By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda’s government is hitting back at a pop star and opponent of President Yoweri Museveni by blocking his concerts and intimidating his business partners, the challenger said on Thursday.
The singer-cum-lawmaker whose birth name is Robert Kyagulanyi but is universally known by his music moniker Bobi Wine, has rattled Museveni’s government with his growing support base since he joined politics two years ago.
Wine, one of Uganda’s top singers who mostly belts out reggae and rap ballads, has many fans across East Africa and he is one of the top earning musicians in Uganda.
He has said he intends to contest Uganda’s next presidential poll in 2021. Museveni, 74 and in power since 1986, is also expected to stand in the election.
Security forces have cancelled at least 124 planned concerts since he joined parliament in 2017, Wine told Reuters in an interview at his home in a suburb in the northern outskirts of the capital Kampala.
“They are seeking to strangle me financially,” he said.
“All the music sound service providers, stage service providers, music promoters have been ordered not to work with me… the regime is trying to attack me from multiple fronts.”
Wine has earned the wrath of the government since he joined parliament and emerged as a prominent critic of Museveni.
He was last year badly beaten by security forces and has also been charged with various offences including treason and inciting violence.
Security forces have used teargas and water cannon to break up his rallies while squads now deploy and typically cordon off venues where he has planned performances.
Police have cited non-compliance with public order management laws as justification for barring his music shows although supporters dismiss the explanation and see the crackdown as retribution for Wine’s political ambitions.
Wine said he would press on with anti-government protests while also continuing to galvanise support for his 2021 challenge.
Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo did not immediately respond when Reuters sought comment on Wine’s accusations. A spokesman for the presidency also did not respond.
Patrick Onyango, Uganda Police Spokesman said: “All Bobi Wine’s shows that we have blocked have been because he is defiant. He doesn’t want to follow regulations. It has nothing to do with his businesses or wanting to cut him off from any legitimate income.”
People Power, an activist group that Wine leads, had already had discussions with three small opposition political parties who have agreed to field him as a joint candidate, he said.
“We intend to start the same conversation with the FDC,” he said, using an acronym for Forum for Democratic Change, Uganda’s largest opposition party.
Wine also said rampant corruption in Museveni’s government was behind the country’s ballooning public debt pile that the IMF has warned will surpass 50% of GDP in the financial year to June 2022.
“It (debt) will continue to swell unimaginably because we keep borrowing…. what they collect from us is not enough for them to steal and be satisfied so they borrow and embezzle, they borrow and embezzle.”
Finance ministry officials have said previously that Uganda’s debt is sustainable and that most of the money it borrows is used to build infrastructure projects in the energy and transportation sectors which would reinvigorate economic growth and pay off the debt.
(Editing by Duncan Miriri and Toby Chopra)