Who are the serwajja-okwota in Bobi Wine’s new song, Akatengo?

It is easy to misunderstand Bobi Wine's new song Akatengo as one meant to mobilise Buganda [ethnic] nationalism.

Lines such as “serwajja okwota akira nayinimu entanama,” [loosely, a homeless person rescued from the cold outside, might sit around the fire and exorbitantly cross-leg like he owned the home] send rightfully terrifying signals.

With this intro, Bobi constructs a distinction between natives and indiscipline foreigners – as one needing of remedy to change our political fortunes. This becomes succinct in the lines that follow: “we were in our Uganda enjoying our lives when these fellows came marauding/ they came with torn shirts and dirty boots/we housed them/they then duped our parents, ate our cows, ... now they are arresting our children!”

The gloves come off really pointedly as Bobi Wine reminds the children of natives to stop acting cowardly, and rise up. At this point, it gets really tempting to call out Bobi Wine as a Buganda supremacist – because his natives are implicitly Baganda, especially since he even uses deep Luganda construction, Akatengo, and imagery, serwajja okwota.

On that trajectory — accusing Bobi Wine of mobilising Buganda ethnic nationalism, and foreignizing Museveni and co. — a section of listeners has ended up agitated to the point of even missing the man’s lyrical genius [which the country had lost to lowbrow politics], and his outstanding public intellectualism.

As a scholar of politics and popular culture, let me offer to correct this otherwise terrible mis-listening. My intention is not to downplay the call for Buganda to rise up [it is long overdue], neither is it to downplay Museveni’s foreignness and refugee mentality. But, rather, to explain these two seemingly sectarian positions. They need context.

In these pages, I have written before about the infinite cosmopolitan ethic behind the rise and growth of Buganda, which incidentally is their geniusbut has also been their undoing. In the article, “In Praise of Buganda Cosmopolitanism," I argued that Uganda is not an ethnic category but, rather, a cosmopolitanism, an idea, a way of mobilising and organising society.

Indeed, Buganda remains infinitely open to new arrivals from elsewhere who are ready to learn Luganda language and pay allegiance to the king [the king himself the representation of this idea, the icon of the dream, and not an authoritarianism].

New arrivals join old arrivals to make their livelihoods here but also grow the region. Crudely stated, Buganda is the Great Lakes’ Americas – all migrants are welcome as long as they are ready to become Baganda.

To this end, being that Buganda is the region which hosts Kampala, the political, economic and cultural capital of the country, and Bobi Wine calling on “abaana bawano” to rise up and stop acting cowardly, he is not calling on an ethnic nationalist uprising.

But, rather, calling on the people who leave in the most important region of the country to rise up and own their destiny. Now, one has to appreciate that there are many people in Buganda who live here and have established decent livelihoods but still see this place as temporary shelter.

They are here, have power and money, but have retained a refugees’ mindset. They are like migrant workers working and sending all their proceeds home. To this end, they do not even mind this place at all. Let me tell a recent story.

During NBS TV’s political talk show, The Frontline, budding analyst, Margaret Muhanga attempted to be honest about having never visited Kampala until she was old enough for university.

She had made outlandish claims about the times of Idi Amin, and Milton Obote. Pressed on, she acknowledged that she had heard those claims from those who often visited Kampala. It was a set-up. Her interlocutor, Medard Sseggona, then asked her to shut up so that she could be educated about Kampala before 1986 by those who lived in it.

The very loquacious Margaret Muhanga cowed in her corner as she was hit by her foreignness to Kampala. She seemed to have agreed that she did not belong to Kampala - despite possessing humongous authority over Kampala. Muhanga's foreigners but, rather, a foreigners of ideas - a foreignness of mindset and character.

Unlike Obote and Idi Amin, Museveni and his former bandits, [now children of former bandits] have retained a refugee mentality in Buganda. They behave and act like they are in Kampala on a hunting expedition and have their homes in another country to which they will have to go back. Check for example, even when the law allows one to vote anywhere, Museveni drives and votes in Rwakitura, and then drives back to Kampala to govern.

Even when he has spent most of his adult and productive life in Kampala, he still sees himself as an immigrant. Even those who have built homes in Kampala and its outskirts, they see their Kampala homes as temporary shelters. This refugee mentality, sadly, comes down to the ways in which these fellows govern.

I have also written in these pages that to develop Uganda, the leadership has to make sure that they develop Buganda first. Because once the head is dead, everything else is dead. In calling the people who live in Buganda not to be cowardly – so as to secure the political and cultural capital – Bobi Wine actually is critical about the refugee-mindset which Museveni and team continue to exhibit as they mess the country more.

They ate the Covid-19 monies, and now want vaccines for free; they are stealing the land everywhere, which they then sell to foreigners for small quick gains.

In the end, because they have money and guns, as the BBC documentary vividly demonstrated, they are now killing and detaining the children of Ugandans who fully Bugandanized. I need to come back for Part II.


The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd