“We go forward because we know freedom is ahead.”
A corrupt and oppressive president seeks to hold on to power. Those who try to bring freedom to the nation face violent retribution. In Moses Bwayo and Chrispher Sharp’s documentary Bobi Wine: The People’s President, we see the struggle for democracy in Uganda, a country that has never had a peaceful transfer of power.
Bobi Wine (born Robert Kyagulianyl Ssetuamu) is an Ugandan musician and rock star who grew up in the slums of Kampala. He used his music to speak out against the injustice that he saw around him. He was elected to parliament at a time when longtime president Yoweri Museveni was seeking to change the Constitution so that he would be eligible to run again. Wine was one of the vocal opponents to the change.
After Museveni became eligible to run again, Wine worked to unite the opposition and ran for president as head of the National Unity Platform. But that act put him, his family, and his supporters in very real danger. He was frequently arrested, sometime badly beaten (once bad enough that he had to be taken to the US for care), his family threatened, his campaign staff arrested, his headquarters broken into and nomination petitions stolen. The government, police, and military worked in concert to destroy the opposition. Bobi Wine, in the face of so much violence, stood firm in his opposition. By the time of the election, Bobi and his wife had sent their children out of the country for safety. Their home was surrounded by the military.
The rallying cry at Wine’s rallies was “People Power! Our Power!” This was an attempt to change the government democratically. But the government was not going to give up power easily. The outcome seems a given when we learn that US and European election observers would not be allowed into the country.
I am extremely hesitant to make any comparisons to the current election processes in the US because I think both sides of the political spectrum would love to (mis)use the events of this film. I could easily make parallels between what happened in the Ugandan election and the US election, but they would be very superficial and imperfect parallels. It is more important for us to see this film as a study in the dedication and bravery of one who is willing to stand up—at great risk—against tyranny and injustice.
The key scene for me was when on the eve of the election, Wine is being interviewed about the slim prospects of unseating Museveni. He points out that the US and the EU give hundreds of millions of dollars to Uganda, and he asks “What are they supporting?”
Democracy is often very fragile. But when it has been lost, or never really existed, as in Uganda. It requires great effort, dedication, and hope to bring it about. Bobi Wine exemplifies that struggle being played out not only in Uganda, but in many places throughout the world.
Bobi Wine: The People’s President airs on National Geographic Channel on October 5, and begins streaming on Hulu and Disney+ on October 6.
Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Company and National Geographic.