Bobi Wine Is Willing 'To Die Trying' To Win Freedom For Uganda Ugandan politician and musician Bobi Wine says he was tortured by soldiers. He was allowed to come to the U.S. for medical treatment, but says he's going to return to Uganda, despite the risks.

Bobi Wine Is Willing 'To Die Trying' To Win Freedom For Uganda

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Bobi Wine says the people who tortured him in an ambulance last month unscrewed an overhead light bulb to hide the beatings from the press. Bobi Wine is a politician and a pop star in Uganda, where he's been an outspoken critic of the regime in power there. After a contentious election to replace a parliamentarian, some protests turned violent. Bobi Wine's driver was killed. Bobi Wine says he was tortured by government forces. He was eventually charged with treason. Bobi Wine joins us in our studios. He's been permitted to come to the United States for medical treatment. Thanks so much for being with us.

BOBI WINE: Thank you very much for having me, Scott.

SIMON: You came here on a crutch. How are you feeling?

WINE: I'm alive. That's the best answer. I'm feeling pain in my back and my shoulders and various parts of my body. But my spirit is high. And I don't think about pain anymore.

SIMON: This will be painful, I'm sure, to get you to recount. But what happened? How were you beaten and tortured?

WINE: So after the campaigns, I retreated - I returned to my hotel room. There, we were attacked. The military - the section of that military is called Special Forces Command, which is the section of the military that guards the president. And it's led by the president's son. And before I knew it, they all descended on me, kicked me, beat me everywhere and did despicable things to me. They squeezed my testicles. They hit me with gun butts. When I screamed, they rapped my head again and hit me so hard in the back of the head until I was unconscious.

SIMON: Your attorney Robert Amsterdam said this week that you would urge the U.S. government to halt military funding to Uganda. Now, as you know, the U.S. supports the Ugandan army, so they can be deployed for international peacekeeping missions. Respecting what you've been through, doesn't the U.S. have powerful strategic reasons to support the Ugandan military?

WINE: All of us want a peaceful region. And indeed, the Ugandan army plays a role. And the U.S. government plays a role funding them. But it's important also for the U.S. to know, especially the U.S. taxpayer, that the money they give the Ugandan military is mainly used to torture Ugandans. I would note that the gun that was used to shoot my driver is an American gun.

SIMON: You're going to go back to Uganda?

WINE: Yes. I'm going to go back to Uganda. I don't have another home. Uganda is my home. That is where I was born. And that is where I will be buried.

SIMON: It's dangerous for you.

WINE: It's dangerous for me. But this is not just about me. There is this lady who had just had a baby by a C-section. She was beaten so hard that she - even by the time I left Uganda, she was still passing blood, you know? There's another guy called Atiku (ph). The doctors told us he will never be able to walk. There's another lady - I'm not sure if she's still alive. So many people - hundreds, if not thousands - go through this torture. So this cannot be about me. I'm only humbled and privileged to see that my brutalization attracted the eye of the world. And I'm trying to use every little time that I still have alive to raise that voice.

SIMON: Did you say every little time you still have alive?

WINE: Yes, every little time I still have alive.

SIMON: It sounds like you expect...

WINE: Yes.

SIMON: ...Something violent to happen to you.

WINE: Yes. I'm supposed to be a dead man. It was just a few seconds when I left that seat where I was sitting that my driver was shot. We are living in a country where life does not mean a thing. I'm not sure whether this is not the last time I'm coming here or to any other country. So I've decided to dedicate every last bit of my life to raise that voice.

SIMON: You could stay here and still do a lot of good for Uganda, couldn't you? You could play your music. You could draw the attention of the world to the plight of Uganda and live a life.

WINE: Yeah. I would live a life. But it would be a half-life. My children live in Uganda. They're Ugandans. And even when I could get them asylum, there are more than 14 million Ugandans. Eighty-five percent of them are younger than me. I am 36 years old. And we have a demographic of over 85 percent under the age of 35. So it cannot be about my life. I've said this before. And I'll say it again. We have to win back our freedom and dignity. Or we shall die trying.

SIMON: I want to hear some of your music, if that's OK with you.

WINE: That's all right, please.

SIMON: Your song "Freedom" - it was released last year. Let's take a listen.


WINE: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We are fighting for freedom.

WINE: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We are fighting for freedom.

WINE: (Singing) ...Fighting for freedom.


WINE: (Singing in foreign language).

Man - makes me sad.

SIMON: What's your political goal now? Can you wait for another election? Or do you think Uganda has to change before that?

WINE: For now, we're sensitizing people to get confidence even in the arms - in the times of terror. We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. Many of our contemporaries are being killed every now and then. So in Uganda, we leave every day the way it comes.

SIMON: Can you tell us what your doctors say?

WINE: I've not gotten my results yet.

SIMON: How do they feel about you going back?

WINE: Well, everybody's advising me not to go back. Everybody thinks it's dangerous to go back. But as one person, I cannot leave 14 million people in danger. If my life is a sacrifice that has to be taken for the redemption of our country, so be it.

SIMON: Bobi Wine, member of Parliament in Uganda, where he faces charges of treason. Thanks so much for being in our studio.

WINE: You're much welcome. Thank you for having me. And God bless you.


Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.