets, Nyanzi has directly suffered the wrath of Museveni shamelessness.
A state-persecuted scholar, and political prisoner, her NUP-identifying boyfriend was drone-kidnapped a few days after the election before Nyanzi fled into exile; and her three beautiful children were being trailed, and had to constantly move schools because of their mother’s public profile.
Nyanzi is (or was?) personal friends with BW before many found reason to entrust him with their dreams. My point is, there are a thousand reasons for folks to be humble when Nyanzi voices her bitterness with Bobi Wine. She is the struggle itself. It will be a painful but sobering realization for many of his fans – in their millions – that while Bobi Wine was charismatic and inspiring [a job he has done exceptionally well], he was no revolutionary.
Understanding that the Promised Land – uprooting a 34-year-old autocrat – was too ambitious, or that Bobi Wine lacked the mettle and strategy to deliver on his promise, even when the opportunity presented itself, will hurt deeply. As a student of popular culture and politics, I hold Bobi Wine in high regard especially as an organic intellectual.
He is the physical manifestation of the guy Okot p’ Bitek theorized in Artist, the Ruler. Bobi Wine has given his compatriots discourse – funa endagamuntu, twebereremu, “people power is stronger than the people in power” – and enabled them to become active political subjects.
To the mass of young activists and politicians, Bobi Wine is their hero, and our mendacious chroniclers ought to be generous in memorializing his name. But as a man charged with revolutionary responsibilities, Bobi Wine might have lacked the sinews for the challenge.
I use the term ‘revolution’ and ‘revolutionary’ in a very strict sense; that is, being able to overthrow Uganda’s excessively molested constitution – from which Museveni derives legitimacy – and setting in motion a series of political crises. By overthrowing the constitution, Museveni and team would collapse with it before escaping Uganda via the Malaba border into Kenya.
If you ask any ordinary folks on the streets of Kampala, this was their dream impress of the new kid on the block, Robert Kyagulanyi. [Not toreplace Kizza Besigye, and take FDC’s place. This would be to ascribe small and inconsequential dreams to the wananchi who embraced BW]. Before and in the course of the election season, several revolutionary moments emerged – all in favour and around Bobi Wine.
We will never know whether Bobi Wine and team actually saw them, or were too cowardly to grab them. Yet, revolutionary moments tend to be fleeting and cursory. They appear and disappear only after a short time. They are supposed to be seized at the earliest opportunity. Let’s examine three major moments lost.
Closely appreciated, the events of 18 and 19, November 2020 were meant to set us on a course for revolution. As the news of Kyagulanyi’s arrest circulated, ordinary folks, fully conscientized and self-mobilized, took to the streets demanding his release. Museveni and his shameless vigilantes went on a shooting spree, and murdered indiscriminately.
The world was appalled. Anger was everywhere. Interestingly, while Museveni congratulated himself for having sent a strong threatening signal to NUP revolutionary mindset, he had actually created a sumptuous revolutionary moment. Bobi Wine had to grab it by both hands and throw it back.
He did not have to return to the campaign trail. He had to demand the release of all persons arrested, demand for accountability of all guns seen on the streets, and demand that all victims are compensated.
This moment had to be escalated. He had to issue clear public statements to this effect, including stating that no one is buried before investigations are complete. Sadly, he didn’t grab the opportunity and simply returned to the campaign trail like no major event had happened.
Indeed, Museveni was even energized to brag about it and even abuse his campaign more. He not only often denied him easy access to venues, but wantonly murdered more members of his team, before finally detaining all of them – detained to this day. Kitalya prison is overflowing with young men and women that Museveni’s state arrested for sport. Then came the house arrest.
In pure revolutionary spirit, Bobi Wine’s lawyers should never have gone to court for Museveni’s soldiers to leave his premises. The world was demanding it, and Bobi would have simply escalated it. Bobi would have called on all his newly elected MPs and other persons in lower positions – who had recently got elevated to public profiles – to come to his house for deliberations.
He would then turn to the People Power society and ask them to do whatever they could to have him released. Indeed, campaigns such as “Magere ku Bigere” were beginning to gain momentum. But more importantly, he had to accept his new identity as a political prisoner.
As ‘essential’ lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde recently emphasized, being political prisoner is politically productive. The world was starting to come down hard on Museveni, and then courts – on Bobi Wine’s insistence – threw him a victorious exit window. Has Bobi Wine checked the global media coverage while he was under house arrest? We were being interviewed by journalists from Lithuania and Kazakhstan!
Then there is the electoral petition: as many revolutionary-minded persons have argued, to go to court was un-revolutionary. But to withdrawal the petition and fail to communicate a clear agenda moving forward is catastrophic. What does “taking the case to the court of public opinion” mean? What else could be absurdly vague and cowardly than this!
No wonder, social media is awash with men with towels and bathing rags over their heads playing judges in the so-called court of public opinion. Sadly, there are explicit constitutional provisions, which Bobi Wine and team would have used to guide themselves and country on the next course of action.
All they have is to invite ordinary folks to challenge the outcome of elections, and change in the fortunes of their country. Case in point, is Article 29 (1) (d). It is on those revolutionary moments above, and several that are coming but will be sadly missed, that the revolutionary Stella Nyanzi is furious.
Unbeknownst to many uncritical followers is that Nyanzi’s attempt to dismantle the apparently cowardly and blind superhero that Bobi Wine has become, is that her intentions are good and visionary for the revolution. I know, it appears like pulling down the hero, and advantaging the villain.
But you have to understand the pain of loss of the moments narrated above, and their implications thus far. Let me explain: by waiting on Bobi Wine to call the next course of action, revolutionary foot-soldiers have been thrown into inertia, and extreme vulnerability.
Museveni is droning, jailing, torturing and murdering assumed revolutionaries while Bobi Wine encourages them to stay calm. And because Bobi Wine is the queen bee, they believe him, and look on as the paranoid state slaughters them without resistance.
And there can only be one queen bee. So, Bobi Wine has to be exposed as fallible, cowardly and inactive so as to remind ordinary folks that they are on their own, and have to look around for a new superhero.
The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.