By close of business, Monday, August 20, about 45 people, mostly youth, had been arrested by Uganda police, the culmination of a day that began with the burning of tyres, followed by chaos in parts of Kampala and a crackdown by security forces.
But this is an all too familiar pattern in Uganda: Political contests in recent years have seen the opposition galvanise around an issue and take to the streets; security responds with beatings, arrests and charges preferred against opposition leaders, as with Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change and the mayor of Kampala Erias Lukwago.
In 2011, as inflation peaked at 30.4 per cent, the opposition came up with the biggest test for the regime, with the ”Walk to Work” protests against the government’s insensitivity to the rising cost of living.
The protests were met with a brutal response from security forces. President Yoweri Museveni weighed in to explain the issues and dismiss the opposition as lacking an alternative vision.
However, this time around, the president — marking 32 years in power this year — seems to have failed to figure out why the public is rallying around Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine.
Bobi Wine’s support for the opposition-leaning independent candidate for Arua Municipality, Kassiano Wadri, handed the ruling party a humbling defeat in a by-election for the seat previously held by Ibrahim Abiriga, who was assassinated in June.
Following a fracas that took place on the last day of the by-election campaigns, President Museveni accused Bobi Wine’s supporters of pelting his convoy with stones and shattering the rear windscreen of his ”bulletproof” car.
Bobi Wine and several other legislators and politicians were arrested and allegedly tortured.
President Museveni is not about to admit that the 36-year-old MP is the face of a new force that draws its strength from the country’s youth, the majority of whom are unemployed, and can be swayed by as little as Ush50,000 ($13.4) to burn tyres in the streets.
The president and his regime have no answers to Bobi Wine’s “people power” mantra, other than to brand him and his supporters “criminals,” “misguided elements” and “undisciplined” grandsons.
“I understand that some of our people were worried about the endless criminal acts of elements of the opposition, including the incidents of Arua on Monday.
The elements of the opposition, including Kassiano Wadri, Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) and others, stoned our convoy, including my vehicle. The stones they threw broke the rear glass window of the car where we transport luggage. That window glass is not armoured.
There was no harm on the old man with a hat. It is a big shame to have such confused people who want to use violence to intimidate Ugandans. Nobody has a right to intimidate any Ugandan by word or action,” President Museveni wrote.
Reports of Bobi Wine’s arrest in Arua and detention incommunicado for two days before being arraigned in a military court on Thursday, with visible signs of torture, fuelled public anger against the regime, with Ugandans across the political divide roundly condemning the alleged brutality.
Now President Museveni has taken to explaining away the circumstances around Bobi Wine’s health to calm public tensions and get some reprieve for the security forces and the regime, especially after some media outlets reported that the Kyadondo East MP had suffered injuries at the hands of security agents while in detention.
“The Monitor and their TV, the NTV, have been putting it out that our grandson, the undisciplined Bobi Wine, is gravely ill, he cannot talk etc.
They were putting it out that because of their ‘rough’ handling of the MPs while arresting them, the security forces could have done grievous damage to Bobi Wine.
I decided to check with army doctors because, being a disciplined army, UPDF doctors always take precautions in such situations. Bobi Wine had already been seen by doctors in Arua, Gulu and Kampala.
He has no head or chest injuries or bone fractures, they informed me,” the president wrote.
The military court dropped the charges of being in illegal possession of firearms and ammunition against Bobi Wine, with the General Court Martial saying it was no longer interested in pursuing the case.
“I have instructions that the proceedings before this court under Regulation 65 of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces be terminated and the accused person be released henceforth,” army prosecutor Maj Raphael Mugisha told the court.
The visibly frail MP walked out of the court using crutches and was re-arrested by the police and presented in a civil court. He was then arraigned later on Thursday at the Gulu Magistrate’s Court, where he faced charges related to the stoning of the presidential motorcade.
These were not less serious than the earlier charges he faced at the at the military court in Gulu.
Nicholas Opio, one of the MP’s lawyers, described the court appearance as a “charade intended to continue abusing” his client’s rights.
President Yoweri Museveni was also sighted in Gulu as the trial was going on although his mission was not immediately clear.
Notably present at the court were Bobi Wine’s family, several opposition figures including former army commander Maj-Gen Mugisha Muntu and the former opposition leader Winnie Kizza.
Bobi Wine is remanded at the Gulu prison until August 30.