Protesters Demand Release Of Uganda's Leading Opposition Politician Uganda's opposition legislator has been in detention for more than a week after leading a demonstration against longtime ruler President Yoweri Museveni. His supporters are rallying for his release.
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Protesters Demand Release Of Uganda's Leading Opposition Politician

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Protesters Demand Release Of Uganda's Leading Opposition Politician

Protesters Demand Release Of Uganda's Leading Opposition Politician

Protesters Demand Release Of Uganda's Leading Opposition Politician

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/640437930/640437931" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Uganda's opposition legislator has been in detention for more than a week after leading a demonstration against longtime ruler President Yoweri Museveni. His supporters are rallying for his release.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Uganda's biggest pop star and, more recently, one of its leading opposition politicians has been jailed in a military prison. Protests demanding Bobi Wine's release have become a daily occurrence in the country since he was arrested last week. Security forces opened fire yesterday against demonstrators seeking Wine's freedom, and one person was shot dead in the protests. Now, the government claims that Bobi Wine and his supporters attacked the president's convoy. This is something the opposition denies. But this confrontation between Wine and the Ugandan government has been a long time coming. NPR's Eyder Peralta has this profile of Bobi Wine.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Bobi Wine describes himself as the ghetto president. He grew up in a slum in the capital of Uganda. And when he became a famous singer, he built a huge house just on the outskirts of that slum. Earlier this year, that's where I meet him. His kids are running around.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking Luganda).

BOBI WINE: (Speaking Luganda).

PERALTA: He's wearing a fitted T-shirt. Tattoos run down his arms. I ask him if he ever thought he'd become a member of Parliament.

WINE: I was never interested in these things. You know, I was happily a musician. I thought this was not our job. This was a job of those intellectuals out there.

PERALTA: So for almost two decades, Bobi Wine made radio jams - love songs and dance songs and others like "Kiwaani" that decried Uganda's fakeness - the fake hair, the fake nails - and an indirect nod to frustration with a fake democracy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KIWAANI")

WINE: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: Bobi Wine says it all changed for him a few years ago when he was leaving a club. He was feeling rich and famous and loved by Ugandans when a young guy stood next to him.

WINE: And he pulled out a gun on my head and slapped me and slapped me when everybody's watching. He said, you shouldn't show off around; you should know this country has owners.

PERALTA: Bobi Wine says when he made money, he began to understand the depth of corruption in Uganda. He began to understand the divide between rich and poor. And when someone he suspected worked for the government told him this country has owners, it angered him.

WINE: I decided, now I am going to stand up against any kind of injustice.

PERALTA: So his music changed. He released songs that took on the government directly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TUGAMBIRE KU JENNIFER")

WINE: (Singing) Well, this is the ghetto gladiator, expressing what's exactly on the people's mind.

PERALTA: That's not easy in Uganda because President Yoweri Museveni has stayed in power since 1986 by crushing dissent violently. But suddenly, Bobi Wine began singing about oppression and the indignities of poverty. And to tropical beats, he began criticizing how the government harassed the poor, who were just trying to live.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TUGAMBIRE KU JENNIFER")

WINE: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: Last year, Bobi Wine decided to run for Parliament. He won and very quickly became the most prominent lawmaker fighting an effort to extend Museveni's rule. He led thousands of Ugandans on the streets and brawled with security forces who tried to pry opposition lawmakers off the floor of Parliament. He lost that fight. But just last month, he picked another fight with President Museveni.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) People power. Power power.

PERALTA: In what critics saw as a baldfaced attempt to stifle free speech, the government levied a tax on social media platforms. Bobi Wine called for demonstrations. And in a country where a gathering of more than three people is illegal, tens of thousands poured onto the streets of Kampala. News footage shows the moment when police move in, when they drag Bobi Wine through the streets and how he pleads with them to let him go.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WINE: We are fighting for your children. We are fighting for your people in the village.

PERALTA: The footage shows hundreds of his supporters stepping between Wine and police.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WINE: We want freedom. These are our rights. These are our rights.

PERALTA: It shows how police officers lose their grip and open fire as Bobi Wine runs free into a crowd of cheering supporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNS FIRING)

PERALTA: Back in his home, Bobi Wine says what politics has taught him is that the power is not in Parliament.

WINE: I realized that a dictatorship does not fear the Parliament whatsoever, does not fear even any system, does not fear the courts, but it fears the people.

PERALTA: When I spoke to him, he had already been beaten and jailed several times. Every time he leaves the house, he says, he's thankful when he returns.

You have - you know, you have a family. Were you prepared for the jailings and what may come, too?

WINE: Anything can come to anybody.

PERALTA: As he answers that, his little girl comes up to him. I see the bravado melt. He kisses her, and then his answer changes direction.

WINE: Of course I'm not prepared for that. I want to be with my family. I want to be free because it's my right.

PERALTA: Last week, Bobi Wine traveled to northern Uganda to help a fellow politician campaign. The musician turned politician drew thousands to the streets and called for the ouster of President Yoweri Museveni. His song "Freedom" has become an anthem for the opposition in the country, and it is a direct challenge to the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM")

WINE: (Singing) ...Teaching the future generation? See our leaders become misleaders, and see our mentors become tormentors. Freedom fighters become dictators. They look pon (ph) the youth and say we are destructors.

PERALTA: Violence followed the rally. The government says Bobi Wine supporters attacked President Museveni's convoy. The military shot and killed his driver, and Bobi Wine was thrown in a military prison, where his lawyers say he was tortured. The president called that, quote, "fake news." And Wine supporters took to the streets to demand his release.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM")

WINE: (Singing) We are fighting for freedom.

PERALTA: Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM")

WINE: (Singing) We are fighting for freedom. Nebbi, Pakwach, and Moroto, Kyadondo. We are fighting for freedom. Pader, Masindi, Kaabong, Karamoja.

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