By MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News
(LONDON) — Bobi Wine says he has been jailed, detained, beaten and shot at more times than he can count.
But the 38-year-old pop star-turned-politician, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, told Kenyan radio station Hot 96 FM that it’s all “worth it.”
“We are not allowed to express ourselves,” Wine told the station during an interview Tuesday morning. “And we are saying enough is enough.”
Wine is the main opposition candidate challenging Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in Thursday’s election. He has hopes of ushering in the first-ever peaceful transfer of power in modern Ugandan history. But the days, weeks and months leading up to the vote have been marred by protests and violence, with authorities periodically arresting Wine, his campaign team and supporters.
In November, at least 54 people were killed amid a crackdown on protests after Wine was detained. Museveni said they died in “senseless riots,” but Wine claimed security forces had gunned down more than 100 people. The charismatic and energetic opposition leader has been seen at recent campaign rallies wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet in place of his trademark red beret.
Just a few minutes into Tuesday’s interview with Hot 96 FM, a commotion could be heard in the background as Wine explained that the Ugandan military had showed up at his home in the capital, Kampala.
“I’m sorry, even right now as we speak, we are being raided by the military. I have to end the interview because I can see soldiers beating my security guard,” he said before hanging up the phone.
Wine confirmed the raid on Twitter, saying soldiers “arrested all my security guards and anyone they could see around my premises.”
“No reason for the arrest was given,” he tweeted. “Such acts of impunity are all kicks of a dying horse.”
Wine did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment or an interview Tuesday.
There were reports that the Ugandan government has banned social media ahead of Thursday’s vote. A letter seen by Reuters from the Uganda Communications Commission, dated Jan. 12, ordered the country’s internet service providers to block all social media platforms and messaging applications “until further notice.”
ABC News has reached out to the Uganda Communications Commission for comment.
“We are concerned by reports that the Government of Uganda has ordered Internet service providers to block social media platforms, messaging apps, and select content in the run up to general elections on Jan 14,” Tibor Nagy, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs, said on Twitter. “Such restrictions undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Meanwhile, Facebook said it has removed Ugandan government-linked accounts and pages that were seeking to “manipulate public debate” before the election. The move comes after the U.S. social media giant took the unprecedented step of indefinitely blocking U.S. President Donald Trump’s accounts on both Facebook and Instagram, following last week’s violent riot that saw a pro-Trump mob storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
“We’re constantly working to find and stop coordinated campaigns that seek to manipulate public debate on our platform. Since 2017, we’ve taken down over 100 of these networks worldwide for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB), which we publicly share in our monthly reports,” a Facebook spokesperson told ABC News in a statement Tuesday. “This month, we removed a network of accounts and Pages in Uganda that engaged in CIB to target public debate ahead of the election. They used fake and duplicate accounts to manage Pages, comment on other people’s content, impersonate users, re-share posts in Groups to make them appear more popular than they were. Given the impending election in Uganda, we moved quickly to investigate and take down this network. We found this network to be linked to the Government Citizens Interaction Center at the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology in Uganda.”
The Government Citizens Interaction Center did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment Tuesday.
Before stepping onto Uganda’s political stage, Wine had a decade-long career in music and became well-known in East Africa, singing about corruption, poverty and social justice in catchy tunes that blended reggae, Afrobeat and dancehall. His song “Kiwani” was featured on the soundtrack for the 2016 Disney movie “Queen of Katwe.”
During a by-election in 2017, Wine won a seat in Uganda’s parliament as an independent. He became leader of the opposition National Unity Platform party last year and is widely considered the frontrunner among the 10 candidates challenging Museveni in Thursday’s election.
Wine, who grew up in the slums of Kampala and calls himself the “ghetto president,” has garnered a large following among Uganda’s youth with his pledges to tackle corruption and unemployment in a country where more than 75% of the population is below the age of 30 and jobless rates are sky-high.
Museveni, a 76-year-old former army general who took power by force in 1986, is seeking his sixth elected term in office. Uganda’s constitution once barred anyone 75 and older from holding the presidency. But Museveni backed a controversial law that removed the age limit in late 2017, and Uganda’s Supreme Court later rejected a legal challenge to the constitutional amendment.
Museveni’s leadership is credited for restoring peace and stability to the East African nation, after the brutal reigns of two dictators. But his iron grip on power has drawn rebuke as critics have accused his government of enabling rampant corruption and committing human rights abuses.
One activist in Kampala, who requested anonymity for their safety, told ABC News that security forces have been using COVID-19 restrictions as a means to harass, detain and torture journalists, opposition party members and their supporters during campaign rallies.
In a recent interview with NPR, Museveni said it is the rich like him who will truly help “the ghetto people” of Uganda and that he draws inspiration from George Washington, the first president of the United States.
“I want to do what Washington did to work for the economic and, in some cases, even political integration of Africa,” Museveni told NPR.
Washington, however, did not seek reelection after two terms in office. Museveni said that’s because the U.S. electorate and economic systems were more sophisticated.
“When the social direction of a society is already set, then anybody can run it. The problem is that, you know, because the direction is not set. So it’s very risky,” he told NPR. “People don’t know whether to go north or south … If people are really clear that the direction is the north and everybody is no longer — there’s no more argument about that, then anybody can lead. I can say, now you know the way, let me go.”
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